Simplifying the iPhone for special needs users: Notifications

I’m nearing the end of my Smartphones for All book chapter on initial iPhone setup. I thought this would be short chapter, but of course I started I learned there was a lot to walk through. This chapter needs to be simplified but I’ll need to rewrite it anyway once iOS 11 is out.

Writing this short section on Notifications made me revisit my own iPhone’s settings. In particular I realized how little value I get from the Notification Center screen…

Notifications are how the iPhone gets an Explorer’s attention through Sounds, Badges, and Banners/Alerts 1. You can change the Sounds for some apps, but most use the system standard Alert sound. Badges appear as red disks atop App icons showing counts of tasks undone. Banners float down over the screen even when an iPhone is locked.

Notifications can be … distracting. Indeed, that’s the intent. Apps want attention, and Notifications are how they get attention. 

Notifications can be a good thing. A ringing phone is a notification. Most people want to be notified of incoming iMessages — at least most of the time.

Notifications can also be an energy draining attention sucking black hole. Like Facebook notifications, for example. Each distraction cuts into an Explorer’s attention budget. For an Explorer who may struggle with managing distractions this can be more than a nuisance.

Happily it’s relatively easy to get control of Notifications. I recommend a Guide turn off almost all Notifications to begin with. Notifications can’t be locked by iPhone Restrictions, but if an Explorer turns on too many this can be a good learning opportunity 2.

Notification Settings are divide into two sections – GOVERNMENT ALERTS and the oddly named NOTIFICATION STYLE. I recommend turning AMBER Alerts off; in a city these are not rare and they are very disruptive. Emergency Alerts are more of a judgment call, particularly for Tornado prone regions. I do turn these off.

The NOTIFICATION SYLE section holds all App notifications. When an App is installed it tries to turn on every Notification type. So this section needs regular maintenance! Fortunately it’s easy to turn off all Notifications for an App. Tap on the App name, then toggle Allow Notifications to off.

I recommend turning every Notification off except for,,,, and Even when Notifications are enabled I recommend turning “Show in Notification Center” off. The Notification Center confuses most users; it’s best to keep it empty.

There are other ways to adjust notifications, but the key thing is to limit what apps get to use up an Explorer’s attention budget and to keep the confusing Notification Center screen empty.


1 There’s an option in iOS Notification settings to switch the Alert Style for an unlocked iPhone between Alerts and Banners. Alerts stay up until they are dismissed, Banners appear briefly then go away. This is so obscure almost nobody knows about it. Forget you read this.

2 If an App like Facebook is too distracting it may, of course, be a candidate for removal depending on the needs of an individual Explorer.