What Are Push Notifications on the iPhone?

By Avery Martin

Apple provides a line of mobile products designed to entertain, keep you informed and help you connect with family, friends and coworkers. Push notifications on your iOS device provide a way for you to get instant alerts even when you don't have an app open or active in the background. Understanding the basics of push notifications gives you more control over the type of information you receive and how that information gets displayed.

The Purpose of Push Notifications

Push notifications work by maintaining a constant connection to provide you with instant alerts. For example, you may get an alert when you get a new mail message or when someone responds to a post on a social media site. Some apps, like the Mail app, allow you to configure whether to use Push notifications or Fetch to receive alerts. Using the Fetch option improves battery life since the app doesn't constantly look for new updates, but it also means you won't get an immediate alert on your iOS device.

Notification Center

The Notification Center acts as the primary notification area for push notifications and other notifications on your device. The Notification Center shows up even when you lock your iPhone. This provides quick access to calendar events, new mail messages, text messages and other notifications. The Today view acts as the default view for the Notification Center and shows a summary of important meetings, weather and other useful information for the current day. The Today view also provides a preview of events scheduled for the next day. Access the Notification Center from any screen by swiping down from the top of your device.

Types of Notifications

Push notifications can appear in three basic ways -- banners, alerts or badges. Banners show a message on your iOS device until you manually dismiss the alert. Alerts show a brief message and then go away on their own. Badges show an image or number on the app to indicate the number of unseen alerts. Select "None" and you won't get a banner or alert, but the alert still shows up in the Notification Center, if you enabled that option. In addition, you can configure sounds to initiate an audible alert when you get a new notification.

View Push-Enabled Apps

You can quickly see what apps on your iOS device use push notifications by accessing the Notification Center configuration through the Settings app. The Notification Center configuration page provides a list of included and excluded apps. Included apps show up in the Notification Center and you can configure each app independently to change its behavior. If you're looking to conserve battery life, disable the option to show the alert on the lock screen. This prevents each notification from showing a preview on the lock screen and waking your iOS device.

Configuring Notifications

You can set the option for how many recent alerts show up in the Notification Center by accessing the preferences for each app. To disable alerts from an app from showing up in the Notification Center, you can set the "Show in Notification Center" toggle switch to the off position. Finally, to maintain privacy, you can disable the "Show Preview" option. This option still gives you a notification, but it doesn't contain any potentially private or sensitive information from the alert. You can access the configuration page for each app by tapping the "Settings" app, selecting "Notification Center" and choosing the app that you want to configure.