Our smartphone apps are constantly clamoring for our attention—whether it’s a high score that needs beating or a group chat that needs responding to, there’s often a constant stream of pings and buzzes to distract us. Take a closer look and so many of these alerts are low priority or completely unnecessary. You can mute the noise while still allowing important notifications through.
Before we talk about the push notifications you want to keep, we should cover how to quieten down the others. Fortunately, iOS and Android are now both at a stage where notification management is relatively easy to get to grips with.
On iOS, you can pick Notifications from Settings and then go through apps one by one. Alerts can be set to appear (or not) on the lock screen, in the notification center, and as a banner, or you can turn them off completely. You can also associate different sounds and different vibrations with notifications from different apps, or make them silent.
On Android, it’s a little less straightforward. If you pick Apps & notifications from Settings, you can then tap on an app then tap Notifications to make changes. In addition to turning notifications on or off for an app, you can also mute or allow notifications based on category, if the app supports the feature.
For Facebook, for example, notifications can be on or off for comments, tags, reminders, friend requests, birthdays, groups, and so on. With the Outlook app for Android, you can set the notifications for calendar events and incoming emails separately. If you’ve got the time, you can build up a really personalized notification system.
Apps on both iOS and Android have notification settings inside the apps themselves as well, of course, as we’ll mention further on in more detail: Here you might be able to turn off alerts for one type of in-app event while allowing others, depending on the app. If there are apps that you want to tailor more specifically, it’s always worth having a dig into the settings inside that app.
One of the problems with turning your phone off, or putting it in airplane mode to avoid distractions, is that people won’t be able to reach you in an emergency. If you want to make sure certain contacts (like your kids) can always get through, you’ve got two options using the native features on your Android or iOS phone.
You can either enable the Do Not Disturb mode and only allow calls from certain contacts through, or you can set up audible alerts for certain callers and keep everyone else on silent—the latter approach needs more work but gives you a more tailored solution for restricting the people who can actually make your phone ring or buzz.
In iOS, if you tap Do Not Disturb in Settings, you can see the Allow Calls From option—this can be set to your favorite contacts or specific groups of contacts. For changing the ringtones and text tones associated with particular people, meanwhile, you need to choose someone in Contacts then tap Edit to find the Ringtone and Text Tone options.
Over on Android, choose Sound then Do Not Disturb from Settings and you can tell your phone to let calls and texts through from starred contacts. You can star contacts in the Contacts app, as well as set specific ringtones for each person—tap the menu button (three dots) then Set ringtone to do this.
If there’s a tornado heading your way or the risk of a flash flood, then you want to know about it at the earliest possible opportunity, and that’s when severe weather warnings can help. Not just run-of-the-mill, everyday forecast updates, but genuinely important meteorological events that you need to know about.
Most decent weather apps have the ability to push severe weather warnings to your phone, it’s just a question of finding one that doesn’t bombard you with less important alerts at the same time. AccuWeather (Android, iOS) is one of the ones we like best, but Weather Underground and Dark Sky are great options too.
In AccuWeather, tap the menu button (three dots, top right) then Settings, then Severe Weather Alerts. Make sure the toggle switch is set to on, and enabled for the right location, to get alerts straight to your phone (you can have multiple locations if you want to keep an eye on your parents’ house or vacation home, for example).
If you’re not using AccuWeather, a similar option should be easy to find in your own app—and if one isn’t available then you probably need to think about switching to a different weather app.
Ideally, you want to stay abreast of major, potentially life-changing news events while you’re out and about with your phone, without getting buried under a pile of unimportant nonsense that has your phone constantly dinging. Fortunately, most news apps give you decent levels of control over what pops up and what doesn’t.
In Google News (Android, iOS) for example, you can tap on your avatar icon, then choose Settings and Notifications to control what you see: for the most minimalist approach, only have the Breaking news toggle switch enabled, and move the Number of notifications slider down to Low.
Over on Apple News, which comes as part of iOS, tap Following then Manage Notifications to choose the alerts you do and don’t get. Obviously, the exact mix is up to you and your interests, but News Top Stories is a good one to leave enabled, and New Features & Tips is probably one you can live without.
Plenty of third-party news apps can give you a curated push alert experience for your breaking stories. With AP News (Android, iOS) you can specify the particular topics and issues you’re interested in and get notifications accordingly; Nuzzle (Android, iOS), meanwhile, does a fine job of recognizing the most important stories from your social media feeds.
Where you draw the line on your work/life balance is up to you, but if you happen to be in a situation where you need to be responding to emails from your boss at the earliest opportunity, it’s not that difficult to restrict notifications to certain types of email.
For example, dive into Gmail (Android, iOS), tap Settings from the app menu, then choose your main email address: If you choose Notifications then High priority only, you’ll only get alerted about messages Gmail thinks are important. On Android, you can also set up alerts for specific labels—so by filtering emails from your boss to a certain label, you can get alerts for that particular person only.
With the iOS Mail app, you’ve got a VIP feature available from the Mailboxes screen: Tap the info icon to the right of VIP, then Add VIP to pick a sender (such as your boss). If you then go to Mail in the main iOS Settings page, you’ll see notifications can be set separately from the rest of your mail alerts.
Outlook (Android, iOS) has a feature like this as well. If you tap the cog icon on the main app menu, then go to Notifications, you can pick Favorite People from the Notifications option to only see alerts about emails from a specific group of people. You can add favorites from the Outlook web interface.
One other type of push notification we’d suggest you want to let through is security alerts from your smart home gear—how you go about this is going to vary depending on the hardware and software you’re using, but most internal and external cameras will give you a lot of control over which alerts you see.
For the best results, pick a home security solution that lets you set custom activity zones—in other words, you can specify areas of the camera shot where activity is ignored. This is available on devices like the Ring Video Doorbell Pro, Nest’s security cameras (with a subscription), and Arlo’s security cameras (with a subscription).
If you do sign up for Nest Aware (the premium Nest subscription service), one of the extras you get is face recognition, powered by Google’s AI smarts. That means your cameras will be able to tell the difference between your kids and someone that’s never been seen before.
Plenty of other cameras, including those we’ve already mentioned and others like the Amazon Cloud Cam (with a subscription), can at least tell the difference between moving people and moving objects, and you’ll be able to set up push alerts for one but not the other inside the companion apps.