iOS 7 preview: Notification Center gets new Today screen, predictive traffic info, and more!

Notification Center now provides drop-down access not only to all your alerts, but your most recently missed alerts, and includes an all-new, contextual Today screen as well as Lock screen access!

Notification Center debuted in iOS 5 as way to quickly, easily see all your system and push alerts in one, unified place. Far less obtrusive than the original, modal iOS alert system, better looking if not as feature-rich as the Android or webOS notification centers that preceded it, Notification Center was a first step towards Apple better handling all the alerts all of us now get all day. With iOS 7, Apple has taken another... half step forward.

Here's how Apple (opens in new tab) describes the improvements to Notification Center in iOS 7:

Notification Center lets you know about new mail, missed calls, to-dos that need doing, and more. And a new feature called Today gives you a convenient summary of, well, today. One glance at your iPhone and you’ll know if it’s a certain someone’s birthday, if you’ll need an umbrella, or if traffic will slow down your commute. You’ll even get a heads-up on tomorrow. You can access Notification Center from any screen, including the Lock screen. Just swipe down. And get up to speed.

And, based on what Apple's shown off at WWDC 2013 and to date, here's how it works:

  • Notification Center, like all of iOS 7, is built on a new physics engine so it behaves more like a real-world (if not this world) object. It has velocity and collision detection, so if you slam it down, it'll bounce!

  • The new, tabbed interface lets you choose between Today, All, and Missed.
  • The Missed view only shows you alerts from the last 24 hours.
  • The All view, as the name implies, shows you all alerts.

  • The All view is similar to the iOS 5 and iOS 6 version of Notification Center, with an app-by-app breakdown of your alerts. The Tap to Tweet (Twitter) and Tap to Post (Facebook) buttons appear to be missing, or to have been removed, but I mourn them not for while convenient, they were not notifications and thus existed out-of-context.

  • The Today view shows you the current day and date in large type (ultrathin, of course!) along with a brief, written description of the current weather in your current location, and a written description of your next appointment. It can also tell you if current traffic conditions will impact your next trip. Beneath that you get a more elaborate, more graphical look at Calendar, Reminders, and Stocks, as well as another written out description, this time recapping what's coming up tomorrow.
  • Notification Center, like it's new companion, Control Center, is now accessible from the Lock screen. (Though, presumably, based on previous feature patterns, that'll be an option for those more privacy-minded.)

  • Notification sync means when you dismiss a notification on one device, it should dismiss it on all devices, so you don't have to deal with the same alerts, again and again.

The core concept of Notification Center remains largely unchanged in iOS 7, which is a boon to people already familiar with how to use it. The ability to pull Notification Center down even while on the Lock screen is interesting. The Lock screen already enjoys notification support all its own, but nothing as powerful or persistent as Notification Center proper. (Unlike Lock screen notifications, a quick swipe in iOS 7 can now get you back to an earlier alert you want to catch up on, or refresh you memory about.) The doubling up is slightly awkward, more function over form, but it will likely appeal to people who prefer convenience over privacy.

The difference between All alerts and Missed enjoys similar overlap but similar appeal to power users. "Missed" might be misnamed, as based on the demos to date it looks more like a "Recent" or "Latest" view, but that might be made clearer once the behavior is better understood (do recent but already seen alerts get excluded, for example?)

Today is the biggest change, both in form and functionality. It harkens back to the old Windows Mobile Today Screen of years and versions passed, but with a decidedly Apple focus, iOS 7 aesthetic, and new-fangled technological bent.

The written out weather and next appointment seems to be a step backwards when it comes to glance-ability and a step forwards in terms of informational density. iOS 5 and iOS 6 had a graphical weather widget that was easier to get the gist of at a glance, but provided little more than "sunny" or "rainy". In a perfect world, Apple would find a way to balance both. Re-introduce a graphical element and keep the deeper text. Likewise with stocks, which used to scroll in one tidy widget, and now sprawls out row after row after row...

Integrating traffic information, on the other hand, is outstanding and hopefully only the first indication that Apple is heading towards a more Google Now-style implementation where they parse location, time, calendar, and every other metric they have at their disposal and present contextually appropriate, predictive alerts in Notification Center.

Unfortunately, for all iOS 7's objectification and direct manipulation the demos to date haven't shown any gesture-based way to dismiss notifications. Other platforms have allowed you to swipe away notifications for a long time already. Even Apple's own Mail has a swipe-to-delete feature, and the immediacy of "tossing things away" is tough to beat. Hopefully Apple addresses this, because the tiny little X button is discoverable, but not very usable by itself.

Perhaps the biggest omission in the whole system remains active notifications, which Apple just introduced for the Mac in OS X Mavericks but hasn't thus far announced for iOS. The ability to quickly respond to a message, reset a timer, or otherwise handle simple items without having to switch apps is even more necessary on mobile than on the desktop. Hopefully actionable notifications on OS X are just a precursor to the same or similar system on iOS, and sooner rather than later.

The new Notification Center will become available to everyone when iOS 7 ships to the general public this fall. Check out the resources below for more, and let me know -- how do you like what you've seen of the newly updated Notification Center so far?

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

  • Question on the separate views -- which view is up by default - Today, All, or Missed? Is it static, configurable via a preference, or does it remember which one you last accessed and start with that one?
  • It remembers which one you last accessed. "Today" is default, but will always bring up last viewed.
  • From what I've noticed... it will start with the 'today' view... if you switch to another view, and then do something else on the phone and then go back to NC... it will go to where you last were - at least on a short-term interval between NC visits... it may at some point revert to starting at 'today' again - but I've not been able to determine an interval that it might do that.
  • I do like what I see, as it is progress, improvement. But as this article implies, I think it could be a lot more, so I hope there is more to come by the time iOS 7 is final.
  • Does anyone who has used iOS 7 find the navigation between tabs in notification centre to be cumbersome? Surely, swiping between tabs is a more natural and intuitive approach seeing as swipe to dismiss has not been implemented. I also find the missed tab to be redundant. It's just a rehash of what's in the all tab already although just a compressed version.
  • This doesn't clear up one of my confusions (not having used iOS 7 yet), which is what the exact difference is and how it works functionally to have a notification pull-down on the lock screen. If you open up your phone and it has the lock screen with the date and time, what's the point of pulling down a separate, second screen with the date and time (and some other stuff) on it? And the notification screen is much less attractive than the lock screen anyway. Given that the notification pull-down seems semi-transparent, it seems like one would be looking at the time, with the time repeated in the background no? And if, like the vast majority of users, I don't get a lot of notifications and don't care about stocks, other than the weather, what's the point? It would make far more sense to simply add the notifications, the weather, the stocks etc. to the lock screen directly, and then let the user pick and choose which ones to show up. All I really want is that new lock screen, but with the weather showing as well as the date. I think I'm far from alone in wanting that too.
  • does the notifications at the top still flip down over to whichever app you are using (pressing down to close to bring it back up and out) and annoy the heck out of you? (meaning I want the notification to show me something, but does it push the app down, instead of covering an app that i am in, not allowing me to tap back arrows on either side at top where noti would go down)---Hope this makes sense. ;-)
  • To be honest I've never really understood this complaint because the banners can be turned off. If they get in the way of your workflow just turn them off. They're not mandatory... Anyway, in iOS 7 you can dismiss them by flicking the banner up.
  • Thanks for the response. But yes I understand I can turn it off. My question was if it still obstructs my app by just flipping onto it....which for many is an annoyance.....but I guess it hasn't been changed. Grrrrr. Would really be nice if Apple just added a notification light so that I would know I should check my notifications. Guess we just have to wait for that day. Lol.
  • One thing I noticed was on the lock screen when new alerts come in the older alerts are actually dimmed so you can focus on the most recent one. After a few seconds, the dimming goes away though.
  • i want this already. awww
  • Oh yeah, the Tap to Tweet and the Tap to Post. Perhaps they are moving to Control Center and were turned off?
  • I like the dark view in notification center. A dark theme is why I like WP so much. Too bad Apple chose to stick with a stark white theme in the rest of the OS.
  • to me i know its just a beta tested form and its kinds glitchy and slow on my phone but i have a feeling its gonna be so much better when ios 7 is released
  • Overall I like the improvements but the previous method of handling weather, stocks and calendar was faster to use and visually more pleasing. I'm assuming that all notifications are switchable so if you don't want to see say the stock app, then you can switch it off. I totally agree that the system should combine all known data and be preemptive with notifications. Also would like to have Siri read your notifications to you. This would be good for when you're driving or busy doing something else like getting ready for work.
  • One thing about the today view that's also a significant change from ios6... It no longer follows the Settings menu option for how many upcoming events you want to display in Notification Center. In Notification Settings for Calendar you can select to display 1, 5, or 10 items. In ios6, it would display however many you chose (as long as they occurred within the next 24 hours) In ios7, this setting apparently has no effect. Notification Center will now only show you your next event at the top of the Today screen, and a graphical calendar for the next couple of hours. But nothing past that. At the bottom of the Today screen it will say how many events you have tomorrow, and what time the first one is, but doesn't tell you what they are. Hopefully this is just a beta issue and an update will enable displaying how many events you selected in the Settings again.
  • That's what drives me mad about Apple and the notification centre. Ideally you need to see what's coming up past 48hrs. Most people would want to see any important events before that time period. LockScreen info (JB) is what Apple should have been aiming at. So, am I right in assuming that in iOS 7 the calendar look ahead is still 48hrs??