Don’t feel bad if you almost never swipe down on your iPhone or iPad’s display to open the two-pane Notification Center in iOS 9. Sure, it’s useful for glancing at the weather or checking your upcoming calendar events, but you might have little need for the depressing stock ticker, not to mention the random clumps of app alerts.
With a little effort, though, you can really put Notification Center to work. For starters, you don’t have to settle for the standard set of widgets in the Today view, nor must you resign yourself to the default widget order. You can also keep specific apps from popping up Notification Center alerts, disable Notification Center access from the lock screen, and more.
Rearrange your widgets
The first thing you’ll see when you swipe down the Notification Center window is the Today tab, which gives you the day and date, an auto-generated summary of the day’s weather and events, as well as a series of “widgets” based on apps such as Calendar, Stocks, Reminders, Find My Friends, and so on.
Luckily, it’s easy to rearrange widgets or nix any you don’t like. Just scroll down to the bottom of the Today view and tap the Edit button. You’ll see a list of all your active Notification Center widgets, complete with red Remove buttons on one side and three-line handles on the other.
To delete a widget, tap the red circle and then tap the Remove button. The disabled widget will scoot down to the “Do Not Include” section, where you’ll find other inactive Notification Center widgets you can add to the active widgets list by tapping the green plus sign.
To rearrange a widget, tap and hold its handle, then drag it wherever you like.
Weirdly, while you can delete the Today Summary, Traffic Conditions, and Tomorrow Summary widgets, you can’t rearrange them.
Keep an eye out for new widgets
If can’t find any widgets down in the “Do Not Include” section that you’d like to activate, don’t give up just yet.
Whenever one of your installed apps adds widget support, a “New Widgets Available” alert will appear next to the Edit button at the bottom of the Today view. Tap Edit to see which new widgets have been added to the list—and who knows, perhaps you’ll find one that makes Notification Center worth using again.
Group alerts by date rather than by app
When you tap the Notifications tab in Notification Center (or just swipe the screen from right to left), you’ll switch from the Today view to a list of all your most recent alerts—and for the longest time, I was annoyed that my notifications were grouped according to app, with the least interesting apps invariably listed first.
Eventually, I decided to stop ignoring the Notifications tab and began poking around my iOS settings for a solution. Before long, I found it: the Group by App setting.
At some point, I must have switched the Group By App setting on—you’ll find it by tapping Settings > Notifications, with the Sort Order setting on Recent—and forgotten about it, leaving my Notification Center alerts clumped together by app.
Switch the Group By App setting off, and the alerts in the Notifications panel will be organized by date, which, for me anyway, makes the Notifications view much more useful.
To take complete charge of the order in which notifications are listed, tap Settings > Notifications and switching the Sort Order setting to Manual. You can then tap, hold, and drag the handles next to each app to arrange your Notification Center alerts in any way you see fit.
Swipe a notification to take action
Widgets and alerts in the Notification Center will be getting an overhaul this fall with iOS 10. With the arrival of rich notifications in iOS 10, you’ll be able to do things like open an Uber alert to call your driver or view an entire thread with a Messages alert.
Of course, you can already take action on certain Notification Center alerts without waiting around for iOS 10 to land. You may already know, for example, that you can swipe down on a Messages notification to reply to a message directly within the alert. What you may not know, however, is that you can also swipe on alerts listed under the Notifications tab.
Swipe on a Mail alert, and you’ll see a pair of buttons: Mark as Read, and Trash. You can also swipe on a Message alert and tap Reply. Swiping on most other alerts will reveal only a small “x” button you can tap to dismiss the notification.
Keep notifications off your lock screen
It’s certainly convenient to be able to swipe down on your locked iPhone or iPad for a quick look at the weather or your next calendar event.
But you might be less enthusiastic about that idea the next time your device goes missing, especially since it’s possible to read, say, text messages from the Notifications view, even if your iPhone or iPad is locked.
To keep strangers from poking around Notification Center on your locked device, tap Settings > Touch ID & Passcode, scroll down to the Allow Access when Locked section, then uncheck the Today and/or Notifications View settings.
If you want some apps to put notifications on your lock screen while keeping more sensitive apps’ notifications safe behind your passcode, go to Settings > Notifications, where you’ll find a list of every app that has requested permission to notify you. Under each app, you’ll find separate switches to allow those notifications on your lock screen and Notification Center.
Turn off Notification Center alerts for specific apps
If there’s a particular application that keeps stuffing Notification Center with alerts you don’t need to see, you can easily ban the app from the Notifications view.
Tap Settings > Notifications, scroll down to the offending app (or just search for the app from the main Settings screen), then uncheck the Show in Notification Center setting.
Keep in mind that switching off the Show in Notification Center setting only keeps alerts from showing up in the Notification pane; all the app’s banners, badges, and other alerts will still work normally. To review, banners appear briefly and then disappear, an alert is like a banner but must be manually dismissed, and a badge is a number in a red circle that appears on the app’s icon.
Ben has been writing about technology and consumer electronics for more than 20 years. A PCWorld contributor since 2014, Ben joined TechHive in 2019, where he covers smart speakers, soundbars, and other smart and home-theater devices. You can follow Ben on Twitter.