Few people get so little email that they want an iPhone notification for every message that rolls in. But many of us have just a couple of people—our personal VIPs—whose messages are important enough to warrant an alert. If that’s true for you, and you want to know right away when your boss or your spouse or your child sends you a message, set up VIP Alerts. In Mail in iOS, in your Mailboxes list, tap the i button next to the VIP mailbox. If necessary, use the Add VIP link to pick your VIPs from your contacts, and then tap VIP Alerts to jump to the screen of Settings > Notifications > Mail > VIP. Once there, you can choose a banner style, alert sound, and other notification-related settings.
Have you ever gotten an emergency alert on your iPhone, telling you about an abducted child or public safety emergency? That’s the Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) system, at least in the United States, although some other countries have similar systems.
The WEA system enables authorized national, state, and local government authorities to send alerts about public safety emergencies to mobile devices in the affected area. Also included in the WEA system are AMBER Alerts designed to solicit public information when law enforcement is searching for a missing child. Some US states also broadcast Silver Alerts about missing adults, particularly senior citizens with Alzheimer’s, dementia, or other mental disabilities. The alerts are always meant to be useful, either to you or to law enforcement working on a case.
Unfortunately, the alerts aren’t always helpful or well targeted. Worse, they break through the Do Not Disturb cone of silence, and there’s no way to change their tones. You might not appreciate being woken up at 2 AM to be told to look for a white Ford that’s potentially associated with a missing child. Plus, although the AMBER Alerts are generally popular with the public, research suggests that they’re largely ineffective.
More concerningly, the loud noise that accompanies the alerts can be dangerous, either to your hearing if you’re wearing earbuds when the alert comes through, or to your life if you overreact while driving.
In iOS 12 in the US, you’ll see three categories of government alerts at the bottom of Settings > Notifications: AMBER Alerts, Emergency Alerts, and Public Safety Alerts.
In most countries, Apple lets you turn off all three categories, but you could still receive so-called “Presidential Alerts,” which are meant to reach everyone in the country during a national emergency. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which manages the WEA system, tested the Presidential Alert system for the first time in October 2018.
What should you do? It’s entirely up to you, of course, but in most situations, it’s probably best to leave all three alert types enabled. If you find yourself being annoyed by repeated AMBER Alerts or Silver Alerts, particularly if you’re unlikely to be in a location where you could be helpful, you might want to toggle the AMBER Alerts switch off. But the Emergency and Public Safety alerts could be essential, especially if you’re in an area prone to hurricanes or tornadoes.
If you’ve already disabled the alerts because of poor targeting—being notified of something of concern only to people hundreds of miles away is just an interruption—you might consider turning them back on later this year, since the FCC requires carriers to improve the geo-targeting starting November 30th, 2019.
It can be easy to become overwhelmed by iOS notifications, particularly if you have chatty friends or apps. In iOS 12, Apple corralled notifications by grouping them into stacks so you no longer see an endless screen of alerts. To expand a stack of notifications on either the Lock screen or in Notification Center (swipe down from the top of the screen), tap the stack. Once you’ve expanded a stack, you can tap Show Less to restack it, tap the X button to remove the entire stack, or tap any individual notification to open it. By default, iOS 12 groups notifications intelligently, which might entail separate stacks for different Messages conversations, for instance. If that’s still too much, you can go to Settings > Notifications > App Name > Notification Grouping and tap By App to collect every notification from the app into the same stack.
A client got in touch recently with a maddening problem. When he received texts on his iPhone, Messages displayed notifications for messages from everyone…except his wife! Needless to say, this was a problem. Since notifications appeared correctly for other people, it wasn’t related to overall settings. It turned out that he—or someone else, or iOS gremlins—had inadvertently enabled the Hide Alerts switch for the Messages conversation with his wife. To fix it, all he had to do was display the conversation in Messages, tap the i button at the upper right, and disable Hide Alerts. (In the Mac version of Messages, click the Details button and look for the Do Not Disturb checkbox.) It’s a good feature designed to let you mute a chatty group conversation, but it can cause stress if applied to the wrong conversation accidentally.
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