Saturday, October 15, 2011

iOS 5: Notifications Center

Yesterday, I did a lot of trial-and-error-ing Mythbusters style trying to 'fix' my Notifications Center (Really? Apple's new iOS wasn't as annoyingly cumbersome and flawed as I initially thought? Huh. Who'da thunk it? ). All turned out well in the end. For the interested, read on! 

I love Mythbusters (the people and the show). So. Much. (Image from Mattson Creative)

The notifications center was probably the biggest thing that the iOS 5 boasted. People ranted and raved about it in the months preceding the software update. Last night though, I mostly ranted to myself. For some reason (actually, quite a few reasons...all of which will be addressed below), my notifications center wasn't working!

Let me explain.

This is how it was supposed to look.

See that? Updates about your phone, calendar, messages, reminders. All that was missing from my notifications center, and I was so sad! But, a few hours later and after much testing, I figured out what needed to be done to get the notifications center working. I'll explain below.

I'll address the following subjects as they pertain to the notifications center:

  • Mail
  • Calendar
  • Reminders

Key finding: The notification center only reflects mail for the mailbox linked to your iCloud account. 

My problem: If you read my earlier post on how to create a separate Apple ID account for your iCloud information, you'll understand how I created a separate .me account just for my iCloud information. Obviously though, I didn't want notifications for this essentially unused .me email account--I wanted notifications for my personal email account! I explain how to do it below:

How to change the primary email account associated with your Apple ID
[2] Go to Manage your account

[3] Log in with the Apple ID that you used to register iCloud.

[4] Underneath Primary Email Address, you will see that the Apple ID email and the primary email address are identical. For some, this may be perfect; if that's the case, I don't think you need to read on. However, for others, this may be the root of your sad & empty notification screen problems. 
If you created a new account for iCloud,
 you probably don't want email notifications for the almost zero emails you may get there. 
[5] To remedy this, simply choose Edit in the Primary Email Address section, and then type in the email address for which you do want notifications. Then click Save.

[6] You should now see the new personal email listed. 

[7] Choose Save Changes
[8] We're now done with this step. 

And with that, my friends, you should now be receiving notifications for the email you put under Primary Email Address. Simple solution! 

So, what's the lesson here? 
You only receive email notifications for the Primary email address associated with your Apple ID. 


How it works: The Notifications Center only shows events on your iCloud calendar. I didn't have a problem with this part of the Notifications Center. 

To learn how to move Google Calendars into iCloud, read my post on how to do it here

The lesson about calendars? 
Only events in your iCloud calendar will appear on your Notifications Screen. 

Sad, blurry image.

Key finding: Only reminders with Alerts set for tomorrow or later will appear on today's Notification Screen. 

My problem: I like streamlined, centralized systems. Which means I wanted my daily events calendar and reminders (in addition to my unread email and messages) to appear on my Notifications screen. At first, when I made new reminders, they wouldn't appear on the Notifications screen. Quelle horreur! After much fiddling with reminders, I found a solution. 

First, you should realize there are multiple ways of making reminders--on your Mac in iCal, on your iPad in the Reminders app, and on your iPhone in the Reminders app. I will talk mainly about making reminders in iCal. 

How to make reminders in iCal that will show up on your notifications screen
[1] Open iCal. If you haven't done so already, you'll want to View > Reminders. Now, there should be a column on the far right of your iCal window labelled Reminders

[2] Add a new reminder by either going to File > New Reminder, or if you prefer keyboard shortcuts Command + K. If you want to be really fly, after you press Command + K, type in Command + E so you can edit it easily (like adding an alert!) without doing that annoying right click move. 

[3] Give it the title you would like, and if you are less concerned with the reminders appearing in the notifications center because you plan on opening the Reminders app to check on your To-do lists, then that's all you have to worry about. 

However, if you want your reminders to appear on the Notifications Screen, you'll need to go a bit further. Basically, you need to add an Alert

But then the question becomes, when do I set my alert to allow this reminder to appear on today's notification screen? 

Say that today I wanted to Buy Cinnamon, Flour, and Sugar, and I wanted that reminder to stay on my screen all of today. I would actually have to set the alert for tomorrow if I wanted to have it on my notifications screen.

If you're interested in seeing how I figured that out, it involved a lot of methodical changes to my reminders using my computer, and seeing which ones appeared on my iPhone. When I first approached it, I for some reason took two factors into consideration instead of just one--due date and alert. So I made as many combinations as I felt were possible, and then I went to my iPhone Notification screen. 

Here are all the due date/alert permutations I thought possible. 
I then went to my iPhone to make sure the Reminders from iCal synced to my Reminders app on my iPhone. Yup, they did! 

The reminders successfully appeared on the iPhone. Hooray for iCloud!

Then came the moment of truth. I pulled down my notification screen to see which reminders made the cut. As you'll see, the only one that survived had an alert for tomorrow. The ones with no alert didn't show, and the ones with an alert for today also didn't show up. Also, a notification appears on the day before the alert only. So, for example, if today were Monday, and I set an alert for Friday, it would not appear on my notification screen until Thursday.  

But then, I just realized, that I was doing bad science. In my frantic attempt to rid myself of an 'uncooperative' Notifications / Reminders system, I was working with two factors instead of one. So, just to make sure that it was the alerts setting and not the due date setting that was responsible for my success, I added one more task on my iCal. I added, a reminder with no due date but an alert for tomorrow. And as you can see below, that one flies nicely onto the Notifications screen to. 

So after all this madness, what's the conclusion? 

To get a reminder to appear on today's Notifications Screen, the reminder must have an alert set for tomorrow. 

Notifications appear on the day before the alert is set to appear.

This it the part where a sign saying BUSTED or CONFIRMED would clang to the ground in slow motion if this were a Mythbusters episode. Unfortunately, I'm not a real Mythbuster (only one in heart!), and I didn't really have a myth to bust. 

I hope this post helps others who found themselves similarly banging their heads against the table after thinking the Notifications Center on iOS 5 doesn't work. It does work, it just has a couple of specifications that aren't too obvious at first. Once you do realize what requirements have to be met, then it becomes a piece of cake! 

Hearts, stars, and horseshoes,

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