There are plenty of ways to manage notifications on the iPhone and Apple Watch – methods range from simple permission boxes when you first open an iPhone app to more configurable features like Focus modes. However, there’s one workflow that Apple doesn’t offer yet that would greatly improve the Apple Watch experience.
The way notifications work between the iPhone and Apple Watch now, as the default, is fine. If you allow notifications from an app on your iPhone, the Apple Watch will suck up the alert without sounding on the iPhone. And people love the convenience of glancing at a notification on the Apple Watch instead of pulling out the iPhone!
But what happens if you decide you don’t want to use the Apple Watch for notifications? You can turn off notifications for each app, one at a time. The default is still to mirror notifications for every new app you install on your iPhone.
You can turn on Do Not Disturb or another Focus mode on the Apple Watch as a workaround, but I believe this will always be mirrored on your iPhone for right now, and either way, that’s only a workaround – not the fix.
Here’s what I want to see in a future update to the iPhone and Apple Watch:
- A single toggle in the Watch app on iPhone to disable notifications from all apps that alert on iPhone
- A new permission box on the iPhone when opening apps for the first time — just like iPhone notifications
My colleague and merch store attendant Parker Ortolani mocked up a simple example of how this could look:
The case for no notifications
Adding yet another permission request during app onboarding isn’t great, but I’m keeping my requests modest today and not asking for a single box with toggles for each request. That said, I’m not finished with suggesting changes to how the Apple Watch works.
So why might someone want to keep notifications on the iPhone as if the Apple Watch were never introduced?
The simplest answer is that frequent notifications can be too much. A more complex reason is that some alerts are only useful for learning information rather than doing something with that information without the iPhone. Furthermore, if you still view your iPhone regularly throughout the day, dealing with notifications on two screens instead of one can add to the mental load, rather than reducing screentime as intended.
Those reasons are all rather subjective and are based on how you use your iPhone – a more objective argument involves sound. When reviewing the original Apple Watch in 2015, something I mentioned was that notifications are limited to preset tones, and I naively assumed this would change within a year.
Use Messages or Mail notifications? Both ding with the same sound. Receive an alert from apps with their own tones like Spark or Tweetbot? Both ding with the same sound.
This doesn’t affect you if you keep your watch muted, but there’s no good reason that notification sounds haven’t changed in six years. (Apple did change the ringtone when Apple Watch Series 3 added cellular, but you can’t choose between the two different versions.)
One could argue that distinguishing notifications by sound isn’t as important for glanceable notifications, but I would counter that sound options isn’t a hard problem to solve. Maybe watchOS 9 and iOS 16 will save us!
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