Taming Apple Watch Notifications and Alerts

non-native alert and notification settings apple watch

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Trying to figure out how to set all of the notifications and alerts on your Apple watch can be confusing. In our article on 12 not obvious things you’ll want to know about the Apple watch, we explain a bit about how to work with notifications on your watch, but did not go into detail about setting notifications and alerts on your Apple watch. That’s why this article is devoted to the ins and outs of setting notifications and alerts on your watch.

First, let’s distinguish between notifications and alerts. Notifications are little notes from your watch saying things like “you have new email from John” or “text message from Sally”. They are added to the notifications screen, which you access by swiping down on your clock face.

Alerts are different from notifications – they are an extra feature that rides on the coat tails of your notification. Alerts are the things that pop up on your screen, saying “Hey! Look at me! I’m here to tell you that you have a text message from Sally!”

Now, the apps from which you receive notifications and alerts on your Apple watch fall into two categories: apps that are native to the Apple watch, and apps that are not on your watch, but which can pass notifications from your phone to your watch.

They are both controlled by the same setting section of your Apple watch app on your iPhone, but you have much finer control over apps that are native to the Apple watch than you do over non-native apps. That’s because the app is actually on your watch. For non-native apps, your phone is pushing the notification over to your watch, but the app isn’t actually on your watch. This is the reason that tapping on a notification from a native app will open the app, while tapping on a notification from a non-native app won’t open the app (because the app isn’t actually on your phone).

 

 

Notifications Setting Area in the Apple Watch App

notifications section apple watch app

 

Setting Apple Watch Notifications and Alerts for Native Apps

The native apps (the apps that come with your Apple watch) are listed first in the notifications settings area of your Apple watch app, and they are:

Activity
Calendar
Mail
Maps
Messages
Passbook & Apple Pay
Phone
Photos
Reminders

iphone watch native apps

With native apps you have much more control over the various alerts and notifications, in fact nearly the same controls you have over apps on your iPhone. So you can either simply have the watch app mirror the settings that you have for the same app on your phone, or you can create custom settings on your watch through the watch app. Notifications should be completely unobtrusive, as they should just silently go into your list of notifications on the notification screen. If you want the app to actually get your attention when something new comes in, you’ll want to also have “Show Alerts” set to ‘on’.

apple watch notification native app

 

That said, we say “should” above, because we have found that with some apps, for example the Mail app on the Apple watch, the only way to get notifications is to also have alerts set to on. So you can either have a notification and alert with each new mail, or nothing.

Also, from the main notification settings screen, you can set the Notification Privacy setting to either on or off.

apple watch notification privacy setting

 

When notification privacy is on, the only thing you’ll see in the pop-up alert is that you have a new email, and who the sender is, but if you tap on the alert you’ll see the subject and sometimes the first line of the email (depending on how the email you received was formatted). And tapping on that will open the message in the Mail app.

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Taming Apple Watch Notifications and Alerts

apple watch email alert no notification privacy
Mail alert with notification privacy set to ‘on’

 

On the other hand, when the notification privacy setting is off, you will also see the subject of the email and, again, possibly the first line of the email, right in the alert.

apple watch mail notification privacy off
Mail alert with notification privacy set to ‘off’

 

So, to recap, having an app set to ‘on’ in the notifications settings area of your Apple watch will get you notifications in your notifications screen, but you may only know if you have new notifications by the presence of the red dot which is the notifications notifier on your watch face. You may have to go a step further and set alerts to ‘on’ as well if you want an alert to pop onto your screen. Once you do that, you can also decide whether you want it to play a sound with the alert, and/or you want it to use the haptic function of your watch (basically a vibration upon alert).

Remember, these options are only available for native apps that came with your Apple watch.

Setting Apple Watch Notifications and Alerts for Non-Native Apps

Non-native apps are listed below the native apps section of the notifications setting area. With respect to non-native apps it’s helpful to think of notifications on your Apple watch as being passed from your iPhone to your watch. Not only that, but at least some non-native apps require that you set a banner or alert on your iPhone in order for a notification to show up on your watch. So, if you don’t have notifications and a banner or alert turned on for an app on your phone, don’t expect them to show up on your watch. And, in fact, if you don’t have notifications set to ‘on’ on your iPhone, that app won’t show up at all in the notifications area of your Apple watch settings.

In this example screen, the non-native apps that are listed also have notifications set to ‘on’ on our iPhone.

non-native alert and notification settings apple watch

We have Gmail on the iPhone, but have Gmail notifications on the iPhone set to ‘off’. And,as you can see, there is no notification option for Gmail in the Apple watch notifications settings in the above picture.

Now we turn on notifications and one type of alert on the iPhone:

alerts set on iphone for notifications on apple watch

 

and Gmail shows up in the Apple watch notifications settings area:

gmail shows up in apple watch notifications section

 

You need to be sure to switch the Gmail notifications setting to ‘on’ to get those notifications:

gmail notifications set to on apple watch

 

And that’s how you set notifications and alerts for each of the types of apps on your Apple watch.


 

You will probably find that you need to play with the settings combinations between your iPhone and Apple watch settings to fine tune how notifications and alerts work for each app, but at least now you know how to do it.

 

  
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Taming Apple Watch Notifications and Alerts

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Taming Apple Watch Notifications and Alerts
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Taming Apple Watch Notifications and Alerts
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Here's how to set notifications and alerts on your Apple watch, including the difference between the two, and between native and non-native Apple watch apps.
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