How to Set iPhone Message Alerts

By Edward C. Baig, Bob LeVitus

Your iPhone can alert you to new messages with an audio alert, an on-screen alert, or both. If you want to hear a sound when a message arrives, go to the Home screen and tap Settings →    Sounds →    Text Tone, and then tap one of the available sounds. You can audition any sound in the list by tapping it.

You hear the sounds when you audition them in the Settings app, even if you have the ring/silent switch set to silent. After you exit the Settings app, however, you won’t hear a sound when a message arrives if the ring/silent switch is set to silent or the Do Not Disturb feature is enabled.

If you don’t want to hear an alert when a message arrives, instead of tapping one of the listed sounds, tap the first item in the list: None.

You can also assign a custom alert sound to anyone in your Contacts list. Follow the instructions for assigning a custom ringtone, but instead of tapping Ringtone, tap the item directly below it, Text Tone.

In addition to playing a sound when a new message arrives, your iPhone can also display several types of on-screen alerts. To enable or disable these visual alerts, tap Settings →    Notifications →    Messages. If you don’t see the Messages Options section, flick upward on the screen to scroll downward.

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You have myriad options for new message notifications.

What happens when you receive a new message depends on how you’ve set your notification options, so let’s take a look at them as they appear on the screen, starting at the top:

  • Allow Notifications: This setting is the master on/off switch for Messages notifications in Notification Center. Turn it on if you want to see ’em there; turn it off if you don’t.
  • Show in Notification Center: Decide whether you want to see 0, 1, 5, or 10 recent items in Notification Center.

Swipe downward from the top of any screen to see Notification Center. Note, too, that on-screen alerts are not affected by turning this setting on or off. Rather, the Notification Center on/off switch determines whether or not notifications from the Messages app appear in Notification Center. The upshot is that if you choose banners or alerts as the Alert Style, you’ll still see a banner or an alert on the screen when a new message arrives, but you won’t see it in Notification Center.

  • Sounds: Tap this setting to change the sound you hear when a new message arrives. (Or set it to None.)
  • Badge App Icon: This on/off setting determines whether you see a badge with the number of unread new messages on the Messages icon.
  • Show on Lock Screen: Enable this setting to see new message alerts when your iPhone is locked.
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Notifications when your iPhone is locked (left) and in Notification Center (right).
  • Alert Style When Unlocked: Tap this setting to select the appearance of on-screen notifications when your iPhone is unlocked.

Both the Banners option and the Alerts option display the notification at the top of the screen. If you select Banners, after a few seconds the notification disappears with a slick little animation. If you select Alerts, however, the notification remains on the screen until you either dismiss it by flicking it upward or reply to it by swiping the little gray bar at the bottom of a banner downward toward the bottom of the screen. The keyboard appears and you can type your response immediately, without opening the Messages app.

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When your iPhone is unlocked, banners appear at the top of the screen and then disappear after a few seconds.

Finally, the None option means neither a banner nor an alert appears on the screen when a new message arrives.

  • Show Preview: This setting determines whether or not you see the first line of the message and a picture from the message in banners or alerts.
  • Repeat Alerts: Tap this setting to select the number of times an alert is repeated. Your choices are Never, Once, Twice, 3 Times, 5 Times, 10 Times, or at two-minute intervals.

Notifications on the Lock screen look like the same regardless of whether you’ve selected banners or alerts. The notifications remain on the Lock screen until you swipe the Slide to Unlock slider at the bottom of the screen or slide a notification icon to reply. If you’ve enabled your iPhone’s passcode feature, you will need to enter your passcode after you swipe.