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How to silence notifications on smartphones and tablets

Prevent apps for iPhone, Android, and Windows phones from sounding off to announce the arrival of a message or alert.

Internet-connected phones and tablets are nearly everywhere, often ringing and chirping at the wrong time and in the wrong place.

Many e-mail and other messaging apps are set to send audible alerts by default. Not only can these unnecessary alerts be a major annoyance, they also use up some of the device's battery power each time they wake the machine from sleep mode.

In just a few steps you can silence some or all notifications and customize the way your device responds to alerts.

Of course, the simplest way to prevent your phone from ringing is to press its mute button. On an iPhone the mute toggle is on the top left of the device. To silence the Samsung Galaxy S III, either press and hold the down volume button on the left side, or press and hold the power button on the right side and choose "Silent mode" on the device options menu that appears.

The toggle switch on the top right side of the iPad can either mute the device or lock the screen in the current aspect. To change the button's operation, open the Settings, press General in the left pane, and choose either Lock Rotation or Mute under "Use Side Switch to" in the right pane.

Three ways for your iPhone and iPad to notify you
To open the Notification Center on an iPhone or iPad running iOS 5 or later, swipe down from the top of the screen. The Notification Center can't be accessed from the lock screen. Pressing a notification on that screen opens the related app.

The three types of notifications on iOS devices are sounds, alerts/banners that display on the screen, and badges that show an image or number on the app icon. To change an app's notifications, open Settings, press Notifications in the left pane, and select the app in the Notification Center.

iPad Notification Center options
Change the way iPhone and iPad apps send alerts -- or prevent them from sending any alerts -- via their settings in the Notification Center. Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

To prevent all alerts from an app, simply remove it from the Notification Center by switching the top toggle to Off. You can also change the number of recent items that display in banners from the default 5 to 1, 10, or 20.

The three options under Alert Style are none, banners that appear at the top of the screen and disappear after a few seconds, and alerts that require some action before you can proceed. The last three options in the Notification Center let you show or hide badge app icons, allow or block sound alerts, and show or hide alerts on the lock screen.

iPhone Do Not Disturb settings
The Do Not Disturb function in iOS 6 allows you to block calls and alerts during the hours you set, but not for just certain days of the week. Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

iOS 6 adds the Do Not Disturb feature that lets you block incoming calls and alerts at preset times. To activate the feature, select Settings > Notifications > Do Not Disturb. Toggle the Scheduled setting to On and choose a block of time for your Quiet Hours. You can also designate one of your Contacts groups to allow calls from group members during these hours, but to allow only one number through, you'll have to create a group containing just that number.

The last Do Not Disturb option lets you allow a second call from the same person through if it is received within 3 minutes of the first. Unfortunately, you can't allow persistent callers through from only a specific group the way you can designate a group as exceptions to the do-not-disturb sign.

The Apple support site offers some basic troubleshooting tips for iOS notifications as well as instructions for using Do Not Disturb on iOS 6 devices.

Disable notifications on Android devices
Android phones and tablets also show notifications by swiping down from the top of the screen. Press the gear icon to open the device's settings. Unfortunately, you can't disable all notifications at once; you have to control notifications on an app-by-app basis.

The Jelly Bean version of Android makes it easy to determine the source of notifications: press and hold the notification to view the app info, and then press that window to open the app management screen. Uncheck the "Show notifications" box, which generates a warning that doing so may cause you to miss "important alerts and updates."

Facebook notification settings on Android
Block or customize notifications on an app-by-app basis on Android devices, such as the notification options for the Facebook app. Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

In earlier versions of Android, deactivate an app's notifications by opening the program, going to its settings, and looking for notification options. For example, the Facebook app for Android lets you turn off all notifications, vibrate to indicate incoming alerts, flash LED, change the notification ringtone, and allow or block notifications for wall posts, messages, comments, friend requests and confirmations, photo tags, event invitations, nearby friends, app requests, and groups.

Some ill-behaved apps generate spam notifications offering free Corvettes or Rihanna's phone number and aren't particularly easy to trace. The free Addons Detector identifies the apps on your device and tells you which ones are sending push notifications.

On the Digital Trends blog, Simon Hill describes the free Lookout Ad Network Detector program that alerts you to the apps on your device that are using common ad networks.

Quash notifications on Windows 8
Depending on who you ask, Windows 8's live tiles are the greatest thing since nacho cheese Doritos or a sure sign of the apocalypse. Wherever you may stand on the issue, deactivating a tile is as easy as right-clicking it and choosing "turn live tile off." Unfortunately, you can't select multiple tiles and deactivate them all at once.

The Windows 8 notification options allow you to disable all notifications, deactivate notifications on the lock screen, and turn off sound notifications. You can change the notification settings for each app as well. To access Windows 8 notification settings, swipe from the right side of the screen or press Windows-C to open the charms sidebar.

Press the Notification icon to view options for hiding notifications for 1 hour, 3 hours, or 8 hours. To view more options, press "Change PC settings" and choose Notifications in the right pane. The first three options apply to all notifications: enable or disable app notifications, show or hide notifications on the lock screen, and play or silence notification sounds.

Windows 8 notification settings
The Windows 8 notification settings let you disable all notifications, those on the lock screen, and sound alerts for all apps or individual programs. Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

You can also show or hide notifications from each app capable of sending you alerts, including Calendar, Games, Mail, Messaging, Store, and Video.

AwayFind lets you be more selective about the notifications you receive
Smartphone notifications tend not to be discerning. For example, it isn't easy to distinguish the alert about an e-mail sent by your boss from one announcing the arrival of your neighborhood's monthly newsletter.

The AwayFind app for iPhone and AwayFind for Android phones let you specify messages from important people or about timely topics that you want to be alerted to right away. For instance, AwayFind can track messages mentioning an upcoming meeting to ensure you're aware of changes as quickly as possible.

You can designate senders as important for a day, week, month, or lifetime. The e-mail can be sent via SMS or voice alerts, Twitter DMs, or instant messages via AIM or Yahoo. AwayFind settings can be accessed from within Gmail and Outlook, and browser plug-ins are available for Chrome and Firefox, according to the company.

Three AwayFind plans are available: $5 a month for the Personal plan, which allows up to 100 alerts each month (within 5 minutes) for one e-mail account; $15 a month for the Pro plan, which allows up to 1,000 "instant" alerts each month from as many as five e-mail accounts; and $50 a month for the Max plan, which supports unlimited instant alerts from any number of e-mail accounts. The Pro and Max options support voice alerts as well as Google Apps and Exchange; you can try the plans for free for 30 days.