iPhone lock screen with no older notifications

Notification settings are relatively complex on a modern iPhone or iPad. It’s possible for an app to play sounds or vibrate your phone without showing any visible notifications. Here’s how to pin down the offender.

Phantom Vibrations (and Sounds)

It’s worth remembering that phantom vibrations are a common phenomenon. Many people have felt their iPhone vibrate in their pocket, only to pull it out and realize it hadn’t vibrated at all. Phantom sounds can also occur, especially in noisy locations. Did your phone’s notification sound really play? Perhaps that was just another sound amidst the din of noise—or the same notification sound coming from someone else’s phone.

But that’s not the only issue. Your iPhone could have vibrated or played a sound even if there are no notifications on your notification center or lock screen when you check it.

An App Has Invisible Notifications Playing Sounds

Apps can have invisible notifications that vibrate your phone or play your notification sound.

To check for this, head to Settings > Notifications. If an app is set to “Sounds” without “Banners,” it will play a notification sound without showing you any visible notifications. If an app is set to “Sounds” without banners, but with “Badges,” it will show a red notification badge with a counter of new items on the app. It plays a sound when the badge increases, but it won’t show a visible notification.

iPhone notifications screen showing an app with only sound alerts.

Scroll through the list and look for any such sneaky apps. If you see one or more set only to “Sounds,” they’re likely the cause of your iPhone’s mysterious beeps and vibrations.

If you find such an app, tap it, and then choose what you want to do. For example, you might want to disable notifications for that app entirely by toggling “Allow Notifications” or enable visible notification banners under “Alerts.”

iPhone's app "Notifications" screen.

A Notification Appeared and Vanished

It’s possible your phone might ding and wake up only for the notification to vanish a few moments later.

This isn’t too common, but it does happen. The same app that sent a notification to your phone can “unsend” it and clear it from your phone later. You can see this in action when using messaging apps on multiple platforms. If you view an unread message on another device, the app will often clear that message’s notification from your iPhone. After all, you’ve already seen it on another platform; you don’t need to see it again.

Some messaging apps might also allow someone to delete a message they sent to you. Depending on how the messaging service is programmed, the app may also clear the notification from your iPhone or iPad. In other words, if someone sends you a message and deletes it, your iPhone may beep or buzz, but the notification might vanish before you look at it.

Again, this isn’t too common—even some apps that let people delete messages won’t automatically delete the notification associated with the message. There’s a good chance that vibration in your pocket was just a phantom vibration and not associated with a notification that’s since vanished.

On an Android phone, it’s possible to look at the notification history to determine whether this occurred and see the text of the notification. However, Apple’s iOS operating system offers no such feature. On an iPhone, there’s no way to discover which app is sending and clearing notifications unless you happen to be looking at the screen when the notification appears and then vanishes.

Chris Hoffman Chris Hoffman
Chris Hoffman is Editor in Chief of How-To Geek. He's written about technology for nearly a decade and was a PCWorld columnist for two years. Chris has written for The New York Times, been interviewed as a technology expert on TV stations like Miami's NBC 6, and had his work covered by news outlets like the BBC. Since 2011, Chris has written over 2,000 articles that have been read more than 500 million times---and that's just here at How-To Geek.
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