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Here’s Why I Think You Should Turn Off Your Mail Badge in iOS 5

Here is something that has been mentioned around the web since the release of iOS 5, but I want to mention it just in case you missed it: you can now shut off the Mail badge on your iPhone and iPad from Notification settings.

Some of the reactions I’ve seen online, like this quick one from Jeff Richardson (see bottom of post) have been ones of astonishment. Some people wonder why the hell you would ever want to turn off the red badge that tells you how many juicy new emails you may have to read, but I have to say that this is one of the best little improvements to hit iOS in a long while. Here is why:

Between text messages, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, there are a lot of pop-ups and badges vying for my time and attention. I used to think that, as someone who is very used to technology, I could easily switch between these various notifications without losing my focus. I was wrong.

Over time I found that, although I was reading each email in its entirety, I never really gave myself the time to process its contents afterwards. This resulted in a lot of messages that were only read in the most technical sense, because I hadn’t actually taken any mental notes on how to reply or process what was actually being said to me. Many of my messages may well have stayed unread.

So when the iOS 5 beta came out and I saw that I could turn off the mail badge, I decided to give it a shot. I wanted to see what it would be like not to be reminded on the main screen of my phone that there was something new to check on. So instead of seeing a red badge every time I view the home screen, I see a mail icon that looks like any other. In lieu of the badge, I have set emails to display as quick banners or as sets of five in the Notification Center.

I probably check email a little less now, but not a lot less. The biggest change in my life, however, is the lack of that nagging feeling that I associate with seeing a badge above an icon in iOS. Badges have been relegated to relic status for me, since banners, alerts, and Notification Center let me know that something is new (e.g. an email), but also what exactly it is (e.g. an email from Patrick about Disneyland trip). Specifically, banners let me know about important emails as they arrive, and Notification Center brings me a glimpse of the five most-recent emails, just in case I missed something. I think this change has made a major difference, because the quantity of information that I’m managing is still the same, but I’m now faster and more able to discern its pertinence.

I had long ago removed the badges for my RSS, Facebook, and Twitter apps, but it took until this latest iOS update for me to do the same to the Mail app. Your mileage may vary, but I find that my visits to the Mail app are much more productive now that the badge is gone. I now tend to open the app with a sense of purpose: I know I’m either going to reply to a specific email, batch read/delete irrelevant messages, or to simply sit down and catch up because I have mentally blocked off the time to read. I have almost eliminated those instances where I open the Mail app “just because”, and I have written this small post in the hopes that I may help liberate a few other people with this knowledge.

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  • Steve Smith

    but what if you look away from yuor device or set it down for a minute or so when a new email comes in, banner shows for a few seconds, then all gone. Without the badge you have to physically open the mail app to check to see if something canme in. I don’t get the benefit..

    • @Steve Smith
      Notification Center shows five most recent e-mails to me.

  • Brandon

    You sir are obviously not in a job which requires emails to be handled as high priority.


    On a side note – A notification banner will show up when you unlock the device if you’ve received a few emails while it was locked. I usually can safely ignore the badge – but when the number starts rapidly growing I have to pay attention because that typically means something is broken.

    • @ Brandon – no sir, I am not 😛 I’m sure there are jobs that WILL need the badge, but I think a lot of people that could go without it simply don’t know about the option, or what it (no badges) could mean for them.