Q: My employer just switched from the BlackBerry to the iPhone 4. My supervisor mentioned one of the things that he really misses about the BlackBerry is its LED that constantly blinks to alert users of a new message. I know there is something similar in the iPhone’s accessibility settings that uses the camera’s flash, but having never enabled the feature, I’m not sure how closely it mimics the notification LED found on other smartphones (ie. does it blink just once or constantly until you acknowledge it).
A: Unfortunately, unlike the Blackberry, the iPhone doesn’t include any kind of normal alert LED. The “LED Flash for Alert” option found in the Accessibility settings uses the LED Flash on the back of the iPhone to draw attention to alerts for users with hearing difficulties, but only flashes in conjunction with an actual alert sound or vibration, rather than blinking repeatedly until an alert is acknowledged.
You may be able to work around this to some degree, however, by using repeating alerts for unacknowledged messages. For example, the iPhone provides a feature that allows you to repeat text message and iMessage alerts automatically at two-minute intervals up to 10 times until the message is actually read. Each of these alerts will be accompanied by the flashing LED if this is enabled. You can find this option in the Notifications section of the iOS Settings app.
Unfortunately, this type of option is not available natively for other types of alerts, but you may be able to use third-party apps such as MailTones or eNotify to provide repeated alerts for things like e-mail. Keep in mind, however, that these do not integrate with the built-in Mail app, but instead use other methods such as mail forwarding or a separate connection to the user’s mail server.
A key problem faced by developers in this case is that Apple doesn’t normally allow third-party apps to run in the background in such a way that they can intercept notifications and control the LED flash. If you’re willing to jailbreak the device, however, there are apps on the Cydia store that can be used for this purpose.
While we have not reviewed this product, another recent development that may be worth a look is an app and hardware accessory combination called myLED. The company provides a $30 LED accessory that connects to the iPhone headphone jack, with various colours available, in conjunction with an iOS app that is used to configure and manage alerts for e-mail, missed calls, Twitter, Facebook, battery level, cellular data usage, and VoIP services. As with other iOS apps, the downside seems to be that you must configure direct connections to your services as iOS doesn’t provide a way for the third-party app to intercept most system notifications, and some notifications such as Messages are not available at all. It’s also worth keeping in mind that this accessory connects to the headphone jack, so you will need to remove the accessory in order to connect a wired headphones or headset to listen to music or make calls.