The Anatomy of A Notification

The Anatomy of A Notification by Rands:

Human Consumable: We need a centralized, highly visible and beautiful place that contains all notifications for the apps and services we care about. The logical place is the first screen you see when you launch your phone.

Brief & Relevant: The use case for this screen is: “How quickly can I pull the phone out of my pocket and assess what the hell is going on?” The faster, the better. Preferably before I crash the car.

Portable: The interface must be the interface for all notifications. The triage experience is exactly the same whether I’m scrubbing Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. It’s cool if drilling down into a notification requires automatically jumping to a different app, but enough information must be presented to allow me to make the decision of “Should I proceed?”
Disposable: If a long period of time passes between when I check in, the triage experience is the same — tell me what is changing right now. I don’t care what happened yesterday. Old notifications are meaningless to me. I have other elegant means of assessing the changes of the week or month.

Timely: While notifications are disposable, their timely arrival is essential. The real-time push aspects are fully aligned with my attention deficiency disorders.

Lastly, this entire system needs governance by a well-designed notification application. iOS 4 already has a system-level notification system, but the presence and success of applications like Boxcar are a clear sign of the functional deficiencies of the system. We need a notification system that accounts for the fact we’re constantly signing up for new information, but don’t have the time or the tools to pay attention to it. We need a tool that allows us to adjust the level of detail of the data we receive to align with the level of attention we have to give it.

Notifications today are a firehose. Every app requests permission to send them and the average user grants that permission on first run and accepts whatever appears as a non-negotiable part of using the app. The result is a lock screen overflowing with notifications of highly varying value. As the Watch becomes the first place to see what’s happened while the user has been away, this is a recipe for depleted batteries and unhappy users.

Whatever shows up on the Watch must be manageable in quantity and appropriate in quality. And as the value of Watch apps as Apple has shown them is to distill app functions to their essential transactions, a greater means of control over which of these arrive on the Watch is essential. Apple is going to have to provide the means for moderating the firehose.

The Apple Watch app that showed up with iOS 8.2 seems like an ideal venue for providing such control, but having two different locations for notification management (the first living inside of iOS Settings) isn’t elegant enough. Future iOS releases are going to need significant investment in moderating notifications. Users need the tools and education to craft a strategy for what they want to accomplish on each device. And developers need methods and guidance for distilling their notifications into two tiers for two devices.