Why notification bubbles are broke (and how windows phone managed to fix them)

This is a quick thought about notification behavior. It features me, notification bubbles, windows phone and even my mom. It’s also my first article ever.

Vincent Jouty
Apr 19, 2017 · 4 min read

When I was a child I built a notification solution for the family letter-box. Made by recycling a school project with a couple of switch, tape, a 9v battery and a small red lightbulb that turns on when someone insert a letter and could be turned off by opening the box’s door.

In my guiltless eyes it was a dream comes true but for my mother it was just a bunch of tape and a dirty pair of wire hanging from the letter-box to the kitchen windows across our tiny garden. And which 13y old kid gets more than 3 letter a year anyway ?

So I finish school, got a job, saved some money (tried to), bought my first iPhone (a 3G) and finally here there were :

The Notification Bubbles

Those little red ballons floating ahead of our app icons. Aren’t they perfect and weren’t they obvious?
You got a new mail and they just advise you. Simple system that fulfills the needs to know if it’s worth the pain to go checkout our mailbox and prevent us to miss one.


If they are perfect, how could they be broke ?

Well, It’s not how they work, it’s how they think : They don’t care about you, they just care about the number of unread mails/sms/calls/whatever you have in this app since… well since day one.

I don’t mind about how many mails I haven’t read, I only mind about the new ones.

- Me

In my family letter box, the light told me that there is something to checkout in the box. After you checked-out the light just switch off, whatever you did with whatever was inside the box.
But in our case the bubble just keeps telling me that I didn’t read that mail from January 2014 about a great amazon discount, this one and 19 973 others.

What the heck bubble ? Do you really think that one day I’ll sit back and review all of them one by one?

If I’m not an organized man that is my business but still, if I don’t want to open something or sort-it, transfer-it, archive-it or reply-it (technologic) it’s clearly not the business of an incremental number inside a red bubble (no offense).

So what Vincent? Could you please stop whining about those poor bubbles ?

So I wish that the bubble had a kind of “reviewed” state. It should speak quieter after you checked the notification list inside the app.

Let’s keep the mail example and say you will receive 2 mails. The first one you saw it inside the mail box but didn’t open it. When you come back on your home-screen a moment latter the second mail kick’s in. the bubble should tell you that there is 2 unread mail and one that you’ve never heard about before.

Windows Phone knew how to do it

I know, windows phone is not the cool kid anymore. But when it was I decided to take advantage of the fact that I had lost my iPhone in a cab to give a try to the Redmond OS.

Suddenly I felt less busy : and no more unuseful notification. (but also no more apps and no more updates).

The mail app tile had a great behavior :

It tells you how much mails you haven’t heard about since the last time you’ve opened it. Then it flips and show you a preview of the most recent mail.

And once you’ve opened it, the counter reset it self. But you could still know at glance on the mail list which mail was read and which wasn’t, thanks to a tiny bubble right aside every unread mail.

It felt natural, it didn’t pushed me to act, it was just doing its job to make the information reach it’s target : me

But then snapchat and other app became popular, and apple released the standing iPhone 5s… So long HTC 8X…

Organisation is personal

Each of us have its own organization system. Some are better in some case while other are mostly inefective. Some of us even may need help with their personal organization.

But organizations is ours.

It’s how we interact with the outside world by allow us to read its information layer. And that’s a big deal! That’s why I think that Us, designer/dev/creators… should be more precautious even when we are just counting things for others.


Thank you for reading, my next article will be named :

Wait, designer should code right? Or shouldn’ they ?

Oh and and I got a question for english-speakin-native-person, Do my article is pleasant enough to be read? If you got some times I would be very grateful for any advise.

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