The future of notifications

I just thought of putting some structure into a random thought process about app notificaitons, and write down my speculations. The email idea that I’m working on Tenen has been predicated on these thoughts.

If we look at the evolution of iOS, we can notice how the notification screen has changed, noticably from iOS 6 to 10. What was once a quick and easy way to remind us to open an app, has now become more or less ‘action central’. We can take certain actions from the notification area, without ever visiting the apps. WhatsApp, Uber, iMessage and almost all other apps allow such actions in their notifications. In the forthcoming releases, they will allow more of such actions. What I mean is that the future versions of iOS and Android will let the notifications get a lot more interactive and allow a multitude of actions as opposed to the minimal one level actions possible today. In Whatsapp probably you can send a reply and also see the last message in that thread. Right now the action gets dismissed as soon as you reply.

If I extrapolate the notification screen in iOS 10 a little further out into Augmented Reality, I can see how easy the transition is, because even in it’s current avatar, the notification screen is a floating translucent screen. It’s not hard to imagine the same translucent screen transposed on the real world. Though my thoughts are on AR are very premature at this stage, I’ll boldly make the claim that something on these lines will emerge. I’ll be happy to be proven wrong.

I also see the scope for a lot more personalization in notifications. Today, It’s impossible today to have selective notifications from within an app. For instance, I can’t tell my email client to send me notifications only for emails from certain senders during certain times of the day. I can see why, it’s obscenely complicated to add rules on a mobile interface. It shouldn’t be though. It should be way easier for the email client to understand my schedule and prompt for appropriate notifications. Sort of a selective Do Not Disturb within the apps.

When I started looking at deficiencies in email, and how they particularly affects my workflow, notifications started to emerge as the centrepiece. I believe that most of the information consumption should happen on the notification screen. It is pretty absurd to open an app for every action. Constraint driven notifications will push the envelope in interactions. Unfortunately, it’s not an open standard. Apple or Google gets to decide on the notification screen design. Wish a new mobile OS emerged with notifications as the central theme. Super lightweight notification based OS that can sit on any device. Snap Spectacles perhaps.

That said, the current iOS 10 notification screen is quite messy and leaves a lot to be desired for. The uniformity of swipe actions is lost. Now I don’t know what happens on a swipe right vs a swipe left, especially when the notification screen is filled with notifications. Add TouchID to this and the complication goes from bad to worse.

There is a need to greatly simplify the notification screen. I’d also argue that apps need to push as much information as possible to the notification payload, which means conveying more information in less words. I don’t know why this art of brevity is lost. I can’t help but see the irony in my own writing. Brevity often seems terse.

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