Illustration by Molly Hensley

People notifications

Aaron Labiaga
Jun 15, 2020 · 4 min read

In Android 11, we’re making Android more people-centric and expressive, reimagining the way we have conversations on our phones, and building an OS that can recognize and prioritize the most important people in your life. As part of that experience, conversation notifications in Android 11 appear in a dedicated section at the top of the shade, with a people-forward design and conversation specific actions, such as opening the conversation as a bubble, creating a conversation shortcut on the home screen, or setting a reminder.

This post takes a look a number of factors which can affect a notification’s ranking to help you understand how the notifications your app sends might be prioritized for your users.

What is a notification?

Notifications are signals in the UI that convey some sort of information to the user, such as news alerts, a chat message from a friend, or a reminder about an upcoming event.

There are different types of notifications, but in this blog post we will focus on people notifications as they play a critical role in the way we use our phones and are one of the core functionalities and usages of mobile devices today.

People notifications

People notifications are messages that have a person or persons(s) in context. Since Android 8 (Oreo), people notifications have received elevated treatment in the visual hierarchy of notifications in the drawer, prioritized after ongoing or critical/major notifications. Within people notifications, the ranking of your notification is higher when a notification has a person context and a contact URI assigned.

Notification drawer visual hierarchy

As an app developer, it is important to ensure that you use notifications for the right purpose, and that you don’t misuse a space which is not meant for your particular notification. For example, a notification about an upcoming event on a calendar app should not appear as an urgent notification in the conversation space. Although Android empowers its users, via notification channels, to configure the frequency, visibility, and importance of a notification, violating good practices takes away from the value and credibility of your app, and can negatively impact your standing in the Play Store.

Notification ranking

For those interested in the details of ranking or how notifications are ordered, prioritized, and sorted, the Notification Record is worth noting. It contains all the relevant information used to rank a notification and where ranking calculations occur. Notifications are ranked based on various factors: channel settings (priority for pre-channel notifications, pre Android 8.0), noisiness, freshness, and context. To see the various criteria that determine a ranking, look into all the classes that implement the NotificationSignalExtractor.

The ValidateNotificationPeople extractor is worth noting as it relates to people. Following through the validatePeople method call, it sets an affinity bit as the criteria to sort notifications by importance.

The affinity increases based on the following: if the notification is a valid contact, if the valid contact is from the user’s contacts and if the contact is starred or a favorite.

Android 11 and Conversations

In Android 11, there are changes further highlighting the importance of people related functionality. Messaging style notifications now have a dedicated section in the drawer/shade.

In addition to the new conversation space, Bubbles, which were previewed in Android 10, are built on top of notifications, and allow for easy linking to your conversations from a floating overlay.

The dedicated conversation space and bubbles elevates the people focus experience

If you take a look at the publishing of shortcuts in the Conversation APIs, conversations can also be surfaced throughout various parts of the system by following certain guidelines; facilitating sharing and allowing for certain actions with a person in context.

People first

These changes in Android 11 signify the platform’s direction in further investing in and improving people communication. For more information about these changes in Android 11 and API guidance, please check out conversations in the Android Developer docs.

Relevant Information


Android notifications

Android Developers

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