[Scroll to bottom for the updated info following the WWDC 2011 keynote.]
In a previous blog post (iOS notifications: what are the problems?), I exposed the real issues that lies under the current implementation of iOS notifications. Those who think Apple is interested to buy the maker of Boxcar are misunderstanding the issues. The iOS notification backend is not the root of the problem. Nor is the way push notifications works. The problem is the user experience of handling push notifications. Boxcar is an application that helps you define triggers on Twitter or an RSS feed to get notified under certain conditions. This is not where Apple needs to invest its resources. What needs to be fixed is very simple:
- how do we present notifications to the user in a way that is less obstructive
- how the user can peek and manage the notification stack
In order to implement less obstructive notifications to the users, one must understand the stages of notifications:
- visual cue for new notifications
- invocation method to get access to the notification stack
- management of the notification stack
The first part of my proposal is to focus on the visual enhancement targeted at the status bar. The status bar could see the addition of a small icon just on the right. This icon would be present when the device just got a notification in the last hour (could be user-defined setting). For lightly used device, the icon shouldn't be there too often. For heavily connected users, it could be always there because of frequent notifications. In that case, the notification icon could disappear once the users visit the notification stack (more on that later). In general, the proposed behaviour is pretty much the same as the one we experience with the location services pointing arrow.
- Low battery warning
- Location services usage permission request
- All other notification requiring immediate user acknowledgement
- swipe gesture on the status bar
- introduction of a notification space in the task switcher
- notifications app with a red badge
A swipe gesture could be a vertical gesture: from the status bar to the bottom. Then, a special view would take over the home screen (a little bit like the search view) to display the notification stack. There is a small problem with this scenario: the status bar is already responsive to a single tap in order to scroll the current view to the top of the displayed data. So this could be problematic.
|Notifications sorted by time|
|Notifications sorted by applications|
|Standard visual organization for notification's detailed view|
|Notification's detailed view example|
To get a more complete proposal, we have to define what kind of notifications do we expect to put there:
- calendar notifications
- missed calls
- sms message
- location-based notifications (introduced in iOS 4)
- app store updates available (why not!)
- long lasting task completion from backgrounded apps
- clock notifications
- Game Center notifications
- event-based notifications (checkins)
Apple should provide the following settings in Notification section of the Settings.app:
- to let the user see immediately a notification (this is the current obstructive way)
- quiet periods: start, end, weekdays, holidays, all day, repeat
- how long to display notification visual cue
- how long to keep notifications in the stack: days, weeks, months
- sort notifications by date or by application
- notification flag in the status bar: always, for notifications in the last N hours, M days
PS: MacStories.net has another interesting point of view on iOS notifications. Good read.
[Update 1] Something very nice is MobileNotifyer: This is iOS notifications done right (video). Very cool.
[Update 2] Another take on this famous problem: http://talkingpengwin.com/re-design-of-the-ios-notification-system. I think my proposal is better though.
[Update 3 - After the WWDC 2011 Keynote] I just finished looking at the Apple video presenting the Notification Center. I'm happy to see that they essentially did what I wanted. In fact, instead of a dedicated application for managing notifications, they managed to put all this into a scrolled-down view. Access is also more direct as you can swipe on the lock screen a notification to directly get to the right app that handle the notification. The user of the rotating block at the top is also in line with the status bar while a call is in progress while switching to another app. This make the visual user experience more coherent. Stay tuned for a more complete analysis.