iOS Notifications & the last 10%

March 1st, 2011 § 1 comment

iOS Notifications

iOS Notifications

There is a great post on the cocoia blog contrasting the various notification systems on iOS, Android and WebOS1. Much like the dark days before Copy/Paste I have full confidence that Apple is not holding back a new system out of laziness or greed but because of their top down ethos of perfectionism. A friend of mine put it very well when he said “they don’t like things that sometimes work, it either works or you can’t have it.”2 The mistake that Apple often makes is that they spend so much time getting the UI right that it seems obvious that it should have been that way all along. I’m sure they have implemented many notification alternatives that were at most 90% acceptable but instead of suffering through half a dozen iterations that slowly approach decent UI they go through one. They are holding out for that last 10%.


If you looked at the mobile OS copy/paste solutions before Apple implemented one it was laughable. Often involving a scroll ball and/or many button clicks they were not only opaque to the average user but inconsistent to the point where it was anyone’s guess whether some bit of text could be copied or not. While many people rolled their eyes and said “about f-ing time” when Apple released their version of this seemingly simple UI element I had quite a different reaction. I had suspected they would do something with a tap+hold but their selection implementation was so brilliant that it seemed obvious and simple. It instantly made every other mobile OS look antiquated and, well, stupid.

Everyone loves to say that Android has a superior notification system to iOS and while I have always agreed that I would appreciate it I have also suspected it was unsuitable for the average user. This was cemented for me when my stepmother upgraded from a blackberry to a Droid X. Having been a savvy texter since her Nokia feature phone I often communicate with her this way because she is hard to get a hold of on the phone. Which is why I didn’t think too much when I inquired about her birthday plans and didn’t hear back. I just assumed that she hadn’t figured it out yet. As it turns out she didn’t get my message for 3 days because it was lost in the sea of notifications. I can’t imagine this happening to even the most inexperienced iPhone user.3

Not until she casually opened her messages app did she happen to notice my unread message. I then showed her how you could swipe down from the top to reveal notifications and she was stunned despite having had the phone for 3 weeks. I couldn’t blame her either because the only reason I knew about the feature was because I had read about it online. There is absolutely no visual indication that shows the user how to access this vital area. The modal window may be annoying but you sure as hell aren’t going to miss a message.

I’m assuming that sometime in June or July Apple will announce a new phone, a new version of iOS and probably a new notification system. It will be simple, easy to use and impossible to ignore. It will seem so obvious that people will roll their eyes and wonder why it took them so long to implement it. While it will borrow much from Android and WebOS it will be both subtly and vitally superior. It won’t take much for them to catch up but that last 10% of UI design is arguably the most important and the most difficult.

  1. Via Daring Fireball []
  2. Alfred Morgan []
  3. I would be curious to see what the SMS adoption rates are for iPhone users compared to Android. In my anecdotal experience even people who didn’t know what text messages were have started using them when they switched to the iPhone. Being easy to ignore on a feature phone the modal windows on an iPhone force the user to at least dismiss them. []

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