Thinking, that's all.
Notifications on iOS have been derided for a long time. Compared to the pull-down bar you see on Android phones or the subtle bar and icons of webOS, iOS’s interrupting modal messages seem inelegant.
I have no argument against those who claim that Android and webOS’s systems (in particular) are better, but I’ve never come down on the side that Apple should use either of them wholesale.
The reason the notifications on those two systems works so well is that they tie into the the OS in both cases. More than that, they’re baked inextricably into their parent software. You can’t simply lift them out and put them into iOS, because the app philosophy is totally different.
Specifically, iOS is more of a blank slate than the others, by design. The OS plays second fiddle to the app – the device effectively becomes each app as you open it.
If you start allowing the OS chrome to seep into the app’s UI (as it does with webOS), then that philosophy is compromised. (I realise the time/signal bar is often present in apps, but that’s at the dev’s discretion, so doesn’t count).
This is why I don’t mind the modal dialogues that freeze your app. It won’t cause any buttons to move, or options to be hidden. It respects the app’s control of your device, giving you the option of staying or leaving without changing anything.
At the time, I always thought, “Well, I can’t think of a better way.” But that doesn’t mean there isn’t one, so I’ve been giving it a lot more thought since then, and I know what I’d like Apple to do in future iOS versions.
iOS notification solved(ish)
The most important thing is a way to view notifications that doesn’t give you only the option to view what you’re being notified about now or dismiss it forever (save for the icon badges). This is the single main problem with the modal dialogue system in my view, though I wouldn’t argue with you if you said their interrupting nature was equally annoying.
So how do we make a list of notifications accessible easily in the absence of a consistent UI element like the notifications bar in Android or webOS?
Ah, but is there an absence of such a thing? If only Apple had included an element that allowed you to quickly bring up a bar at the bottom of the screen with additional options in…
The reason this doesn’t break my philosophy rule above (it does, after all, push the app up, just like webOS’s notifications bar) is that a) it has to be specifically invoked by the user, and b) it freezes the app. When you dismiss it, the app goes fullscreen again, and picks up from where you froze it. The app’s UI is not compromised at any point while it’s active.
The multitasking bar already serves some purpose for notifications by having the badges on the apps symbol, but they’re arranged by order of use, so it’s a crapshoot whether you’ll notice what each app has to offer.
What if when you opened the multitasking bar, it didn’t default to your recently used apps? What if it showed your most recent notifications? There are a few ways it could be arranged, and I’ve flipped-flopped back and forth about which would be best, but for now I’ve settled on this:
In this interface, notifications would be arranged in the order received, each its own entry. You just swipe up or down to get the next or previous one (in this picture, the current Twitter entry sits somewhere in the middle, with Facebook above, having a newer notification that hasn’t been actioned/deleted, and Prowl below).
Tap the notification text to be taken to that notification, or tap the app’s icon to open it in a more general way, in the same way the fast app switcher would.
I originally considered a kind of 3D view, which showed the next and previous apps more clearly, but didn’t really fit with the overall iOS aesthetic. This version is also not entirely iOS-like – you wouldn’t normally see things creep into view on iOS as they do here, but I think its still the least flashy or complicated way to show that there’s more to see.
I wondered about arranging notifications by app, or having a split view, where you would scroll between apps on the left using the icons and then go through the notifications on the right by scrolling the text. In some ways, this is appealing, but I also think it’s overly complex.
I think the badges serve this purpose well enough. They tell you immediately that there’s more than just this notification to look at from that app, so you can either scroll through this screen to find it or just hit the icon to launch the app.
Dismissing a notification without going to its app could be achieved by long-pressing on it (which is already the established way to get rid of things in the multitasking bar), at which point a delete button would appear. I think the app’s icon should still retain a badge for the dismissed notification, though.
To get to the app switcher from this notifications screen, you just swipe to the left, and to get to the controls you swipe to the right, as you do now.
How will you know there’s a new notification waiting? I think a vibration and noise will be enough for most people, since they’d allow you to just continue with what you’re doing until you’re ready to bring up the Notifications bar with a double-tap of the Home button. You could take it at your own pace, with no interruptions.
But what if you miss the vibration or sound? Or what about deaf people? It shouldn’t just be left to pot luck whether you happen to open the Notifications bar (as I am now calling it, with a capital) and see an important message. BlackBerry phones have lights on for just this purpose, as do some Android phones.
I think a light is the answer, but not slapped on at the top of an iPhone or similar. In fact, I wouldn’t change the way an iDevice looks to add the light. There’s a perfectly good small part on iOS devices already that could be used.
I think the Home button’s white square should be backlit. A slow, gentle pulse as standard would suffice to let you know new notifications are waiting. Think of the sleep indicator on MacBook Pros.
So does all the stuff proposed above free us from the modal dialogues completely? Actually, no. I think they should stay. I’d like to see it hardwired into the OS that the user can choose between ‘Passive’ notification (just the noise, vibration and light) or ‘Active’ notification (the modal pop-up) for every single app.
(At the moment, emails do something similar to Passive notification, but without the Notifications bar information, while text messages are Active. We’re partly talking about expanding this difference and making it optional.)
The reasoning behind my thinking here is that I want some important apps to interrupt me. Due is a great reminder app that I use all the time, and I need it to get right in my face so I don’t miss what it’s reminding me about. That’s the point of the app.
I’d prefer text messages to come up as a modal, too, but some people might not, so they can just turn it to Passive. Equally, if you’re a Strategery junkie, you could set that to Active, where others wouldn’t.
And when you hit ‘Dismiss’, it only goes down to the Notifications bar, rather than becoming just another badge on an icon.
In the same menu as the Active and Passive options, there could be a couple of different lighting options for the Home button. A slow pulse could be the standard, but you might like to make it produce two quick flashes if you’ve received a text message, for example. There wouldn’t need to be hundreds of options, but a couple for your most important apps would be helpful.
I know there are some holes in this masterplan. What if the device is landscape orientation? I have decided to man up and ignore this for now. Well, the current multitasking bar doesn’t support landscape viewing on iPhone or iPod touch, so I think I can get away with this.
I think some people may not agree that this solution shows enough information on-screen at once. One notification at a time could mean a lot of scrolling, but this is why the badges are an important inclusion. However, I think it’s a legitimate complaint. One possible solution would be that you could expand the Notifications bar up the screen by dragging it, maybe making it fullscreen – much like on Android, in fact. I’m not convinced this is really necessary, though.
People may not be happy with the Home button lighting up, which is fair enough. I don’t see a reason it couldn’t be turned off in the settings. Some smart arse may also bring up the white iPhone 4 and iPad 2. To which I say: a) what white iPhone? and b) ah, you’ve got me there. Perhaps the whole Home button could light up instead of the square in that case.
I haven’t touched on the Lock screen here. I think it’s real estate that Apple could be using better, but it’s not what I’ve been thinking about. That said, you could easily fit the three most recent notifications on there formatted in the style of the Notifications bar.
I’ve also not mentioned the phone function at all. Basically, I see no reason to change the way it currently totally halts and replaces your app. In this case, I think that kind of imposition is fine. The iPhone is a phone, no matter what else you use it for 90 per cent of the time. I would say that how it handles voicemail notifications for Visual Voicemail should be customisable like all other notifications, though.
The mobile networks responded to TechRadar about Ofcom’s decision to cap connection fees. They seem to have decided that veiled threats are the order of the day.
We are really disappointed that Ofcom has ignored the evidence that termination rate cuts will mean higher costs for pre-pay customers especially at a time when money is tight for many families
Notice the casual avoidance of reponsibility. There is “evidence”, as if discovered in some neutral investigation, and not being totally at the whim of Vodafone.
Our concerns focus on the impact of the decision to our vulnerable pay-as-you-go customers
“Mr Union Leader, our concerns focus on the impact of the decision to your vulnerable children.”
It results in charges that are too low.
Too low for what? To make a profit, or to make continued huge profits? Is it really costing more than 2.66p per minute for the networks to receive calls, to the point that things will collapse financially on 1 April?
From my review of the Handspree Hannspad over at TechRadar. Find the rest here.
Apple’s 30 per cent cut on subscriptions and content is different from other retailers, because for many of these companies (such in the case of Amazon Kindle) Apple would just be a payment service.
Retailers – all retailers – will be used to paying transaction fees. 5 per cent on credit cards, maybe. A few per cent on your PayPal purchases. This is all normal, and it’s rarely reaches anyway near the 10 per cent mark.
30 per cent just for taking payment!? Amazon is quite capable of actually serving the content itself, it doesn’t need to pay for server costs.
It’s not like WH Smith taking a big cut, because WHS is the retailer. Apple isn’t, in the case of Kindle. Kindle doesn’t need a retailer. It’s got one: Amazon.
This situation is more like a WH Smith’s in a train station, where the train station insists on taking 30 per cent of WHS’s profits sold on books in the station. Which, in this case, is WHS’s entire profit margin. The train station’s rules say that if WHS sells books at stores outside of the station, it must also stock them in the station, even though it makes no money, so WHS can’t just not stock them.
What choice would there be but to leave the station?
“Our philosophy is simple—when Apple brings a new subscriber to the app, Apple earns a 30 percent share,” said Steve Jobs. Perhaps this is fair, if Apple was really bringing these new people to Amazon’s Kindle app. I don’t think it is. I think Kindle’s momentum is its own, and it’s hard to see this move as anything other than a land grab.