Next mobile battleground: notifications
I talk a lot about one filter for mobile applications is whether they really merit inclusion as one of the 20ish home screen icons for lots of users. Instagram replacing the iOS camera was a big one. Twitter or Facebook or Tumblr becoming so useful that users want them one tap away is another. It’s been a useful filter for me because it says a lot about how important and how urgent apps are for people.
The other big battle — one that ‘s more emergent — is an invisible one most of the time — it’s the battle for “notification space”. That is, which apps are important enough to merit being able to push themselves to the front of the line, pop up on your phone’s lock screen whether it’s awake or not.
I think right now this is a bit of a haphazard battleground. Things like SMS (and the actual phone application) hold privileged positions for historic reasons, but a lot of apps have lock screen rights just because you happened to click “okay” on the dialog and haven’t gone to undo them. The settings to manage these are incredibly complex and nuanced — and so many apps are vying for your attention now it’s getting very crowded. No wonder we’re all having trouble focusing on what we’re doing & staying in flow, while our phones keep beeping at us to tell us that it’s our turn on Words with Friends, that there’s a new article up on the NYT, or someone commented on a picture of a baby on Facebook.
This will have to clear up at some point.
My friend Joe Kraus made a big impression on me last year when he said he thinks that one of the very best gifts we can give our children — the thing that will help them achieve more and be better in their lives — will be the ability to focus. Reflecting on it, I think that’s always been true to some extent, but now, in an always-connected, eager-to-interrupt world, it’s quickly becoming crucial, not just for our kids, but for ourselves.
For my part, I’m aggressively turning off lock screen notifications on virtually every app on my phone. Here are a few exceptions:
- SMS & phone notifications stay on because they’re sort of my “bat signal” for family, friends & work.
- My calendar can ping me, although I don’t always turn on alerts. I’m on the fence about whether to give alert rights to task management & reminder apps.
- Apps that give me “superpowers” I leave on. Things like Highlight, for example, which let me know a little bit more about who’s around me. Apps that let me know what’s happening with events and businesses around me may stay on, too.
- I test a lot of apps, and I generally leave notifications on with those, to see how the interactions feel.
That’s about it. Mail is off. Games that I’m not completely obsessed with are off. News, feeds, quantified self motivators, all off.
Badges are related, but different, and interesting, too. A while back I accidentally turned off Facebook notifications on my iPad but left them on on my phone — and I’m finding that that’s changed my relationship with Facebook depending on which device I’m on. Alerts are the most problematic, because they take you out of flow — but badges are very tricky, too, because they tend to keep you in an “always catching up” mode.
Overall, though, I think a very interesting mostly invisible battleground to pay pretty close, um…attention to.