Apple finally has the right attitude about notifications in iOS 12
Dieter Bohn, writing for The Verge:
There were a lot of great features announced last week at Apple’s WWDC, but the one that’s going to have the biggest effect on my day-to-day life is the overhaul to how notifications are managed in iOS 12.
Back in April, I detailed four things that Android does better than the iPhone when it comes to notifications. With iOS 12, Apple has taken care of three of them. Notifications can be grouped, it’s easier to make them silently appear, and, most importantly, you can directly manage settings from the notification itself. Android P still claims to do a better job of prioritizing notifications, but three out of four isn’t bad.
I suspect that the features Apple added to iOS 12 will go a very long way toward helping people get control over their notifications. Dealing with notifications was one of the iPhone’s most glaring UI deficiencies compared to Android, and I am glad to see something a little closer to parity coming.
More important than a bulleted list of features is what I think is a change in attitude about notifications inside Apple. In years past when I’d complain about them, I would basically hear a message that trying to manage your entire phone experience through a notification center was a recipe for a bad experience. That’s perhaps true, but it also missed the point: the increasing influx of notifications was real, and we need a better way to handle them.
With iOS 12, I see Apple actually contending with that bare fact. Along with the basic changes to managing the notifications, it also added the Screen Time feature to help you manage how much time you spend on your phone. (Google announced a similar thing for Android P, but the likelihood that a majority of Android users will get P in the next six months is tiny.) Apple also added more nuanced controls for Do Not Disturb.
Taken together, I see a shift away from treating notifications as a feed of information you just dip in and out of. It’s a recognition that notifications are like email: some are very important, most are not, and we need ways to differentiate between them.
Some of the iPhone’s new notification features are deeper and more interesting than I first realized. You can set time limits and location limits for when DND should end, but Apple is also using on-device analysis to suggest it. When a meeting pops up, Siri might send a notification saying your meeting “looks important! Turn on Do Not Disturb until the end of this event.”
What’s important about this attitude shift is that Apple is adding quite a bit of complexity to iOS. It’s a recognition that hard problems like notifications sometimes require complicated solutions. Whether or not Apple has struck the right balance of simplicity and complexity is a matter for the review, but for right now, I think I can speak to the philosophy of it.
Apple is leaving the default behavior pretty simple but giving us slightly faster ways to dive into its complex underpinnings. For example, tapping “Deliver Quietly” doesn’t do anything magical. It just sets up some already-existing settings for how a notification should arrive. Preventing notifications from buzzing your phone in one step is a great, helpful thing that tons of people will use. If you want more complexity, you can go in and mess with more discrete settings like Temporary vs. Persistent banners yourself. But you don’t have to.
Another example of contending with complexity is that Apple is finally recognizing that a ton of apps have their own in-app notification settings in addition to the global settings. For example, a news app has different categories of news, and a sports app has notifications for your team. Apple has made it easy for developers to deep-link into their in-app settings and put those links at the bottom of the global settings. It also put them in the pop-up for when you want to turn off notifications, giving developers one last chance to stay on your lock screen.
There’s another change that didn’t get mentioned on the main keynote stage but inside one of the developer sessions instead: Designing Notifications. Until now, developers only had a blunt instrument for sending you notifications: a pop-up asking if you want them. With iOS 12, developers can send their first notification directly to the Notification Center without asking your permission. That sounds awful, but the first time one appears, it will do so along with a prompt asking if you really want them or not.