Notifications have become the pop up ads of the smartphone age. We as mobile app developers, brands and marketers want to push as much information to users as possible, encouraging them to launch and interact with our apps. But there’s a fine line between getting the user’s attention, and annoying them. So how should notifications be handled to hit the sweet spot, without risking the user turning off notifications on their device? Let’s explore this age old problem.
Time to Smarten Up
Mobile users expect apps to be smart. The tech industry has been praising itself on the huge achievements made in areas like machine learning. And yet our apps and smartphones, which we interact with on a daily basis, cannot differentiate between notifications that could be useful to a user, and those that are not.
Just because some apps practically spam users with useless information doesn’t mean we need to switch off notifications totally; notifications from apps such as emails and messaging are extremely important to users.
Rather than turning off notifications altogether, smartphones need a smarter notification system. Nowadays, users have a multitude of devices with the same apps installed on each, either as an extension or as a completely new app. Initially, only smartphones enabled apps to interact with users via notifications; this worked quite well as users had only one device, and could choose whether they wanted to be notified of information the app wanted to share with them or not.
The Growth of Gadgets
As users became comfortable with smartphones, a new category of devices called tablets were launched. These offered similar functionality to smartphones, but had more screen space, enabling users to perform tasks that were difficult to complete on small smartphone screens. Not only could users install apps on their tablet, they could also download universal apps they had already purchased for their smartphone.
When users install the same apps on both their smartphones and tablets, they are essentially logged in using the same account. This means any notification sent to the user would appear on both devices; the app acts independently from the device. So if a user has already interacted with the notification while using their smartphone, they would still find the same notification waiting on their tablet.
With the rise of other devices such as smartwatches, televisions and set-top boxes, it’s easy to see how notifications can feel like spam for a user. While notifications can be cleared with a few taps on the screen, doing this repeatedly on 3 - 4 devices one after another will soon wear thin. In an age where we are proud of our intelligent virtual assistants and advancements in machine learning, it makes no sense that an app cannot recognise that it has been launched on one device, so doesn’t need to show the notification on another.
Smartphones and tablets may have a similar set-up, but smartwatches, televisions, set-top boxes and even car infotainment systems are completely different, despite being linked to the Apple or Android ecosystem.
It makes no sense for mobile app developers to push the same kind of notifications on these platforms as they would on smartphones or tablets. These devices require a different approach, as brands and mobile app developers are finally beginning to realise.
Smartwatch users tend to be more tolerant of notifications; it gives them the opportunity to discard unnecessary notifications before they take their smartphone out to use the app. Even so, it makes little sense for users to receive notifications from apps which they cannot interact with on their smartwatch.
If there is a notification, the user should be able to open the app on the watch – at least for basic interactions. An example of this done well is Slack, where users can send replies from their Apple Watch. However, if the user can only see a notification and must access their smartphone to complete the interaction, the notification shouldn’t appear on their watch.
TVs and Set-Top Boxes
Similarly, users can have the same app installed on their smartphone as their televisions and set-top boxes, via the Apple or Google ecosystem. Yet it makes no sense for the user to get notifications on the set-top box or television for an app which has no interaction available on these devices. If the notification forces the user to move to their tablet or smartphone, the app developer or brand should look at disabling these completely for the television or set-top box.
Car Infotainment Systems
One platform where notifications should be strictly controlled, to send only important information, is car infotainment systems. Both Apple and Android are working with multiple automobile manufacturers to push their connected infotainment systems into as many cars as possible. These infotainment systems will have compatible apps, which the user can interact with using their car console when their smartphone is connected. However, notifications can be extremely distracting, creating potentially dangerous situations when they distract the driver’s attention away from the road.
Both ecosystems should work aggressively to control the apps and the kind of information they want to make available to users via CarPlay / Android Auto. The only scenario in which these platforms could support more notifications is when all cars on the road are essentially autonomous, requiring little or no interaction from the user to drive – a not too distant future, according to rumours in the industry….
Mobile app developers and brands need to think about how they approach notifications as apps evolve beyond the realm of smartphones and tablets to feature on new types of devices. Looking to optimise notifications for your apps? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org - we’d love to discuss your options.