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March 21, 2014

The Frustration of iOS Banner Notifications

Filed under: Apple,Design,Experiential,Ideas,Interfaces,iOS,Mobile,Usability — admin @ 5:18 pm

Sagi Shrieber has written a thought-provoking piece on his annoyance with iOS notifications, offering some suggested improvements as to how notifications appear and how users might interact with them. The whole piece is worth a read but the basic jist is:

  1. Too often, iOS doesn’t get it right when you try to dismiss a notification by swiping it off the top of the screen. iOS interprets this swipe as a tap, taking you away from your current task. (I believe that you actually have to tap & hold the notification, drag it down a little then ‘throw’ it off the top of the screen to dismiss it — not easily done.)
  2. Because of the inherent clumsiness of the dismiss gesture you might opt to just ignore the notification instead and carry on with what you were doing. However, the position of the notification banner over the top of your currently-running app’s UI means that some of the controls of your current app are obscured for the duration of time the notification persists.

So when a notification arrives that you’re happy to ignore, you’re too afraid to swipe up and dismiss it because of the first issue yet you cannot really ignore it because of the second.

Sagi offers a couple of solutions to these issues:

  1. When a notification arrives, pull it down to show the necessary interface to deal with the notification. Once dealt with, swipe up to ‘put away’ the notification and return to where you were. (Note: Sagi’s initial sketch shows this swipe up feature, but his mockups do not seem to demonstrate it).
  2. Position the notification underneath the currently-running app’s titlebar, thereby keeping relevant UI and/or controls relating to the currently-running app visible and usable. So if you want to ignore a notification and keep doing what you’re doing, you can.

Whilst I love seeing other people’s ideas on improving already well established UIs (I’ve done it myself), I can’t help feeling that these suggestions overcomplicate notifications, their associated interactions and app hierarchy within iOS. A banner notification is designed to notify you of something in way that’s unobtrusive, along with offering you a way of ‘doing’ something with that notification — including dismissing it or ignoring it. In a nut, notifications should be simple, obvious and easy to act on or ignore.

Sagi’s piece focuses on a Whatsapp notification interrupting his use of the Homebudget app, so let’s keep going with that scenario here. I have a few questions on Sagi’s suggested improvements:

  • When I pull the notification banner down to load the Whatsapp interface, am I in the Whatsapp app or still in Homebudget? This is important when considering how I exit the Whatsapp interface to get back to what I was doing in Homebudget.
  • Considering the above, how do I get back to Homebudget? I want to be able to slide it back up to get back to Homebudget — the reverse of what I did to get into Whatsapp. If I can do that, where’s the affordance in the Whatsapp ‘sheet’ to tell me I can do this? And if I can swipe up to dismiss the Whatsapp interface, how will iOS know whether I meant to dismiss the Whatsapp interface or whether I wanted to invoke Control Center, also available by swiping up from the bottom of the screen?
  • If I can’t swipe the Whatsapp UI off the top of the screen to get back to Homebudget, how else do I get back? Double-tap the home button to show recently opened apps and select it from there? How is that any less annoying than what happens today?
  • Because the notification now sits within the content of the currently-running app — underneath the title bar — how will iOS know whether I’m trying to dismiss a notification or scroll? Granted, this is a challenge that applies to the current implementation of notifications (and is, perhaps, a reason why dismissing them is so hit & miss).
  • Is showing the notification underneath the title bar really a better solution? Whilst it avoids obscuring any controls residing in the titlebar, it’s still sitting over the top of content I was looking at. A notification over the top of a photo you’re about to post or a tweet you’re about to send is still in the way. (In either of these two scenarios, I’d most likely try to dismiss the notification before continuing with what I was doing, regardless of whether it obscures content or controls. It’s still in the way.)

I completely agree with the issues Sagi highlights. Dismissing a notification is currently a game of pure luck; the number of times iOS has misinterpreted a dismiss gesture for a tap is far larger than the number of times it’s been able to get it right. But as I was reading Sagi’s piece, it struck me that perhaps a better interaction model for notifications already exists in iOS: those that are shown on the lock screen.

A mockup of an iOS banner notification being swiped to the right

What if, when I receive a notification, I were able to ‘action’ it (read, reply, post etc.) by swiping the icon to the right, as I do on the homescreen? This would take me off to the app that invoked the notification. It’s fairly safe to consider this gesture as something relatively ‘bullet-proof’, in that there’s no mistaking what I want to do if I swipe.

Tapping the notification would therefore do nothing. Swiping to dismiss the notification would therefore be a whole lot more accurate.

Also, what if we let iOS assume that when I receive a notification but carry on interacting with the currently-running app, that I do not want to action it just yet? The notification arrives, I continue tapping or scrolling in the app I’m in, so iOS hides the notification as I’ve made it clear I’m in the middle of something. If I do want to do something with the notification, I can pull down Notification Center to see it and action it from there.

We could take this further and say that swiping an icon invokes an ‘inline’ or contextual interface to let me action it, much as notifications on the desktop in Mavericks does. The notification arrives, I swipe the icon, but instead of taking me to Whatsapp, I get a modal box (like the one Sagi mocked up in his piece) that lets me reply to the message without taking me out of Homebudget. Importantly, it would also let me ‘cancel’, so if I changed my mind and didn’t want to reply immediately, I wouldn’t be forced to do so by a limited UI.

To me, these interactions fit with the notion and purpose of banner notifications much more comfortably.

Sagi’s post really resonated with me and sparked a lot of internal debate, so none of my comments or questions are meant as a negative critique of his original point and subsequent ideas. I wholeheartedly share his frustration with iOS notifications and refuse to accept that there’s not a better way of doing them.

Perhaps that’s why, after reading his post, these ideas have been tumbling around my head all day.

Thanks for the inspiration, Sagi!

September 4, 2013

Samsung Galaxy Gear

Filed under: Geekery,Mobile,Technology — admin @ 8:50 pm

Samsung just announced their new wearable piece of technology. From The Verge:

Yes, it’s a smartphone accessory that can pick up notifications, control music playback, and keep time with a rich variety of watch faces, but Samsung takes it a few steps further by integrating a 1.9-megapixel camera, a speaker, and two microphones — allowing you to shoot short 720p movies and even conduct phone calls with the Galaxy Gear.

So do you point your hand at whatever you want to film, like Buzz Lightyear? And are we all going to be having conversations looking like Michael Knight calling Kitt?

This, though, jumped out most of all — battery life:

Samsung promises “about a day” of endurance from the Gear, but by the end of our briefing with the company, the cameras on most of its demo units were refusing to turn on due to the watches running low on power.

“About a day”. If this is something Samsung expect people to wear everyday — you know, as they would, say, a watch — then battery life has got to be better than “about a day”.

Who wants to have to charge up their watch every single day?

July 10, 2012

What’s changed in iOS 6

Filed under: Apple,Interfaces,iOS,Mobile — admin @ 9:27 am

Jurajivan has put some slides together showing what’s changed in the iOS 6 user interface.

I haven’t yet interacted with the new OS so can only go on the screenshots in this deck (and from elsewhere around the interweb) but this feels like a Marmite update to me: there are aspects that I love (the revamped bottom tab bar treatment) and aspects that I hate (the top menu bar taking the colour of whatever app is open).

Something else that struck me as I browsed these slides is that iOS seems to be going away from the shiny style UI that’s been present since it’s inception and moving towards a more subtle gradient approach, just like Mac OS X did. Mac OS X 10.1 was uber shiny, whereas 10.8 has a much subtler look.

If this is the direction iOS is moving in, I wholeheartedly approve.

April 12, 2012

Nielsen’s view on the mobile web

Filed under: Mobile,Opinion,Usability — admin @ 4:38 pm

Josh Clark takes Jakob to task for his latest alertbox:

There’s a persistent myth that mobile users are always distracted, on the go, ‘info snacking’ in sessions of 10 seconds. That’s certainly part of the mobile experience, but not the whole story.

Totally agree with Josh.

Nielsen has always presented his research as gospel, with little thought or consideration for context or changing trends. See, for example, his thoughts on using tabs as a navigation device. Granted, this is from 2007 but tabs have been used as a method of primary navigation for some time — certainly for a period that began pre-2007. Nielsen cites Amazon as an example (but notes that they ‘recently abandoned’ the tab design). I also remember the Apple site had lovely, shiny, lickable tabs.

To dismiss a common use of tabs as ‘incorrect’ because of a narrow notion of what tabs actually represent strikes me as a rigid and myopic viewpoint. Web interface design is an ever evolving discipline. Trends emerge. Things change.

Would ‘pull to refresh’ ever have happened if we all thought like Nielsen?

March 29, 2011

IDC predicts Windows Phone will top Apple’s iOS in market share by 2015

Filed under: Android,Apple,Microsoft,Mobile — admin @ 3:17 pm


A new forecast of the global smartphone platform market from research firm IDC has predicted that Microsoft’s Windows Phone platform will see a resurgence in the next four years, overtaking Apple’s iOS platform which powers the iPhone.

And the iPad. And iPod Touch.

Operating systems are not a good metric by which to measure smartphone marketshare.


Filed under: Design,Mobile — admin @ 12:50 pm

Josh Clark, on mobile apps vs HTML5 web apps:

Fact is, we all use both. According to Comscore, 37 percent of mobile users browse the web, and 35 percent use downloaded apps. Presumably those are basically the same people, since about 35 percent of mobile users have smartphones. So it’s not that one is winning over the other in terms of usage; we use both.

This is basically what I’ve been meaning to write for weeks (lesson learned; get off one’s arse sooner). There’s been too much hyperbole recently about native vs web and precious little about appropriate, technology-agnostic solutions.

December 8, 2010


Filed under: Apple,Microsoft,Mobile — admin @ 11:08 am

Microsoft’s director of Windows Phone Program Management Joe Belfiore was interviewed by Walt Mossberg on the impact Windows Phone 7 has had since it’s launch. The whole article is an interesting read but what struck me most was the vague admission that Microsoft think it’s about 2 years behind Apple — this is, admittedly, in relation to marketshare & profitability, not technology (I doubt this would be something they’d admit) but it reminded me of this part of the original iPhone introduction in 2007.

The original iPhone introduction: Steve Jobs presenting a slide saying the iPhone is '5 years ahead of any other phone'

Steve had this slide up as he talked about the technology behind iPhone and, as I mention above, this admission that Windows Phone 7 is about 2 years behind iPhone relates to marketshare & profitability, not technology.

November 16, 2010

Playbook vs iPad

Filed under: Apple,Mobile — admin @ 10:19 am

RIM have posted a video comparing the performance of the Playbook browser against the iPad.

(If you can’t view the above video, watch it on YouTube)

It’s an interesting video, and the performance of the Playbook’s browser is impressive. I do have one beef with the comparison though — at about the 1:23 mark, where both browsers are rendering the adidas.com website, the narrator notes that because the iPad doesn’t support Flash, the iPad experience is a ‘rather mundane, boring-looking HTML site’ compared to the full-on Flash experience on the Playbook.

This has nothing to do with Flash support and everything to do with standards support. If there was a non-Flash, standards compliant alternative rather than the ‘mundane’ and ‘boring’ version shown, the point would be moot.

Or, to put it another way, it is not the fault of the iPad that adidas’ non-Flash experience is boring & mundane.

Also worth noting is that this is a comparison between a product that’s been on the market for 10 months and a product supposedly due to market in ‘early 2011‘, right around the time Apple might announce the next iPad.

I wonder if RIM will revisit this comparison in early 2011?

September 19, 2007

iPhone released in the UK

Filed under: Apple,Mobile — admin @ 8:41 am

So it’s here (well, it will be in November).

And it’s on 02. Exclusively.

Three tariffs are available: £35 gets you 200 minutes and 200 texts; £45 gets you 600 minutes and 500 texts and £55 gets you 1200 minutes and 500 texts. All plans come with ‘unlimited’ data (subject to a ‘fair usage policy’ — find that policy on the 02 site if you can) and free voicemail. The handset will set you back £269.

Also included as part of the iPhone ‘package’ is free access to 7,500 WiFi spots in the UK — no specifics on where these are though.

And no deal with Starbucks — interestingly, when asked why the Apple/Starbucks deal didn’t make it to the UK, Steve Jobs replied “You’ll have to ask Starbucks about that. They love the UK.”

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