The incessant ding, ding, ding and tap, tap tap of notifications on my iPhone and Apple Watch often pushes me to the brink. What can be so important that I need to know now?
Oh, Chelsea and Arsenal are in a tight game and should I tune in? Great, let me drop everything and do this. Someone just tweeted a nasty burn on Twitter about the latest Batman movie? I should stop working on this story to weigh in. There’s a new YouTube trailer for After Ever Happy? I have to drop everything to watch it now.
I get all these notifications and more on my iPhone (and all connected iCloud devices) and this despite the fact that I usually say “no” when a new app asks me to allow notifications.
Over the past few years, Google, Apple and Microsoft have sought to manage this attention-seeking tidal wave by grouping notifications into stacks and, in particular, Focus features. We are adapting our current focus on iOS, Android and Windows, and the system will block and process these notifications for us.
Unfortunately, this usually only makes me miss text messages (opens in a new tab) of my wife, so I consider Focus a bit of a failure.
Now, however, at least Twitter and, possibly, Apple, have gotten the message and are taking steps to fix the notification issue.
Apple is reportedly working on an indefinitely-sized update for notifications in iOS 16. Twitter just bought (opens in a new tab) mobile marketing company OpenBackHQ, which helps businesses create relevant, personalized, real-time notifications.
If nothing else, Twitter’s head of consumer products, Jay Sullivan, seems to have the overriding problem with the current notifications. Announcing the OpenBackHQ acquisition in a series of tweets, Sullivan called the “irrelevant notifications” a “distraction.”
2/ The best push notifications lead people to the conversations that interest them on Twitter. But irrelevant notifications are a distraction. With millions of people visiting Twitter via notifications every day, we want them to be timely, relevant and engaging.April 12, 2022
No one, however, is talking about killing notifications, a nuclear option that even I’m not sure we need.
The problem is, even with companies like OpenBackHQ helping Twitter tailor these notifications to their usefulness, we don’t look at the extent of the abuse.
As we’ve reported, Apple may be working on a notifications overhaul in iOS 16, but as a company that runs both a platform and a wide variety of services that power the notifications pipeline, it she’s unlikely to do anything that really reduces everyone’s flow. those pings, dings and taps.
When there’s a new Apple Arcade game, Apple lets me know.
A new episode of Severance is coming to Apple TV+, Apple let me know.
I still have a few pennies added to my Apple Cash via an Apple Card purchase, Apple lets me know.
Apple isn’t the only abuser here. Every app and every service wants the right to send you notifications. Even news services, which should know better than to ping you with anything other than breaking news, frequently stretch the definition of materiality and share mediocre updates on news that will probably never affect your life. (Apple News does this every day).
Lower the volume
There is, however, a certain hypocrisy in my argument. As an ardent Twitter user, I sometimes use these news alerts to generate a tweet. Admittedly, I filter and share only what I consider to be important and broadly applicable news. But the occasional “just interesting” slip slips in too.
We need more than notification overhauls and systems that tailor those updates to our interests. What is needed is real discipline. There should only be certain apps that can notify you of anything and even then there should be a better (and more obvious) threshold lever.
When my children were small, they used to inform me of every concern and detail of their life. I listened carefully, but then began to help them stop alerting me to small issues that they could either handle on their own or wait until later. I was asking, “Does it really matter right now?” usually they would think for a moment, shake their heads, and maybe save all the updates for a table download.
I want a way to define wide notification commands that ask, “Does this really matter right now?” Otherwise, there is no notification. According to this benchmark, I bet we remove 90% of all pings, dings and taps. It’s not the end of notifications, but it could be close enough for me.