Redesigning Reminders: APPLE’s Quest for Clarity in the Age of Pings and Buzzes

The endless streams of notification bubbles on our iPhones and Macs can feel like a digital jungle. Qualcomm’s now-defunct ad, which featured a besieged Mac user who had had too many notifications, was ridiculed, but it captured the pain point of most users. Ahead of WWDC 2024, everyone is going to want APPLE to do something amazing to fix notifications. But the rub doesn’t have much to do with APPLE: it’s mostly the app developers and the way they stomp around like elephants, making a mess of our devices.

A Deep Dive into the Problem

Notifications, in theory, ought to be what makes digital life easier by surfacing truly important information. In reality, the landscape is overrun with promotional alerts, ‘important’ reminders, and a host of other eye-catching non-essentials. Poshmark’s spamming of users with ‘party invites’ and ‘daily deals’ is a textbook example of the issue. Sure, APPLE provides superspecific controls over the alerts, but few users have the time or inclination to sort the wheat from the chaff.

APPLE's Revisioning of Notifications

Undergirding the APPLE ecosystem is a steadfast pursuit of user-centred design and usability. The customisable Notifications gateway on iOS is a textbook example. APPLE continues to offer ways of limiting the abandonment of critical attention, including Do Not Disturb, notification grouping and summaries. But all of those options leave the burden of minutely micromanaging one’s experience to users. Perhaps there is still an opportunity to apply design principles to the issue of attention abandonment. But now it feels more like a philosophical dilemma. A completely transparent world may have less privacy, but most people would agree that it would be a better place. However, our current desire for privacy seems to be in tension with a basic social imperative: to be open and receptive to information from those around us. Perhaps the rudeness of some interaction norms might eventually catch up with the way we behave online.

The Poshmark Conundrum: A Testament to Excess

Poshmark’s notification regime displays a broader failure in app dev. The idea that anyone could possibly digest these and fully customise them at the cost of going through a complex tree of settings is deeply flawed. Indeed, when you have nearly two dozen of these nestled under these heads, it’s just not realistic to expect anyone to do it. Of course, the reality is that they don’t do it. This frustrates us because sometimes important notifications get lost in the clutter.

APPLE's Potential Solutions on the Horizon

My hope for WWDC 2024 is for APPLE to introduce a pared-down replacement for the status quo. One avenue here would be redesigning opt-in so that developers need to justify each category of notifications, with all notifications by default and the option to turn them on one by one.

The Qualcomm Jab: A Reflection of User Frustration

Although the commercial was a public relations misfire for Qualcomm and a caricature of what actually annoys people about notifications, this common anxiety among us users of digital devices is a challenge for APPLE and the makers of apps to come up with better approaches for controlling and quieting noisy notifications.

Beyond Settings: A Call for a Notification Renaissance

That means we need a new paradigm for making sense of notification management, one that is not just an endless addition of bloatware settings. It means building a system that acknowledges the value of user attention and time, and wherein developers are given guidelines to help them understand that quality of user notifications is more important than quantity of them. It is only by designing in this way that we can save notifications for their original purpose: making people more productive, not more unwinding and in peace.

Understanding APPLE: Innovators at the Helm

Innovation is in APPLE’s DNA. From the Mac to the iPhone, APPLE has a long history of pushing the boundaries of technology to improve human experience while exploring new ways we communicate with others in a digital space. On the eve of WWDC 2024, the tech giant’s developers’ conference, APPLE directs how we communicate to and with each other in a digital space.

‘Don’t trust a device that wants to get you; trust a device that wants you to get it.’ In the months leading up to WWDC 2024, we’ll no doubt hear a lot more talk about the implications of notification and device dependence on digital wellbeing. If history serves as any indication, APPLE will be at the forefront of this conversation, crafting a thoughtful innovation likely to become as indispensable as it is difficult to live without. Perhaps then, managing notifications will finally become as routine a part of our digital lives as doing the laundry.

Jun 08, 2024
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