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Let’s Talk About Notification Center

January 21, 2013

Apple has done a fantastic job with iOS but as many within the tech circle are realizing, it’s starting to show its age. The software has gone through a plethora of tweaks and adjustments over the years but for the most part it has remained the same lovable, easy-to-use closed ecosystem that is responsible for the amazing market position Apple currently enjoys. The simplicity of iOS is its strength and Apple’s designers are aware that any major changes need to respect this core principle.

With that being said let’s get one thing out of the way: it doesn’t need Android-style widgets. Fans of Google’s mobile OS will argue the virtues of having persistent information about a given app on their home screen. While I agree with the benefits of this implementation, it’s also very much a “Googleish” aspect of the OS.  The conventional Android user likes customization and options, Apple users like consistency.

This point finally brings me to Apple’s Notification Center: it’s completely broken at the moment. What attempted to offer updates similar to the android experience has instead become at best a redundant display of information and at worst a constant maintenance task for more ADD end users who can’t stand having old notifications linger past their relevance.

The problem lies in the fact that most people don’t know how to effectively utilize both badges and notification center. If you manage to navigate through Settings and go through each application, determining which type of alert best serves a specific app, than the two can coexist peacefully. The average user does not know how to nor do they care enough to bother. Apple prides itself in having an amazing out-of-the-box experience:  the need for purposeful customization goes against this philosophy.

Moving forward, there are several features that can save Notification Center and build on the success of iOS without ruining its key design principles. The first of these solutions is Apple-style widgets in notification center. They already exist in iOS 6 but lack an API that app developers can tap in to (there also desperately needs to be a sharing API but that’s a whole other issue). Notification center is very much an “Appleish” solution to widgets: Clean and out of the way by default but easily and intuitively utilized when needed. If they open up the space to third party widgets, they truly will have moved the platform forward. Imagine an app with a widget that allows for quick access to Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, airplane mode, and NFC. Imagine a foursquare widget that utilizes iOS’ new persistent GPS feature for rapid check-ins. This will give more tech savvy users the customization they’ve been wanting out of their iPhone without harming the average consumer.

Finally, Apple needs to figure out how Notification Center updates and badges can play nice or remove one altogether. Personally, I’m in favor of making the space purely for widgets, leaving the tried and true badge notification system as the primary means of alerting users about new information. With Forstall out there should be some changes coming to the OS in the near future, I can only hope they realize notifications need to be fixed ASAP.