Notifications are Becoming a Platform

In March, I wrote a piece in Techpinions entitled, “The Challenge and Virtue of Tiny Screens”.

In it, I discuss how developing apps for smartwatches is very different than developing apps for PCs and tablets and, when developing apps for these devices, the concept of “glanceable data” has to be a key part of the apps design. In Ben’s review of the Apple Watch, he talks about the fact that, with PCs, you may spend hours in front of its screen and with tablets you might spend minutes with its screen. But with smart watches, you will only spend seconds viewing information. He also emphasizes the role of notifications and how Apple did them in the best way possible to make what I call “glanceable data” more meaningful.

I have used 12 smartwatches over the last 18 months and, in my short time with the Apple Watch, it has been clear to me the concept of notifications and glanceable data is morphing into a platform and is one where developers can apply a lot of innovation. In the past, when we wanted to have specific information, we would go to Google or a search engine or check out a direct Web site to get it. In this way we “pulled” information from a specific source. However, with a wearable like a smartwatch, there is a shift that takes place in which data we want is “pushed” to us in glanceble bits of information, many that are in real time and perhaps more importantly, needed exactly at the moment we want it. On the PC, tablet and smartphones we call these alerts. All of these are a form of push not pull.

With the smartwatch and its tiny screen, it is almost impossible (or at the very least difficult) to try and pull information in large amounts to the device. While I can use Siri to search and pull small bits of info in real time to an Apple Watch, the more optimal way to get that data is through push in a defined app or through pre-set preferences. It does mean one must set up the things they want pushed to them. That is where the apps become more of a platform for disseminating information. However, if notifications are thought of as a platform, then these bits of pushed data can also become a form of discovery, too. Innovative developers could create a plethora of apps tied to key bits of data delivered via notifications. In fact, that is precisely what Apple has done with the Apple Watch and they have made it central to its existence. Whether that data is a record of one’s heart beat, calories burned, steps taken, etc., this is all pushed data now available on your wrist and at your fingertips.

In Ben’s review of the Apple Watch he says:

The Apple Watch became my primary notification panel/dashboard. It is not only the most natural place to be notified and to decide what action needs to be done but, because the entire user experience was built for quick interactions, notifications may have found where they were destined to exist.

Apple allows for a tight filtering of the notifications you want to occur. By limiting what I want to be notified of, I am ensured only the most important things — from email, to texts, to calls, and even relevant app notifications — are exactly what I want to be notified about. It ensures each notification is meaningful.

Notifications in the way the Apple Watch delivers them is really a platform for delivering this glanceable data a person wants. Developers need to think about notifications as a platform and innovate with this in mind.

Although I am emphasizing notifications for smartwatches, the reality is notifications are becoming a major form of communications and information dissemination for delivering more targeted data that one might want in real time for any mobile device. While smartphones and tablets are a bit more conducive for searching or pulling information to these screens, the concept of notifications is just as viable for these devices too. Some developers have taken advantage of this and IOS and Android have specific settings for notifications. But developers need to grasp the concept that notifications are becoming a major platform for delivering the kind of data or information we want in the form of push, which is just as viable a form of discovery in the same way search and pulling data to a device is today.

Anish Acharya, the co-founder and CEO of Snowball wrote a good piece in TechCrunch on notifications as a platform. He wrote:

Our engagement is now defined by push-driven notifications rather than the traditional pull-driven experience. We’re “hunting and pecking” through our app grid a lot less; the apps that notify us (without over-notifying to the point of uninstall) are rewarded with our engagement (and our dollars). Based on this data, our fundamental belief is that notifications represent the future access and discovery point for mobile services — that notifications will be the starting point (or “front door”) for all of the interactions on your phone.

However, on a smartwatch, notifications are an imperative and key to their success. App developers need to harness this platform and use it to their advantage. If they do, they will find it becomes a gateway for all types of info discovery that will be a starting point for all types of interactions on a smartphone and smartwatches and can be used to enhance any user’s mobile experience.

Published by

Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.

10 thoughts on “Notifications are Becoming a Platform”

  1. I think it’s mostly a push vs pull dichotomy. Some stuff I’ll go pull, some stuff I’d rather have pushed at me. For the pushed stuff, I prefer homescreen widgets to notifications though:
    1- they’re less disruptive: the info sits there until I want to take care of it
    2- they’re quicker: available as soon as the screen is on, w/o need to pull down the notification shade
    3- they’re richer: the home screen allows for a lot more room for info and UI, and the API is fairly limitless

    I think a lot of the awe and wonder Apple users have for notifications is due to iOS not having widgets. Once you got widgets, the “interrupt push” model of notifications seems very disruptive compared to the “scheduled push” model of widgets.

    One consistent issue I have though is about the value of what’s being pushed, independently of how it’s being pushed. I’m still on the old email+RSS+calendar+IM non-integrated functional model, because I haven’t found a push engine smart enough to do the expected nicely and reliably, and spice it up with valuable unexpected. Google Now in particular is a disappointment (at best it adds a few relevant suggestion to my RSS feeds, mostly it uselessly takes up space), and Inbox doesn’t do much for me aside from locking me in.

    1. True..I love widgets when they work. Google Now is a disappointment. With the Apple watch though once you get the proper preferred alerts and notifications set it is really handy though.

    2. I agree with the idea that it is a push vs. pull dichotomy. With current smartphones, it’s not clear that any approach has a definite advantage.

      The equation shifts however with watches. The shift I think is clearly towards push.

      This, I think, has the potential to fundamentally change how we approach the Internet. The HTTP protocol and the WWW are basically pull paradigms, and that has mostly been the nature of the Internet. A shift towards push, which has already been happening but could be greatly intensified with watches, could really shake up things.

      I’ve been using the Apple watch for half a day, and it already is kind of scary for a person who mainly develops websites.

      1. So you got one, heh ^^

        I think there’s a specific Watch issue: they can only display 1 item at a time, and even launching a specific app is a pain. So they’ve got to triage for us what they’re going to show, which requires a lot of smarts. I’ve never managed to reach an acceptable level on my phone: apps that have notifications rights always abuse the privilege, so I’ve set it up so that only phone calls, texts, and Skype/Hangouts can notify on my phone. The rest either rate a widget on my home screen (calendar, mail, rss), or don’t get to push at me at all (all the rest and Google Play which pushes updates)

        I’m waiting for the 2nd or 3rd generation to get one, but the “interrupt based” ‘which I hate on my phone) + “triage-required” ‘which my phone never achieved) + “no data” trifecta sounds lethal. I’m not even getting a discounted $80 gen1 Android watch ^^

        1. I agree. There are a lot of potential issues with notifications, and it remains to be seen if any smartwatch will get them right.

          I’m remain optimistic however that things will get worked out rather quickly. Compared to email, which is the way services notified you before notifications systems became widespread, mobile notifications give the user more power because they are much easier to block from a single UI. Developers should be much more careful about what notifications they send out.

          That’s one reason why I got the Apple Watch. I want to see how things turn out. (I would also like to try out an Android or Tizen watch, because this time around, I think the differences between Apple and Android are going to be much more nuanced)

  2. Great article. So many good points about push being the most natural style on mobile devices. I want to know about breaking news, sports or other info at the right time and don’t want to reach into my pocket to pull out a large device for minimal info. I expect we will see other types of info surface that are time or location relevant, such as we are already seeing with travel apps. I don’t have a wearable yet, but hope to see haptics used to identify really critical/emergency notifications vs. all other notifications for when I am in meetings.

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