Notifications are Becoming a Platform

on April 24, 2015

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.