Notifications to rule the smartphone interface (Wired UK)


Apple's iOS 8
Apple’s iOS 8


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When iOS 8 hits, the notification centre is going to be the most
important screen in your iPhone.

Think about it: notifications already are the way you know about
everything that happens without having to fire up an app. A
notification lets you know you have a new email, a new text
message, a new Snapchat. (Hi, Tony. Looking good.) But with iOS 8
they become interactive. They’re not just simple announcements –
or even calls to action — anymore. They are actions in and of
themselves. Entirely new windows onto our data. It’s nearly
impossible to overstate how much this will change the way you use
your phone.

Interactive notifications will spur all sorts of new behaviours.
(And yes, Android already has interactive notifications, but the
ones in iOS 8 look to go beyond what KitKat can do.) Some of these
will be simple, like the ability to reply to an email or text
message. But they’re powerful in that you can do this without
quitting whatever you’re already doing. And this interactivity is
not just limited to system apps. Third-party developers can take
advantage of this new capability as well, so you could comment on
something on Facebook, respond to a tweet, or even check in on
Foursquare. But others are going to be radical, stuff we haven’t
imagined yet. Once developers begin to really harness what
interactive notifications can do in iOS 8 — and they will — it’s
going to cause one of the most radical changes since third-party
apps. With the advent of iOS 8, notifications are the new interface
frontier.

You probably don’t think much of them, but the lowly
notification has already had some pretty dramatic effects. It has
wrought massive changes in telecom, for example, where it made possible the rise of messaging. (After
all, how would you even know you’d received a message without a
notification to buzz your phone?) WhatsApp and Snapchat and other
services that rely on real-time, if asynchronous, communication
would be useless without the ability to tell people to pick up
their phones. We give messaging apps the credit, but ultimately it
is notification that caused SMS to shed billions in revenue.

Companies like Facebook and Twitter already rely on
notifications to drive usage and growth in the developing
world
. That presents a model for how they can be used in
developed markets. If you’re the first person in your village to
sign up for Facebook, you aren’t going to find much reason to come
back again. So the notification that your neighbour just joined
becomes hugely important. And that act of messaging someone almost
has to be done from the operating system level. It’s just the most
efficient way. After all, someone coming online for the first time
may not have an email address. If your user base is at all
significant, sending SMS alerts to everyone is cost prohibitive.
And while SMPP (the Short Message Peer-to-Peer protocol) is an
option, it requires direct deals with carriers — which won’t
happen on a global level without a massive business development
footprint. Notifications are what make your app grow.

And, really, WhatsApp and Facebook and Twitter and the like have
been building on a system where notifications were a one-way
street. Sure, you could see them, but you couldn’t really act on
them. That’s where iOS 8 is going to fundamentally change how you
interact with your phone. And when you consider what kinds of
radical things people have done with static notifications,
interactive ones are really exciting.

Take WUT, an app that is already using the notification centre as
an interface unto itself
. WUT is an ephemeral, anonymous
short-form messenger that lives in the notifications centre. That’s
a buzzword mouthful, but explaining what it does is easy: it uses
notifications to deliver anonymous messages. WUT connects with your
Facebook friend graph, and lists the messages your friends have
sent in the notification centre. Once something drifts out of your
notifications, there’s no way to see it again. There’s barely even
an app interface — launch WUT and all you see is a posting
function. There’s no history. No cards to scroll through. Pretty
much everything happens in the notifications centre.

After using the app for a few days, I felt like WUT had taken me
by the collar and shaken me, something I’m not alone in. It advances a radical
notion that isn’t obvious at first: The notification centre is the
interface.

Not surprisingly, WUT’s cofounder Paul McKellar (who
previously co-founded Square) is looking ahead to what iOS 8
notifications will mean. “We’ve been pouring through the public docs on Apple’s website, but
it looks like a lot of app interaction could be moved to the lock
screen,” he told Wired in an email. “The notification stuff is
awesome for us, and many other apps. Anything you can do with a
single button now doesn’t require you to open the app at all.”

“The Today view is great because devs can extract
at-a-glance views: Bitcoin price, last 5 Instagram photos, today’s
sales in Square, maybe even check in on Foursquare,” McKellar
notes. “The buttons can also be individually secured by requiring
you to unlock your phone, which is nice if you are doing anything
with money, or privacy like accepting a Venmo money request.”

Apps changed everything by countering the messiness of the web.
They proved a focused experience beats a broad one on a small
screen. But as they’ve proliferated, navigating to them
individually to perform simple tasks has become cruelly
inefficient.

When we can interact with our data in short bursts via
notifications, we make remarkable efficiency gains, especially on
tasks that we perform again and again. Apps will become more about
information and communications; we’re going to think of them as
services instead of as windows onto our data. The things that can
make best use of single click efficiency will soar. A whole new
world is up there waiting for us at the top of the screen. We just
need to pull it down.

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This article originally appeared on Wired.com

8 June 2014 | 6:57 am – Source: wired.co.uk
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