Dear Apple: How Will You Handle Death-By-Push-Notification?

It's summer 2009 and iPhone OS 3.0 has just been made available via iTunes. You have it up and running along with next gen Twitter clients, instant massagers, RSS readers, and all manner of Push Notification-enabled apps ready to alert you the very instant anything new is piping hot and ready.

Then it happens. 20 new Twitter DMs. 3 co-workers IM you. Every tech blog you follow updates about iTunes not crashing this time. You calendar reminds you about that meeting coming up. And your entire FPS combat team all invite you to come join their game. Suddenly Push Notification is trying to pop up 30 text boxes all at once -- while you're in the middle of an urgent phone call.

How will you handle this, Apple?

Right now a single SMS pops up a message box that you either have to deal with right away, and if you dismiss it, it's gone. If you forget what it was for... well, that's tough. Imagine 30 of those, all at once. Will you even be able to hang up your phone call before canceling out all of them? And if you do cancel out of them, what chance to you have to really see and process alerts #1-29?

Both the Google Android with its top-down slider and the Palm Pre with their bottom loaded notification area provide a far less obtrusive and simultaneously more persistent -- and dare we say more elegant? -- notification solution.

Could you, Apple, have an improved system ready to drop on us in a future 3.0 beta? At WWDC? Or is that waiting on 4.0? And if you do have a way of handling it, what is it? What can you do given the current architecture, gesture library, and frameworks of the iPhone to better handle the onslaught of notifications you're about to drop on us?

Pull down the topmost menu bar a la Android? Create a dedicated Notification app on the Home Screen we can launch to see, like recent calls, what we may have missed?

Maybe our readers have some ideas that can help. They certainly proved smarter than us on the Bluetooth toggle question. What say you, readers, any ideas on how Apple can prevent the notification equivalent of "ping death" befalling us come iPhone 3.0 and Push Notification Service this summer?

Have something to say about this story? Leave a comment! Need help with something else? Ask in our forums!

Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Dear Apple: How Will You Handle Death-By-Push-Notification?


They kind of have handled it by having the three kinds of notifications, I would imagine setting this up per app for what you want to see. Say 'txt' notifications for IM's, badges for tweets etc. Whichever was most important to you

apps that are built for 3.0 should have the ability to have PUSH notification turned off. Just like the email accounts that we attach to our phones. Easy...right?

Use a bar like when you exit the phone app during a call. Show the most recent message in there and click to expand the display.

This is one of the mayor problems i have with the iphone. When I'm on a call and keep getting interrupted by an incoming text, either by it vibrating or ringing and vibrating. Thats when i'm glad apple has not allowed Music ring tones for SMS (but if they could eliminate that problem, i would like to have the choice to get music ringtones). And what usually happens is that when i try to hang up the call, i have to close out all the notifications before i can End the Call.
They should do what they blackberry does and silence them, or do something like the Pre.

I hope the notification system is configurable per-app...and 99.99% of my apps would be badge+vibrate(or sound...soft and short sound)...that's how you keep aware of what's going on, IMNSHO.

They took months to come up with an excuse and told us that the feedback they received was the deal behind the delay, and NOBODY thought about this? How's this even possible?
Well, this will be kind of like the copy-paste issue, they deny it until it's impossible to continue and then they change it.
That's Apple. You must learn to like it.

Spotlight page should be a notification page with a search field. Once you search it will vanish to a search results with the option to toggle back the notification alerts...

I honestly think a solution akin to SBSettings on the jailbreak market would be ideal. Swipe up at the top (or some other kind of universal gesture) and a little menu pops down with whatever kind of info, be it settings toggles or notifications or what have you.

Any phone that can offer 'instant massagers' sounds good to me... and, really, I don't mind how many times I have to break off that urgent phone call.

The iPhone could centralize both all notifications as well as frequently accessed Settings by creating a Notification Center and Quick Settings Panel.
An idea would be to maximize and take advantage of existing empty space on the top status bar, and then place the following two additional, clickable icons on the right-hand side.

  1. Central Notification Center
    Such an icon could call up a systemwide application that would break down all user notifications among categories laid out along the bottom of the app:
    • Phone (sub-tabs of Recents and Visual Voicemail on this screen)
    • Messages (including email, SMS, MMS, and instant messages)
    • Notifications (e.g., from third-party ESPN app, RSS reader, etc.)
  2. Network and Power Settings Icon (posted previously as a comment on the /Dear Apple: Turning Off Bluetooth/ post)
    Such an icon could call up a control panel similar to the one in which volume and controls appear when double-tapping the Home button when it is configured to activate the iPod while a song is playing. This panel would have simple on-off switches immediately available for Wi-Fi, 3G (for those with the iPhone 3G), Bluetooth, Push services, and Brightness. (These are not only features that users want to be able to readily change depending on their usage needs, but also because they are the biggest battery hogs.)
    The panels that these two icons would normally bring up with a tap of their respective status bar icons could also be accessible via a double- (or triple-) click of the Home button.

I think PNS could be one of the worst things to hit the iPhone. The pop-up SMS style message is going to be useless when u have im and Twitter apps posting them. Will we have dozens of dialogs to dismiss.
Very not apple so far

Hopefully apps will have switches to turn off push notifications. I don't need push for my RSS readers or really anything but an IM client and a sports score tracker.
So hopefully I'll be able to manage it myself by keeping only a few apps that really need the PNS, there are just some things that do not need it.

I hate the whole idea that I can't black list of white list SMS messages in general. Should be an AT&T problem, but when I get flooded by SMS messages from something like Twitter followers on where they are at SXSW, that gets in the way of what SMS messages I choose to receive.. like Server load high! Client in panic mode... stuff like that. SMS might need to have a user-defined "urgency level."
Less an iPhone problem and more of a "we let the SMS horse out of the barn without a bridle" and have no way of catching him" problem.

I'm not worried about it. I'm sure Apple is working on this the same way they were working on all of the other things people accused them of forgeting about.

I agree with Steve, that green area that appears at be top of the screen during a call can be used for notifications. I'm not sure how easy it would be to implement, but something needs to be done to improve the pns.

I think this is just looking for problems. Pop up notifications of any kind, whether on the Blackberry, Pre, Android, Winmob, are a distraction, regardless of how they are handled. On the iPhone, we'll have a choice of what type of notification we want to receive, and I think most people will be able to cope perfectly well.

They should look at using notifier from the JB community. It's really nice, it places a notification in the bar at the top and will show you stuff on your lock screen.

Considering that a swipe to the left or right moves the user into new real estate by my count there are 2 directions that are not accounted for - up and down. Have a swipe up or down at the 1st screen to get to 1) A notification summary page and 2) a true, Palm-like home screen that details your day. If they can consolidate the two on the same screen then better because that gives them real estate for future use.

Apple could have a real mess on their hands if they get this wrong. At the moment I hate the way alerts are handled and it could actually get worse if the same process is used to handle multiple notifications. I mean what the hell I'm I gonna do if I've got notifications coming through from an IM, RSS feed, an SMS, EMAIL etc?! With this current process you end up having to close window after window, this could get extremely annoying! Apple need to take a leaf out of the Web OS/Android book, in IMO they have a far better solution for the way notifications are handled. The iPhone already has a solution waiting (when a call is put on hold, the top area of the screen is highlighted with a green colour) that same process could be used for notifications.
And if a user decides to ignore the notification a blinking notification icon (an arrow pointing downwards for example) could be drawn down to reveal a list of notifications. This would definitely be a better solution than what apple currently has in place.

I think the iphone really needs a major overhaul of the current notification system. Perhaps a pull out menu pane from the left or right of the screen. Whatever the case, they need something new and the need it quick.

These are all great ideas, but will Apple listen? I HATE the SMS popup so much...a popup for every app is CRAZY stupid.
I hope they listen to your ideas..

it will be a simple on off solution in settings, just like the "Fetch new data" in the mail settings
that would be apples easiest solution because think about how many app will be using this...

I think people are getting confused. There is no need for a pop-up alert for every single notification, there's a choice of sounds, pop-ups, and badges. All I see from some people is a somewhat hysterical response to a non-existent problem.
What people are really saying is: I have too many notifications coming in, they're interrupting my work/play etc. In effect, this is the same as saying that you don't want notifications, because, really, all that stuff can wait until I can deal with it later.

I don't see why so many people expect this to be a problem. Not every app needs to have a pop-up. Think about how email works now: you don't get a pop-up, just a single vibrate and then you look and see the badge, and you can decide if you want to deal with it now or not. With many different apps working this way, you could see at a glance by looking over your springboard what kind of notifications you have. If Apple gives us the choice of whether we want popups or vibrate for each app (or if the settings are built into the app) then I see no problem at all (provided the phone itself can handle receiving so many notifications at once without crashing).

I also agree this will be a big problem.. I really hope something like IntelliScreen will be in 3.0 eventually, so that notifications can be easily browsed from the lock screen, but a better in-app solution would be useful.. I hate having to exit an app to just reply to a txt with "K".

I guess it really depends if you're a type A or type B personality. If someone has something really really important to tell you ... they'll find a way. For everything else there is RSS.
If I miss Monica's message to get the milk on my way home and that causes an argument between Monica and me ... then we have bigger problems in our relationship than my stupid iPhone. Steve Jobs sets an example by openly managing the top line rather than the bottom line (say, holding managers accountable instead of operators or contractors or anyone else "below the line"), and that can translate quite well to family life. Gadgets are the bottom line, not the top, in my opinion.
It doesn't have to be goodbye blue sky.

Sure, you could just set it to notify you by badge instead of a popup. But what happens when your apps are spread out over 9 pages (or 8 with the new spotlight search)? I don't want to have to keep looking through all my homescreens to see what's new, or to find out why my phone vibrated this time.
A nice list on the lock screen would be nice. For example, it could say "Twitterific 6 new", "Mail 3 new", etc. Or even just duplicate the icon with badge and organize all the ones with new messages nicely on the lock screen. They could put a dimmed-out badge on the left side for ones that are older than a specified amount of time (or ignored by unlocking and not checking them) so you can see what's new since the last time you checked.
This could also be put at the bottom of the SBSettings-ish screen everyone wants (pleeeease, Apple?). It would make sense for that to be either a triple click of the home button or a tap on the top bar from any home page. I would prefer a triple click just so I can change settings while in an app, but I'd be ecstatic just to get the feature that I'd be mostly happy anyway. Mostly. (south park reference, anyone?)

I requested apple to add another little icon which will show a number. It would be on the top bar where the time is and will show the amount of messages I have.
Green for Messages
Blue for e-mails.
Maybe they should do that for PNS.
They might not the numbered icons for Mess. and E-mails but they should do that for PNS definitely.

How about doing it really easy. When you are in a call every notification is blocked, and the second you tap end call/your call is ended, the phone would notify you with all those pop-ups, badges or sounds, or with just one vibration that let's you know that you got a message so go look for it on whichever page it is.
And to be honest i really doubt Apple hasn't thought/ isn't thinking about this "issue".

@iDutch (and others) while I can see why those notifications would be annoying while in a call, but sometimes it's welcome. Say I send a text to friends A & B to invite them to dinner or something. Then friend A calls and asks if friend B replied yet, it would be nice to not have to hang up to get that message. Stupid example, but you see where I'm going with it.
Back to my suggestion a few posts ago, tapping on the top bar while in a call could open up that messages/settings list (since the top bar goes back to the call from anywhere else, again I'd rather have a triple click). Then it could just show me a badge in the top bar for new messages, eliminating the popup but I can still pull the phone away from my ear and look at it.
The settngs/messages page can also be 2 screens. One for settings, the other for new messages with the apps with new messages tiled like any other home screen. You could even rearrange and delete them (delete would ignore all new messages). Maybe a setting for which page opens up by default.
Another idea for the lock screen, if apple insists on keeping it clean, is to have a second half-sized slider pop up off the existing one that slides to the left instead of the right. It can have the different colored badges, mentioned in a previous post, right on the slider. Green for SMS, blue for mail, red for apps. Sliding this slider to the left opens the settings/messages page, defaulting to the messages page. Even better, treat SMS the same as it does now and the new messages page is only for apps (and maybe mail, but that's usually docked anyway. Although it'd be nice to finally have some sort of notification for it)

A simple vibrate and badge (a la mail) plus a status bar notification would be sufficient enough for me.
Honestly the status bar notification is the only reason I opted to jailbreak.

well...what they should do is like every 5-15 minutes (idk but variable time) they should bring a popup having a full list of the notifications from the last notifications and you can control which ones you want to see immediately like SMS IM etc.

i think they just need to add the dialog box itself.
so you get 10 messages all at once, the dialog would say:
“message” [close] [action] 10 others [close all]
providing you an option to quickly clear the deck that would work in all apps.
then you would have a “notification app”, which might not actually be an “app”, but a “page” to the left of spotlight or some other UI gimmick. this “app” would list all your notifications in sequence, with some kind of tab to view to view only “unread notifications” that had been missed by tapping “close all”.
or maybe apple just forces people to tap “close” ten times, and then unsubscribe from some services.
the problem might not be the UI, but that people are oversubscribed to too many alerts. so many that UI improvements would only help people ignore them to the point that they become less and less useful.

what if there was a glowing circle that pulsed every time that you got a notification. . . and you made an arc from the top right to the bottom right of the screen to "drag" the notifications out of the glowing thing and view them in a top to bottom ddr style cover flow.
that or have the menu bar pulse and flick from the top of the screen to the bottom to make what ever is on the screen go away and you get a list
i personally think the first would be more elegant, but hey. . . the later seems to work well for android.

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