enhanced notifications

Notification Tray – Its Purpose and is it Being Overused?

July 1, 2014 - Written By Cory McNutt

A notification is a message that you can display to the user outside of your normal application’s UI.  When the system is told to issue a notification, it first appears in the notifications bar, or area at the top of the device.  Once the user gets that notification, they can then ‘pull-down’ the notifications drawer, or the transparent ‘curtain’ that drops over your home screen.  Here you can read more details about the notification, close the drawer and save it until later, or swipe it off the drawer to dismiss the notification. Notifications have always been an Android mainstay and a pride and joy part of the Operation System – even Apple is just a little jealous of the Android notification setup.  Google has even issued design guidelines for developing new notifications.  There is very little room in the actual notifications bar at the top on the device – especially a smartphone – so the notification is limited to a recognizable symbol, while the notification drawer can appear in one or two visual styles.  There we may see the ‘Normal View,” or what Google calls the ‘Big View’ – that shows more detail in the expanded area – a feature started in Android 4.1, and each view has strict guidelines to follow.

Google also sets recommendations for multiple notifications for the same thing – multiple emails, tweets, Facebook, weather alerts, etc. – and recommends against putting up multiple icons in the notifications bars.  They want the designer to change a ‘number’ beside the icon, change the shape or possibly the color of the notification.  Sometimes it seems there are way too many unnecessary notifications in the tray or ones designed so large that they take up too much room. There are many applications that we want or need to see in the notifications bar – battery status, signal strength, Wi-Fi on and signal strength, 3G/4G LTE, Bluetooth, Airplane Mode and what time it is – however, there are other notifications that Developers, OEMs and Carriers put in the tray that are not necessary or oversized…like the Verizon 4G LTE icon.  One thing that has always puzzled me is why we cannot turn off certain notifications in the bar.  For instance, I would love to turn off the Android battery display that they force on you – most users I know have another battery App that they like better – let us turn off the Android battery indicator and replace it with our App’s indicator. Another one we should be able to turn off is the ‘time’ – again, most users I know have a Widget on their home screen that tells them the time and date and what about the Big Ben Alarm Clock that stays there 24/7/365 just because you have an alarm set.  Stock Android has a lot of nice features, but options are not a big part of its design.

Developers are in the business of making money – oh, you may find the occasional programmer that just wants to show what they can do and may just ask for donations – but for the most part they make money via advertising.  The best place to put their ad is in the notification drawer – it is like a billboard that you are forced to drive-by – you simply cannot miss the ad as it is in-your-face and needs to be ‘dismissed’ by the user.  Nice for the Developer, but not so nice for the notification area…or even an appropriate place. OEMs are one of the worst offenders, and Samsung does its fair share of hogging the notification bar – one just needs to look at the ‘EYE’ staring at you when you have Smart Stay, Smart Scroll or Smart Pause turned on.  The NFC indicator is another huge icon – is it really necessary to be seen there constantly. The Carriers also get ‘carried’ away with their own private icons in the notification bar – we already mentioned the Verizon 4G LTE.  Now don’t get me wrong, I want to see if I am on 3G or 4G, and I would like to see the signal strength of such.  However, the way it is currently presented is more of an in-your-face look – great in a full-sized advertisement, but not very informative in a notification bar.  The notification bar is there for precise and informative facts, not a place to advertise your logo. Please hook up with us on our Google+ Page and let us know your feelings on the Android notification system – where would you like to see some improvements and would you like more power in shutting off the stock notifications…as always, we would love to hear from you.