A few musings on notifications in iOS by a long time Android user

This week, after my Android phone died again, I decided to venture into the world of Apple and borrowed an old iPhone 6 from a friend. I’ve spent the last few days fighting with my muscle memory (where do I swipe?) and Googling “how do I…” when I can’t find an essential setting. Since my Android died abruptly, I couldn’t use Apple’s Move to iOS app, so I’m installing apps only as I remember that I need them. This is actually turning into an interesting purge as there were apps on my Android that it turns out I really haven’t been using. But I digress.

Aside from the changes in UI that were predictably hard to get used to, and I’m not holding a grudge against Apple for this, I’m truly exhausted by one thing: notifications.

  1. iOS alerts: so many, each its own, large-ish message.

    The sheer number: there are so many alerts and each one is its own message. Android encourages notification bundling but iOS seems to do nothing of the sort, and doesn’t seem to offer it in their settings. This means that I get an alert for every news item, every email, every Twitter like, and every new post in every WhatsApp group, including multiple posts in the same group.

  2. They pop up everywhere, repeatedly, in multiple locations. Whereas in Android they’re only on the lock screen in the same format as in the notification drawer and requiring the same action, on iOS they’re on the lockscreen, the notification center, and as alerts, as temporary banners, and as badges. Speaking of the variety…
  3. At every app install, permission is requested by the app to send notifications. I agreed to most, especially the messaging and mail apps, as these are notifications I want to receive. I was then summarily overwhelmed. Going into settings I realized that there were many different aspects of notifications that I could control, such as badges, banners, sounds and alerts. After looking up what they meant, I realized that I have lots of control but not for what I need: minimizing and grouping alerts.
  4. Dismissal of notifications takes a swipe, to get available actions, and a click, to choose view or clear. Why not just a swipe? Each notification has to be dismissed individually, there’s no dismiss per app or per group. Update: Notifications can be dismissed for the entire day, I missed this.
  5. The badges stick until actively dismissed, which drives me crazy. Email, for example, keeps telling me I have 38 unread emails. Yes, I know, but these are not new unreads, they are ones that I already know about and decided not to read or delete for now. The badge is useless, which is why I downloaded the Gmail app, where badges are not for total unread but only for new unreads. I get that this is decided on an app by app basis but this doesn’t make sense to me, especially for iOS’s default mail app.
  6. Choosing channels in Apple’s News app – why are so many on by default?

    There is no hierarchy of notifications in the general settings, only in some individual apps, who mostly don’t offer additional options. Gmail is one exception and allows notifications settings for different types of email, where I can chose to be notified only for Primary emails, not Updates or Social. It helps minimize notifications without a risk of missing important messages. I also cannot set how many notifications I’d like to receive from an app daily (Nuzzel does this well.) The good is that some apps, such as Apple News, do offer customization abilities so that I can choose what channels I want to hear from. The drawback to this is that it’s in the News app and not reachable from the News notifications from Settings, so it needs to be discovered independently. 

So, is it just a question of me getting used to a new UI or are iOS notifications really that stressful? I’m in the process of customizing and maybe, by next week, I’ll feel more at home in this new OS. Meanwhile, I am more appreciative of the changes that Android has in store for Notifications in O: more granular control and the realization that too many notifications cause anxiety and not all notifications are equal.

Finally I love how every iOS app puts the back button in a different place, but that’s a post for another day.

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