We’re All Off About Push Notifications

I’ve been a long-term fan of limiting Notification Center and pop-up push notifications. With the Lock Screen, I’m more liberal. I will allow for updates from the App Store, OmniFocus, and even a few photo and game apps. But all in all, the notifications aren’t allowed to pop up. Those alerts are always interrupting something else that I was previously trying to accomplish.

Owen Williams on The Next Web started thinking this through, and just now, like many of you, came to the conclusion he should cut back the pushed notices for his own benefit:

Apple makes it incredibly easy to get push notifications on your phone. One button and you’ve got constant gratification forever. I think it’s time we started treating that “do you want to allow push notifications” request as sacred. That request is far more important than we ever give it credit.

Owen isn’t going far enough with the idea. Everything I do with my phone is sacred, somehow. It’s eating up my time, so I want to be sure that I kill that time doing something I actually want to do. All of my mobile time is sacred.

And, personally, I have a hard time calling push notifications “instant gratification” under any circumstance. Am I getting old? Or is that normal for the rest of you? I’m gratified by the apps and their utility, not by the alerts.

When you install a new app, the first thing it’ll do is ask you to allow push notifications even though you have no idea what to expect! We just met! Why are app makers making such a big request, like it’s no big deal? How will I know what you are going to send me?

That depends on what you’re paying attention to. When you install an app, you aren’t prompted to activate notifications. You are asked to “Don’t Allow” or “OK” the notifications. That is to say, you are given the option between ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to push notifications for every app before you use it. iOS doesn’t have a bias in favor of notifications. It presumes you would like to make the difficult choices for yourself, like whether or not you want notifications on an app-by-app basis.

But for many users, the choice is a tough one they aren’t prepared to respond to. It’s the same reason we have difficulty responding to the notifications themselves. When asked to pay attention to a pop-up message on our phone, it’s jarring.

Our limited cognitive ability doesn’t usually stretch out wide enough to respond to the alert intelligently while we’re in the middle of writing e-mails or checking the weather. We don’t have the capacity to think about two choices simultaneously that are completely unrelated. You don’t have the ability to write to Jen and choose whether you want to read updates to Monument Valley at the same time.


Joe Darnell

Joe is a UI and graphic designer with prior experience as the creative director for three media-based businesses. Joe’s passionate about web design and graphic design with about 15 years of experience in the media industry. Additionally, Joe is the host of the Top Brew and Techtonic podasts, both featured on iTunes.