There are many things I like better about my Android phone compared to my old iPhone, but one of the big ones is something that is missing: namely, all those irritating real-time notifications

I’ve written before about how I recently switched from using an iPhone to an Android, and the reasons for that shift, which mostly had to do with my perception of the Android ecosystem as being more open and diverse than Apple’s (something many readers took issue with). But there was an additional benefit to using an Android that I hadn’t really expected, and it didn’t really dawn on me until I had been using it for awhile: it has actually been helping me disconnect more from the maelstrom of real-time notifications, and that’s a good thing.

One of the things that made my iPhone into an extension of my arm for the three years that I used one was the ability to see at a glance anything that required my attention, whether it was email or Twitter, or Instagram, or Path, or one of a dozen other social networks and services that I have signed up for. At first I thought this was a great feature — but I’ve changed my mind.

A profusion of bubbles, banners and popups

Not only did certain apps (like Twitter) wake up the iPhone screen even when the device was sleeping to flash a message, but every icon for every app also had mini-notifications built in, so that I could see at a glance how many emails had come in since the last time I had checked, or how many Facebook messages, etc. Each icon had a little number next to it that wouldn’t go away until I opened the app and dealt with the messages or updates (there are also banner updates that can be individually configured for different apps).


If you need to stay on top of things like email, this is a really great feature. If you are somewhat obsessive or have something approaching attention-deficit disorder, however, it’s like a never-ending game of whack-a-mole that you play with your phone: open the app and click through the emails so that the number next to the icon goes away, and five minutes later there are a hundred more waiting. Twitter is the same, and so is Facebook.

(Note: I know that you can turn these off on the iPhone, as some commenters have pointed out. I am just describing my experience of the default settings, not making a blanket statement about the value of the iPhone as a whole).

To me, those numbers became a nagging indicator of my failure to stay on top of everything I was supposed to be paying attention to. Which is why I noticed when I switched to Android that there weren’t any notification bubbles next to the icons, and nothing woke up my phone. There was a small LED at the top of the phone — a Motorola Razr HD — that changed color based on certain input, but that was it. And when you wake the phone up, there are some small icons at the top that indicate new emails, etc. All very easy to ignore.

How can something that’s missing be positive?

Many iPhone fans are probably going to see what I’m describing as a negative rather than a positive. After all, I’m talking about how the Android actually *lacks* certain features that the iPhone has — how could that be seen as a good thing? And that’s what I wondered when I started using the Android.

In fact, I spent a fair bit of time looking for ways to reproduce the same kind of notification experience I got with the iPhone. I tweaked the settings — which don’t really give you the same kind of granularity that you get with the iPhone (or at least not in my experience) — and I even downloaded a bunch of apps that were designed to replicate the iPhone notifications somehow, right down to the noises they made, which were programmed into my subconscious.


Nothing I tried seemed to reproduce the kind of notifications I got on the iPhone, however, or at least not in a way that seemed to fit my needs. So I basically stopped trying. Now the light on my phone blinks from time to time, but it’s really easy to ignore — and it chirps sometimes, but there’s no flashing on-screen message to tell me what it is. I have different rings for texts and phone calls from important people and that’s about it.

It’s not you, iPhone — it’s me

When I open my Android phone up from sleep mode, there are no tiny numbers beside any of the icons. There’s a widget that shows the first few subject lines of emails, so I can see whether there’s something hugely important, and another widget with a small calendar view. And when I want to see notifications from all the various apps and services, I can swipe down on the screen (a feature Apple borrowed from Android, I believe) and see a list.

Not having better notifications may be a downside for some, but I guess for me it has been a blessing in disguise — I was trying to be more disciplined about my real-time updates, the way some others like Om have described, and turn off all the notifications one by one, but I am weak. Maybe it took a switch to a different platform and an unfamiliar user interface for me to make the decisions I should have made before to make my life a little less hectic.

Believe me, I’m not trying to say that the Android phone is better than the iPhone in every circumstance or for every person, or that Google is better than Apple. I’m just trying to describe my usage of both and how I came to the conclusion that for me, fewer notifications (or more subtle ones) is actually a good thing.

Thumbnail image courtesy of Brosix

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  1. If the “author” actually knew what he is writing about, he would be aware that notifications in iOS are highly configurable, or can even be disabled altogether.

    1. Thanks — I do know that, as I mentioned in the piece. I admit I probably could have made that a little more clear.

  2. Duh. You can switch off the notifications and numbers on top if app icons in iOS.

  3. Do you know you can turn the notification and the badge on or off? And you can choose to have the notification as a pop-up window or just a bar in the status bar?
    Don’t get me wrong, I’m typing this through a Galaxy Note 2.

    1. Yes, I know that, Herman — thanks.

      1. Your article didn’t make that clear and makes it look like you didn’t do your homework. This is the worst piece you have ever written and I’ve been a fan of yours for years. I expect more from GigaOm and you.

      2. Robert, maybe I could have said more clearly that you can turn them off — but I did say that, and that I know the problem I am describing has more to do with me than it does with the iPhone. I tried hard to make that point, in fact. I’m sorry I didn’t make it to your satisfaction.

      3. I’m not really understanding why people are getting so moist about this post, he said, knowing full well that too many people are blind to reason when it comes to Apple, and then, sighing in the full knowledge of the species-ending stupidity that that behaviour signals, and realizing the futility of any meaningful engagement with his fellow humans who have ever touched an Apple device, he walked in front of a trai ……

  4. Bogdan Petrovan Monday, February 18, 2013

    It’s ok. You don’t have to apologize.

  5. Windows Phone does this too. I have a Windows phone and an iPhone and the Windows Phone is more docile when it comes to sending alerts, rarely turning on the screen. And also, I can customize the screen to show me only the notifications that I want, rather than the notifications that the phone wants me to see.

  6. Ya man ,you don’t need to feel bad for liking an android

  7. You do know that you can easily turn off those notifications, right?

  8. Wow, instead of turning off notifications, you buy a new phone? You must have money to burn.

  9. I wonder how long it will take before people realize that NOBODY CARES what phone you switched too.

    Especially if you are too dumb to know you can turn off badge notifications in iOS… you immediately lose all credibility… forever.

    1. Why the insults cause som1 prefers android to iphone. Get a life.

  10. Mathew, this is the worst tech journalism I’ve EVER seen you do. All of these things can be turned off or changed in iPhone’s settings. Amazingly poor job here. If you were working for me you wouldn’t be allowed to write about mobile anymore.

    1. Robert, I know you can turn them off — I specifically said that. I know I didn’t have to switch to a different platform in order to make them go away — I am just saying it was an unforeseen highlight of switching, that’s all. Thanks for the feedback.

      1. Your article didn’t make it clear. I had to read it several times to even see it. The whole premise of your article is based on something that just doesn’t exist. Many of us have turned off our notifications on our iPhones which gives the same benefit. This is your worst piece of journalism and I expect more from both you and GigaOm.

      2. What you did was bury the lead and by doing so made the whole article seem like a biased, uninformed slam on iPhone. Most won’t get to the last paragraph.

        You should have lead with “you can turn these off on iPhone, I just didn’t have the discipline to.”

      3. As I said on Facebook, this wasn’t intended to be a feature on why the iPhone is bad (which I don’t think it is) or to start an iPhone-Android war — it was just an attempt to describe my experience of both platforms. I know that you can turn off notifications, and I am not saying Apple is to blame — in fact, I specifically said it wasn’t. I’m sorry the post doesn’t meet your requirements.

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