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How switching to Android helped me deal with my addiction to connectedness

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I’ve written before about how I recently switched from using an iPhone (s aapl) to an Android (s goog), 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

93 Responses to “How switching to Android helped me deal with my addiction to connectedness”

  1. Stuart Rudner

    I am currently comparing the Blackberry Z10, Samsung Galaxy S3 and iPhone 5. One comment I have heard a few times is that the Android platform does not have the security that is necessary for lawyers. Any comments?


  2. I’m having the opposite experience on my Android phone. While I admit that the Android OS doesn’t have those numbers on the screen next to the icons, the phone is buzzing and chirping all the time, and this is even after I’ve configured some applications to only alert me once every hour, rather than every time a relevant item occurs.

    And since everyone and their mother is reminding you that the iPhone can be configured, I also realize that the individual Android apps can be configured, and that I can establish a sleep time on my phone so that I receive no notifications during certain hours. I just haven’t bothered to muck around in the settings.

    Despite what some commenters think, this is NOT an Android vs. iOS issue. This is an issue regarding how we have configured our mobile devices (regardless of provider), what level of connectivity we want, and why some of us don’t bother to mess around with the configurations, instead just leaving them like they are. (This generation’s version of the “12:00” blinking VCR, I guess.)

    The pity is that both Android and iOS appear to be granular enough to meet our basic needs. I could configure my phone so that my sleeping hours ARE interrupted by messages from close family members, but are NOT interrupted by Words with Friends notifications.

    So why haven’t I done it?

  3. So iPhone and Appe bashing is the order of the day for most tech and business blogs.
    Kind of sad to see people trying to promote one dominant brand.
    Very sad and I wonder what kind of life they have, a sad one perhaps otherwise they wouldn’t love to bash a company which do them no wrong.

  4. I find reading about a switchers experience very informative. Thanks for sharing. I like my iPhone, but I have considered Android, as I think there are some good phones out there and the OS is progressing nicely. But you have to know your audience here, and many of the readers are die-hard fanboys who will berate anything you say that isn’t positive about Apple and their products. That’s why I stopped reading MacDailyNews. Even the editors over there are hardcore fanboys.

  5. Robert Varipapa

    So now Android is ‘better’ because it doesn’t do everything iOS does?

    What next?

    Maybe, “I like my Android phone because the battery dies at noon and I don’t have to talk to anyone.”

  6. Relaxy Taxi

    Vicious comments here. From reading this it seems it was not necessarily the binary switch of notifications on / off, but rather the experience between how the platforms request the users attention. Android from the author’s account allowed passive browsing of email, as opposed to an ambiguous number icon floating above the app. Turning off all notifications isn’t a realistic option, and I think he learned via a new platform, that for him, the passive experience works, and can’t be easily replicated for iphone. He re-iterates that these are his personal experiences, and not general sweeping statements about A is better than B platform. Relax, he is sharing personal experience and anecdotal happenings.

  7. Idon't Know

    It must be a slow news day. You wrote and entire article about something which you admit at the end of the article isn’t actually an issue. Sadly this is what GigaOm is these days. An attention getting headline with an article that makes no sense but you got the page views!

    • Thanks for the comment, but this wasn’t about pageviews — it was an attempt to describe my personal experience with switching platforms, which I thought some people might find interesting. I honestly don’t care whether people use iPhone or Android, and I wasn’t trying to stir up any controversy. I was just describing my own personal use case and the things I discovered while using it.

  8. “I can swipe down on the screen (a feature Apple borrowed from Android, I believe) and see a list.”

    lol, yes this was totally copied / stolen by Apple for iOS from Google Android.

    With notifications it comes down to taste. My HTC Desire had this blinking flashing LED, too which for me was harder to ignore than if you turn the iPhone on its back (not seeing the screen). I also prefer the screen waking up the iPhone and seeing the actual notification instead of my Android phone blinking LED not knowing why it is blinking.

    A notification waking up my phone was only a probable at the time when I didn’t knew that changing the auto-lock affects how long the screen is turned on. Apple’s default of 5 minutes is very long, but you can change that to a minimum of 1 minute, which also doesn’t suck your battery energy so much dry.

  9. Kevin Robinette

    I’ve never read your blogs but I must admit it’s pretty great. It’s great because it does what it was intended to do. To flame a war for clicks and traffic. There is no way you didn’t think people would react. You switched platforms cool – then brought up an idiotic side affect as a feature. that is pointless to say. Under your logic the blinking light on android should call you to the phone as well. I dont think it is a ridiculous attack this is what he wanted. Attention, yes I too gave him what he wanted but I am tired of “lazy” attention seekers waiting on the sidelines of an idiotic tech war between “fanboys” of either side. I have a nexus 4 and at least 2 to 3 times a day the mobile connection stops working hence I dont receive phone calls or anything I would need to have a signal to receive I guess this is also an awesome feature in your book.

  10. I switched from my first smartphone (Android, HTC Desire) to iOS (iPhone) and besides all the stuff that Android clearly does MUCH better (for example enabling sharing between apps, allowing you to switch the keyboard to e.g. the brilliant SwiftKey) I feel that the notifications are done much better in iOS.

    And this is written by a person that so much hated the iPhone in the first days compared to Android, that he wanted to throw the iPhone against the wall, because of frustration.

    P.S. Mathew I hope you test and use SwiftKey, if you haven’t done already. The iOS keyboard is a joke, I always have to manually switch between German and English where as SwiftKey detects automatically in which language i’m writting (the auto-corrections are MUCH better, too).

  11. megacookie

    Shame that they give a space to write to someone so ignorant that doesn’t know how to operate an iPhone.
    Maybe he should go back to Nokia 6110 or put a very long cord to his home phone to use it as a “mobile”.

  12. Summary of all the comments of people shouting abuses at the author:

    “I have deeply rooted self-esteem problems. Society has convinced me that an apple on the back of my phone makes me a better person. I will fiercely retaliate against anyone who dares hint that my psychological blanket is less-than-perfect.”

  13. Robert Scoble

    Mathew: it’s not about a war. I love wars. It’s about having you appear that you did your homework. This one makes you look like a newbie who didn’t even know you could change iOS settings. You buried that information in the last paragraph of the article, and did so in a way that I missed it and so have many others. This is an extraordinarily-poorly written piece.

    If you had started “I knew I could turn off notifications on my iPhone but it was only until I got an Android phone, which is missing many of these features, that I realized I had no discipline,” then I wouldn’t have had a problem. The fact that you buried that important information in the last paragraph (that you can go to iOS’s Settings/General/Notifications and turn these off) makes this whole thing very poor.

    Plus, you missed an important chance to educate iOS users that they should turn off many of their notifications to become more productive (something I have done on all my devices and, it, indeed, does make you more productive).

    • Rob Hyndman

      All due respect, you sound like a spoiled child on this, Robert. Mathew’s piece is perfectly clear. And again, with all due respect, you would have to be a moron – and you know Mathew isn’t one – to not know that notifications can be turned off. I mean seriously, how about a little adult behaviour from you on this one?

      • Nicole Solis

        This is a story about one person’s experience. It’s not a mobile device review — it’s a personal essay. Mathew’s point is pretty clear: he didn’t realize that there could be a negative side to his attachment to the notifications until they weren’t there. Until then, he wanted them on. That’s pretty clear in this sentence, which is in the first paragraph (emphasis added): “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.”

        Nice, thoughtful post, Mathew. It’s always refreshing to hear about how changes in tech — even the choice of a phone OS — can have an unexpected positive effect on someone’s life.

  14. Robert Scoble

    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.

    • 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.

      • Robert Scoble

        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.

      • Robert Scoble

        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.”

      • 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.

  15. The Gnome

    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.

  16. Douglas Crets

    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.

  17. Herman Leong

    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.

      • Robert Scoble

        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.

      • 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.

      • Rob Hyndman

        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 ……