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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).

iphone_push_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.

Android-Notification

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. This is one reason I love Windows Phone and my Lumia 920 quite honestly. Windows Phone knows how to stay out of your way and get you the info you need quickly with a minimum of chrome, flash and distraction so you can get back to living in the real world. In my opinion it does a better job of that than either the staid old iOS or the overwrought and still buggy and laggy Android OS. And, yes I’ve used Jellybean. I have a Nexus 7 and it still lags and stutters, so please don’t tell me about how project butter fixed everything. It didn’t. My single core Lumia 900 was smoother than a quad core Android device running the latest version of Jellybean and that is pathetic.

  2. At work I took to leaving my phone (a Blackberry, in my case) constantly on vibrate or silent a couple of years back, just so I wouldn’t mistakenly have it go off in a meeting, presentation or with a client. Then I started forgetting it on vibrate at home. Then deliberately leaving it on there, so I wasn’t constantly checking each time a message tone went off. A few months ago, I went even more ‘extreme’ – deleted my twitter app, turned off even LED notifications for messages and only have the phone vibrate when I get a call. So now, rather than the phone dictate when I use it, it’s back to me being the one who decides when I have tm efor it or not. I relate very much to the ‘whack-a-mole’ feel with notifications (it was one of my problems with facebook – a habit, verging on OCD, of not being able to deal with having all those little flags and notifications unattended to), so totally relate to the above.

  3. Wow everyone’s knows how to turn off notifications on an iphone. Wonder why though…lol which brings up the point of the article…ios notifications aren’t great or can be improved.

  4. Wow everyone’s knows how to turn off notifications on an iphone. Wonder why though…lol which brings up the point of the article…ios notifications aren’t great or can be improved.

  5. Many of the people leaving comments on this post are entirely too critical and self righteous. This post is quite clear and the language used by Mr. Ingram reflects that he meant that ALTHOUGH you can turn off notifications and badges and such, the fact that this level of granularity doesn’t exist on the Android platform is a good thing FOR HIM and allowed him to unplug from the real-time updates. Everyone needs to calm down. There is absolutely nothing wrong with your piece Mr. Ingram. Well done actually.

  6. This article and the comments are just too funny. It’s like guaranteed to attract trolls. Then everyone in the world misses the actual interesting content. It’s interesting that the author actual has something to say about too many alerts maybe a sign of the times and defaults having a big impact (ie disabling them was a “guilty failure to keep up”). Had the author used humour rather that trolling to make the article a big hit (he cannot be that stupid after all, seriously) then social commentary would have been more highlighted.

    Ironically in all my Android v. iOS debates with buddies (I am blood type “O” not “A”) it’s the customisation and “do more” which the “A”s push and the simple and just works as-is that makes “A”s push (they do the same stuff people so its just like arguing about sports teams, its subjective). Shame it’s just a trolls page so everyone will attack this “point of view” paragraph and ignore the social commentary in the first paragraph, so the trolls will be fat, dumb and extremely unhappy.

    • Typo! Edit: “A”s say “more customisation” and “O”s say “out-of-the box”.

      My point was its a subjective argument of preference and brand loyalty like a sports preference not a factual comparison of the platforms.

  7. Donna Papacosta

    One of the first things I did when I bought my first iPhone was to turn off almost all of the notifications. Even on my MacBook Pro, I often turn these things off so I can get some “real work” done.

  8. Derek Scruggs

    To all those saying how you can turn notifications off, the older iOS UI (not sure about current) was mighty confusing to dunderheads like me. I tried like hell to get Words with Friends to stop annoying me and the only solution was to uninstall it (at least that was the case 6-8 months ago).

  9. Andre Goulet

    Funny how, for so long, everyone claimed that Apple stole the notifications system from Android, then you come along and claim that Android is better at notifications and iOS is too busy with them.

    Virtually every iOS app, on first launch, asks you to allow it to use the notification system. Just say ‘no’ and you’re clear of this problem! Geez. You don’t even have to go into the settings.

    Robert is right, this is simply a crappy article. And no, my opinion has nothing to do with my OS preference (I don’t care what I or others use), just the lazy writing.

  10. Jennifer Johnston

    OMG, are your readers brain dead? You made it QUITE clear that you knew you could configure the notices and that you were simply comparing it to the default settings. I don’t know how you could have been more open about that. It’s like people wanted to be angry fanboys and their totally eroded attention spans prevented them from reading a very clear sentence in a blog post that wasn’t anywhere near War and Peace length….so the comment about being “buried” is just nonsense.

    I think some folks need an internet time-out so they can regain their perspective, put on their journalism hats, and also remind themselves that there are more opinions in the world than their own.

    Narcissus, heal thyself!

  11. Yet another one of Matt’s missives that reads like a Facebook narrative.

    No news, sad conclusions, rampant editorializing, 100% babble.

    I’m guessing he thinks there’s more free stuff on Android – Matt is a proponent
    of the free part of the internet. He doesn’t like paying for content.

  12. Isn’t it annoying when authors constantly explain how those are their experiences, not the general truth, just to make (Apple or Google) zealots not too angry? Of course those are your experiences, your name is written under at the end. Reading an article with a bunch of disclaimers is, well, boring.

    And regarding the comments about the highly configurable iOS, where are those reasonable defaults Apple always bragged with?

    • And after reading through all the comments, it is (yet again) surprising to see so much angry iphone users. Like you all enjoy going through every single application and configuring it.

      I agree with you, Mathew, you could take some discipline and reconfigure your old phone, or you could simply switch to another platform with better defaults, obviously, and live a happy, annoyance free life. It happened to be Android, but it easily could be Windows.

      What happened with the Apple’s user-centric approach? They lost their edge, it seems. For me, the better approach would be to explicitly enable notifications where you want (and to have missed calls, SMS and direct messages enabled by default), not to have to disable them for every single application.

      • digmatica

        MB: how long would it take you to reconfigure an iPhone? Longer than it takes to drive to the store and pick-up a new phone? “Apple’s user-centric approach.” A joke? User-centric means that your device does many things for you. However, you believe Android’s superior because of what it can’t do, because of features that it does NOT have?! Whereas Apple has alerting features because many, many consumers desire this. And, hey, if you don’t desire these alerts, then simply reconfigure your settings.

        So I’m stunned by your comment. You think that more limitations are good and less are bad. Um.

  13. Hey Mathew :)
    At last, a post I could not agree more wit :D
    the trouble with iphone is they make you feel stupid if you don’t stay “on top of” everything…
    it is certainly a very good thing to “disconnect” from immediateness, and I really agree with you :)

  14. I can’t believe the responses to this article. I read it as, while you had an iPhone you thought the notifications were a good thing and tried to keep up with them. Once you’d switched, for other reasons, to a phone that uses a different approach by default, you realised you should have just switched them off. It’s very easy to get bullied by technology, which is why people follow their satnav into bogs and ravines.

  15. gianfranco-mela

    lol.. this article is just stupid. to change the phone becuase android helped to deal with notifications, is just stupid. to say that removing the little red badge icon is like a never-ending game of whack-a-mole, is tremendously stupid!
    the iphone notifications are highly customizable. and are even better than android, everything is built-in on iOS, and you don’t have to download crappy plugins that allow you to customize them. plus, the closed apple ecosystem has more than 700.000 apps, all veryfied by apple. no virus, no spam, no spyware. android is just a jungle, and you’d better start thinking to install a good antvirus, man.

    making a post like this is not so intelligent: is like saying “hey, I had an Audi (or a BMW or a Ferrari or whatever you like) but I changed it with a Toyota because it had the music volume too loud.”. didn’t you know you can customize it? lol

  16. Dominic James East

    Nova Launcher on my S3 allows me to customize my notifications, while keeping everything sleek and simple with my widgets.

    And ignore the angry trolls, one of the best part ofour growing technology is finding hidden benefits. Thanks for the insight!

  17. Glen Carter

    Thanks for your thoughts Matthew. I guess the main theme I got from your post is that we all use our phones differently, there are things we can do to customize our phones, and obviously the more options, widgets and customization available the better. Android is now clearly leading this ( despite what some of the insecure here refuse to believe), but I believe Apple will have a massive shake up of ios next time which may leap frog them forward.

  18. Matt Howell

    All I can say is… Wow, some people need to get better at reading comprehension! I knew EXACTLY what Mr. Ingram was trying to convey as I read his article and, as a result, thought his piece was both informative and unbiased – all of you who are griping about Mr. Ingram’s “shortcomings” as a writer, I hope, realize that no one is forcing you to read his articles if you don’t like them.

  19. Very thoughtful piece, thank you Matthew. I have often wondered why it is that whenever I meet someone who is obsessively doing stuff on their smartphone, it is always an iPhone user. I guess Apple didn’t “borrow” enough from Android to make the experience substantially better?
    Those old Windows Phone 7 commercials themed “Really?!” did have a valid point – a smartphone should serve the user, not the other way around.

  20. PRETHOUGHT

    Here is the million dollar question how do you backup your Android phone?

    You’ve totally customized your so much more open Android platform phone and it is,

    a: stolen, b: dropped in a pool, c: dropped down a flight of stairs.

    In any case how do you get back to the point prior to a catastrophic event?

    The nice thing with iOS is you are back in business with your iTunes backup

    Now I’ve used Titanium but, backups fail regularly on it whether I pull locally or to Google Drive. And not every single piece of meta data comes back.

    Not understanding how to turn on notifications on Android is one thing but to not have a backup plan for your phone because no one makes one that works flawlessly is another. If there is some iTunes equivalent for Android please educate me so far it’s Titanium that you have to pay extra for I have to admit there are many many slick features inside of Titanium but all those features are meaningless if you can’t get a flawless restore after a catastrophic event.

    • Glen Carter

      Lookout is a brilliant for back up for Android (flawless !) , comes with location finder, security etc, and there are plenty of others. There you have been educated.

      • PRETHOUGHT

        Lookout is not a backup utility. Maybe Android users are more carefree and are fine with losing all the data on their phone. Your data is not that important to you, you don’t mind working on your phone because Android users are more hands on and love to customize and then re-customize when something happens to their smart phone. I get it now.

  21. @Robert Scoble – the article was clear enough. Certainly clearer than your motives for contributing multiple comments.

    Almost enough to make one think that multiple people are commenting under your name. Or one person forgot where he put both his reading glasses and his meds.

  22. People, this is not about iPhone vs Android. The author is just commenting on the psychological relief he feels about not being constantly distracted by notifications he feels he must respond to. Obviously, he could have turned them off on the iPhone but never considered doing so and now he has discovered why he should have.

  23. i say use what you want and let the other use what they want without being bothered about why one platform is better…sure android is great…give one to a non-techie and see them suffer…lol

  24. immovableobject

    The article summary states: “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”

    One of the “big things you like better about Android phone” is not actually even a feature of Android nor the phone. It is apparently the default configuration of your app’s notifications.

    Wow!

  25. Good thing no one here took the article too serious. Psh.

    Let the guy write what he wants. Its an observation.He moved to android and I’m quite sure he wont look back once he sees how much more he can actually do.

    Like most ex-iphone owners, myself being one, the move is a little discouraging at first, but you’ll seen realize how limiting the iPhone really is. This assuming ofcourse that you do more than tweet, groupon and sip starbucks.