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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