Notifications started as the means for an app or the OS to tell you something useful, but they have become so much more in the past few years. Reports suggest that we check our smartphone nearly a hundred times each day. Notifications make up for no small part of this, and they’re starting to become a real problem.
The scale of how seriously people take notifications can vary. Personally, I treat unattended notifications on my smartphone as tasks, and I don’t clear them until I’ve taken necessary action (similar to how people mark emails as unread). Because of the hundreds of notifications I receive each day, strapping a smartwatch and charging it regularly just to easily deal with them, sounded like a good idea.
But as every aspect of our life goes digital (from booking cabs, buying tickets, or ordering food, and more), notifications have turned from being useful to sometimes being an absolute waste of time.
For example, let’s take a task most of us do regularly — withdrawing cash from an ATM. Assuming you have your bank’s app installed, there’s a good chance you’ll receive a notification, an email, and an SMS - all about the same transaction. Pay a mobile phone bill online and the notification tray will be populated by four redundant messages at least (from the operator and the bank). The same goes for any transaction you may have with any merchant.
It is understandable that service providers still want to send you transactional communication over SMS, since it’s a medium that works without Internet connectivity. But the result of this is ending up with redundant notifications that have to be cleared every time you do anything.
Then there’s the inconsistent behaviour of receiving the same notification on multiple devices. Modern computer operating systems like Windows 10 or macOS have their own “notification centers” that put all the incoming notifications in one place. Say you’re using a service like Twitter or WhatsApp, and you receive a couple of notifications. You go and address them on your computer, but unfortunately your phone will still have the same notifications, awaiting your pointless dismissal. Some services, such as Facebook and Slack, have a better approach, where if you start conversing on one device, it clears queued notifications on the other.
And if that wasn’t enough, there’s also the barrage of promotional notifications that app makers push in an attempt to engage with their user base. A simple way to get rid off those would be to disable notifications for that particular app. But then that app also uses the same notification service to send you important notifications, like when that product you bought on Amazon or Flipkart is being shipped. Another example is if you disable notifications on a music streaming app like Saavn, along with the promo notifications, it also gets rid of the useful music controls that appear when a song is playing. Unfortunately, there’s no way around this, except for the very few apps like Cleartrip that let you turn off promo notifications from within the app.
It’s high time businesses take notifications they’re sending to customers more seriously. As a customer, it can be hugely annoying and be the cause to get rid of an app and to stop using a service. There is a need for app makers to know that their services are accessible on multiple devices and they need to be considerate about this. Sooner than later, this notification overload is bound to consume typical smartphone users, and their choice may start leading towards a service that spams them the least.