The problem with notifications

By | 2012/10/06

Much as MobileMe, the precursor to iCloud had a fair share of problems, and much as iCloud at times seems somewhat anaemic in its service offerings, a piece of core functionality in both has been content sharing for addresses, appointments, and so on.

Notifications in iOS took a substantial improvement in usability, in no small part modelled from the Android notification system, and with Mountain Lion we’ve had notifications added to the core Mac operating system as well.

All of which is great in terms of being able to see calendars that are up to date.

All of which is great in terms of getting a notification wherever you are.

And all of which is maddeningly annoying when you’re working at your desk for an entire day.


  • Hey, laptop, thanks for the reminder!
  • Hey, desktop, yep, I got the reminder…
  • Hey, iPhone, I don’t need to know again!
  • Hey, iPad, STFU and let me concentrate!

It’s reminder hell. In the space of 5-15 seconds I’ll have four devices chiming around me simultaneously, throwing my concentration out and putting me just that little bit on edge.

I appreciate that every device is capable of reminding me so that if I’ve only got one of them with me, I’ll still get the reminder.

But when they’re all in proximity to each other?

What we really need is a notification centre control system – available on each device, and on, which has the following minimum functionality:

  • Option to mute notifications to any notification-enabled device for a nominated period of time (with perhaps default periods of 4, 8 and 24 hours).
  • Option to direct all notifications to any single notification enabled-device for a nominated period of time (like the above, but more efficient when there’s more than 2 devices).
  • Scheduled muting as an advanced option. If I know I’m going to be working in my office for a week, then Monday to Friday, 8am to 5pm, for that week, I don’t want to get notifications on every device – and I don’t want to mute them more than once.

Some would argue we already have this functionality – it’s possible to turn off notifications for each device (and indeed, the “Do not disturb” functionality added in iOS 6 has some of those scheduling options, too); yet, if you have 3+ devices receiving notifications, the task becomes an arduous one for the user – something that should generally be avoided.

Or to put it another way – notifications shouldn’t punish you for having more than one integrated device.