iOS and Android notifications are living hell

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mobtkr5 August 2022Last Update : 2 days ago
iOS and Android notifications are living hell

It starts innocently enough. You download an app and the app asks for your permission to send you push notifications. Of course, do you think. What harm could result? I would like to know when my package arrives or my burrito is ready. But then you download After apps, and they all need your permission to send you notifications, and before you know it, your lock screen is flooded with apps clamoring for your attention.

Applications never close. They crave commitment. They want you to know that your favorite items are on sale, that you haven’t practiced your Spanish today, that your delivery driver is five stops away, that your child at daycare just had a rash – any the day, all at once. Welcome to a place where we all live, a place called Notification Hell.

We haven’t always lived here. For a while, companies like Apple haven’t let app developers run wild with the power to demand our attention at any time of the day. They insisted that power should be used for good and not for evil. It didn’t last long. App developers are now allowed to send us marketing notifications as long as we have them enabled. And guess what: if you opted in to receive notifications, you opted in to a lot of them. The call is even coming from inside the house now – Apple is promote its services in the settings menus and Samsung tries to sell you a new phone…while you’re using your Samsung phone. There really is nowhere to hide.

It’s not just the ads that are the problem. The digital assistants in our phones strive to learn our behavior and predict our every move. Probably because they’re robots, they don’t really understand what’s useful and what’s not. Like when Siri sees that I have a flight on my calendar, so it offers me a shortcut to put my phone in airplane mode. Immediately after that, he asks me if I want to call the meeting on my calendar: my flight. The road to Notification Hell is paved with well-meaning digital assistants.

It’s not an assistant, but Google Photos frequently commits notification offenses. It’s always learning new tricks, like how to identify a beer or a latte in a photo, then pestering you to see how it can identify all the photos you’ve taken of beer and lattes. He also really wants me to know when he finds a bunch of similar photos of my cat sleeping on different pieces of furniture, calling them to attention uninvited, like a dog that has found a stick. My brother in Christ, I took the pictures. I know they are similar.

Our operating system developers are not entirely indifferent to our suffering; they threw a few lifebuoys at us. On iOS, you can have non-emergency notifications gathered into a daily summary and delivered once a day. You can also set up focus modes – the UI for which is its own kind of hell – or have certain apps send notifications silently unless they’re time-sensitive. But if you do this, you must first solve a puzzle.

Answer me these three questions…

IMG 2169 - Market for Phones

Not the most user-friendly interface.

I tried once with Amazon. I thought I had configured it to only receive notifications when a package arrived. I did wrong, apparently, because a grocery order sat outside my house for five hours the night of July 4th. I now let Amazon send me as many notifications as they want.

That sums up our situation: we are trapped in notification hell, and there will be no rescue. We have a few meager tools at hand, but it is up to us to find our way. Until I figure out my notification settings, I know I’m here for the long haul. For now, it’s just a comfort to know that there are others with me too, for misery loves company.


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