The State of Interactive Notifications in iOS 10

In today’s rapidly advancing smart phone market, iOS users can pretty much count on receiving a new release of iOS every year. Unfortunately, the growth and progression of notifications has not been as rapid. Starting with iOS 5, released in 2011, developers were introduced to Notification Center. This was a significant step forward and helped ease the nightmare of managing and receiving notifications. However, developers were still limited to titles and strings of text without access to image previews or a high degree of interactivity. This functionality was still limited to first party Apps like Photos or iMessage.

With the release of iOS 8 in 2014 developers received what most would consider the first true enhancement to the notifications. iOS 8 introduced interactive notifications allowing developers to leverage a few actions when a user swiped on a home screen alert. But maintain control and hold off on that happy dance! Even after this update, notifications in iOS still trailed behind the competition.

Flash forward to 2016 and iOS 10. Apple didn’t just dramatically enhance notifications, they reinvented what a notification itself can be. This didn’t just catch Apple up, it allowed them to totally leap-frog the competition in a significant way! Now you can break out your happy dance. Developers now have the power to make their notifications richer and more powerful than ever before. This is helped with the continuing paradigm shift to increase the user’s ability to interact with objects on the lock screen even before they unlock their device.

For a more detailed overview of Push Notifications, check out this article Understanding Push Notifications from Paul Flamiano.

iOS 10 Notification Features

Let’s take a look at some of the new notification features in iOS 10. First of all, rather than a simple title and text body, a message can now include complete views that can provide the user with a discrete portal into an App from the lock screen. This eliminates the need for a user to unlock their device, locate an App on their home screen, and launch the App just to execute a simple action. These notification views can also contain full-featured interactions, images, and animations.

One can easily see how quickly the lines between a simple message and an App are becoming blurred. An App is no longer limited to just existing within its specific container. This creates a more fluid user experience. Now all Apps can provide the feel of a tightly integrated component of iOS, and not just that of an add-on. This allows developers to create Apps that bring functionality to the user, rather than the user having to figure out what the App can do for them. This dovetails nicely with the user’s expectation that their typical mobile session length will continue to shrink as Apps are streamlined around their critical path.

The Raise to Wake feature is also designed to streamline user interaction. This functionality is not available on the older devices, so only iPhone 6s or newer devices. Even though this is a very useful feature, it could present data privacy issues for some users. Now anyone can pick up your phone and see a preview of awaiting notifications. If a particular notification contains sensitive information that should not be publicly viewed, then the user will need to adjust their privacy settings in order to prevent this from occurring.

It is also important to note that Touch ID and 3D Touch are now essential components within the iOS ecosystem. Does this mean that users of older devices without 3D Touch are not included? No, not completely. Apple has provided the ability to swipe left on a notification on older devices in order to see more options for interacting with the rich notification.

The Outcome for Developers

Developers now have the ability to dynamically update notifications that users have already received, but not viewed. For example, if you have a sports App and have subscribed to receive score updates, rather than finding several notifications waiting to inform you of score changes, the original notification could be updated. Now there is only one notification waiting that provides the current score for the game. This saves having to clear multiple outdated notifications since only the last one contains the current score information that the user is interested in knowing.

Alas, like anything that provides one with the ability to exercise great power, one must also take great care in order to use this power wisely. Now that there is the ability to provide rich notifications, which is huge, these notifications must be crafted with great copy and interactions that are well thought out. Otherwise users will not see the benefit and choose not to interact with these notifications. So like any new tool, before you rush to implement something just for the sake of having something, be sure to take the time to identify the appropriate interactions that will engage the users.

James Johnson
James Johnson Senior Consultant

Jim Johnson is a Senior Consultant with over three decades of IT and management experience, and ten iOS apps in the App Store. An experienced developer focusing on Native Apple technologies, Jim has worked in the Pharmaceutical, Healthcare, Life Insurance, Furniture, Energy and Manufacturing industries. He holds a Master’s degree in Business Management from Saint Joseph’s University. during 2014 received his Certified Scrum Master certification.