It’s time for a hard reset on notifications

2024-04-02 15:30


The iPhone 15 Pro (blue titanium) and 15 Pro Max (white titanium) standing next to one another.
Phones need to go to notification jail. | Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

Feel that? Your phone buzzing in the pocket of your yoga pants? Better check it. Maybe it’s a request to approve a substitution in your grocery order. Maybe it’s a fraudulent charge on your credit card. Maybe it’s your mom or your spouse or your sister. Maybe it’s a notification from your kid’s daycare. It might be any of those things! But it’s probably not. It’s probably something like:

Hi! You’re running out of time to do your Spanish lesson! Still thinking about ordering dinner? Enjoy $8 off your purchase. Terms apply. You hit your sleep goal seven times in the last two weeks. Nice one, Allison. Shop these fresh beauty picks. Take a second to reflect on how you’re feeling. Beck performing on Wed, Jul 3. Tap to learn more!

Notifications are hell, particularly on iOS. Android offers better controls and mercifully shunts some offenders to a “silent” inbox, but it’s not totally off the hook, either. On both platforms, notifications have been and continue to be a constant distraction, a plague upon our already razor-thin attention spans. In theory, we have tools to tame them. But I don’t think I’m in the minority when I say that I find them inadequate, tedious, and confusing. I’m also paranoid about missing an important alert, so I just let the notifications wash over my phone all day, every day. That’s how a single grocery delivery results in no less than five individual push notifications:

Your order is confirmed. Your order is out for delivery. Your order will be delivered soon. Your order has been delivered ❄️ Remember to chill those perishables. Tell us how we did!

All day, every day, I am urged to learn more! Rate my experience! Treat myself! Try the new seasonal drinks! Sign up for premium and save!

Here’s the thing: I think it’s time for apps to cut that shit out. Let’s all declare notification bankruptcy and start over.

I have a couple of ideas for how this could work. One: Tinder for notification settings. Every app has to show you an example of the kind of notification it wants to send you, and you get to swipe left or right to opt in or out. This would save us the trouble of going into the settings in two hundred different apps and ticking two thousand little “opt out” buttons. Plus, it kind of feels like a game, which is fun.

Screen grab showing iOS homescreen with notifications
This is not okay!
Screen grab showing Pixel with notifications
At least Android handled this YouTube notification silently, but still.

My second proposal — and this is a wild one — is that promotional notifications should just not be allowed. Or you can opt in to them if you desperately want to hear from the Starbucks app every single day, but you should have to go out of your way to do that and should not be the default behavior when you choose “allow notifications.” Just an idea!

However it happens, I think it’s time that power over notifications be returned to the people, not the app developers who want us to check out these Deals! Deals! Deals! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I felt my phone buzzing in my pocket. Better see what’s up.