Interactive notifications

It can be argued that having many UI:s on your mobile device makes less and less sense and there is today oceans of third-party content that potentially could be used in a more unified manner. We could be moving towards having only one dynamic interface instead of one for each application. Especially since the tech conglomerates are no longer competing with one functionality, they want to engage in all of our online activity. Clear examples could be how Google Assistant, Google Now, Siri, Alexa, Cortana and other conversational interfaces or multi-tasking environments are taking over more of our daily human-computer interaction. Another indication of this trend is how the mobile web is getting better and slowly making native mobile apps redundant. This abstraction in interaction paradigms raises questions of how the user experience will change and if it will be all for the better. This is regardless of what type of interface that will rule in the future, like touch screens, voice interaction, gesture control, or something else. It is still a question about the general user interaction pattern.

I recently completed a scientific study concerning this uncertainty by questioning if users really gain something from a more unified and dynamic interface and doing so relevant to methods that are being used most frequently today. This research meant evaluating efficiency of interactive notifications, a kind of dynamic interface, by comparing it to the conventional approach of conventional mobile notifications.

Notifications on modern mobile devices are issued through the operating system, popping up on our home screen. In some cases, this information is easy for the user to directly consume. However, if some kind of user response is sought, the conventional approach is that the application from which the notification came is opened when the user taps the notification. The operating system interface, where the notification is managed, therefore serves as a link to the application.

In the latest versions of popular mobile platforms like iOS and Android there is an alternative approach which I refer to as interactive notifications. This pattern does not require the application UI to be opened and the notification card is instead expanded to allow direct input. Thus, the user interaction remains within the operating system abstraction layer. This enables the user to directly interact with the application from outside the application interface, which in theory should be a more efficient approach.

Click here if you want to read the full extent of the scientific paper.

The results showed that there was no significant difference in efficiency between the two methods. However, I argue that the potential of a dynamic interface is definitely not negligible. I cannot claim from my study that either method is better nor worse in terms of usability, I can only say that the evaluated implementation of interactive notifications is not more or less efficient than the conventional approach. More research including other aspects of usability and regarding other platforms is necessary to find if the user experience can improve from this type of interaction model. Hopefully, this paper can serve as background material in such a case, or when just measuring efficiency of mobile interfaces.

Further reading:

The end of apps as we know them

Browsers, not apps, are the future of mobile

Messaging is just getting started