Talk Back: Is Microsoft’s Push Notification Method Confusing or Useful?

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Microsoft has made mention of push notifications at both GDC and now at MIX10, but what exactly will the service and technology entail? First, there will be three types of push notifications: updates to the Live Tile on the Start screen, a “toast” update–as seen by the blue pop up bar at the top of the screen, and also within the app. Microsoft is pushing the benefits of push by these three methods by saying that it is giving end users choice and customization on how they want their push data communicated; however, with three methods for push notifications and data being distributed across three different screens, we’ve got to wonder about the utility of push notification for Windows Phone 7 Series and whether it would be confusing to have your notification data spread out over three different ways.

For instance, if you have push notifications done through one of your Live Tiles–denoted by dynamic the square or rectangle on your Start screen–you may miss it depending on how frequent you visit the Start screen and where your tile is located (if the push is on the bottom-most tile and you don’t scroll down far enough, you may not be even aware that data has been pushed there).

Additionally, in the press Q & A session, Dieter Bohn of WMExperts raised an important question about how Microsoft would handle a series of “toast” notification, to which the company was a bit evasive on its answer at this time. Toast notification is similar to the iPhone’s pop-up notification, but rather than being disruptive it is shown as a discrete bar on the top of the screen. Bohn’s question has to do with if there were three notifications coming in at the same time, what would happen and would notifications be lost. In our private session with Microsoft representatives, we were told that notifications would come in as a sequence, meaning you’ll see all of them, but the company couldn’t give us any specifics as to how long the notifications would be there, and if we can cycle through old notifications. The common complaint with the iPhone’s system is that if you got a series of notifications coming in at around the same time, only the most recent one would show up and earlier ones would be lost to the end-user unless the consumer scrolled through the screens of apps and notice the “badge”–or number next to the app icon denoting how many notifications are waiting.

Additionally, notifications are not a guaranty–that was something that we had learned last week at GDC. Microsoft says it will make the best attempt at delivery, but that some notifications may get lost or cancelled in transit if it can’t reach the phone while others may take up to thirty minutes to arrive, which may hinder the usefulness for the feature in any enterprise mission-critical app. For details, check out our GDC video below:

Microsoft states that it is leaving the decision on which paths (toast, live tile update, or app response) to developers and consumers. Developers can choose which method(s) they want to build into their app(s) and consumers can choose which methods they want to enable. For instance, if you want Twitter updates, perhaps a less obtrusive Live Tile update would be sufficient while instant messages and text messages could be updated via toast notifications. However, with that openness, consumers must rely on developers to work on giving them all the options for notifications or predict which notification methods they would want when developers build the app.

The issue with notification implementation has been a complex one that must account the user experience and design. On webOS, critics have noted that the stacked notifications at the bottom bar would reduce the real estate of the screen until the notifications are addressed or resolved. We’ve already mentioned some of the challenges behind push notifications on the iPhone, which sacrifices old notifications for new ones to show up. On Android, notifications are stored on a drawer that you slide down from the top notification bar to show all the notifications awaiting, which requires additional steps to address and may not be obvious to new users to the platform.

Our question has less to do with how push works and if the technologies itself are effective, but rather if the implementation of push across three different and seemingly disparate methods is useful for consumers.

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About The Author
Chuong Nguyen