The notification tray in Android holds a wealth of information that’s available at a glance. We’re not talking about the notification “shade”, which can show quick toggles, interactive notifications, and so much more. No, what we’re talking about is the bar that runs across the top of your screen.
Right now my notification tray is telling me that my Bluetooth radio is turned on (but nothing’s connected to it), that my WiFi is connected (with full-bars), that I’m in “airplane mode” (to keep my LTE radio turned off), that my battery is full, and what time it is. That’s on my 2013 LTE Nexus 7 running Android KitKat 4.4.2. On my Nexus 5, I’m boldly running the Developer Preview of Android L. It’s notification tray is very similar: Bluetooth on but not connected, WiFi connected with full-bars, cellular data on with three bars, and the clock.
That’s how it should work.
Unfortunately, some developers, OEMs, and carriers don’t respect that space. Instead of showing you basic and necessary information, they use the area for “other” purposes which distract users and reduce the efficacy of the entire concept.
Many users don’t understand that “free” is typically very expensive. When you go to the Play Store and download an app that’s “free”, you need to stop and ask yourself why a developer would invest their time, equipment, and money to write, publish, and support an app, and not charge a single cent for it. Would you give away your work without any compensation? Perhaps they’re just messing around, learning, or having fun. More likely is that they’re making money some other way, just not directly out of your wallet. These revenue streams typically involve stealing your information or selling it to the highest bidder. Who knows what happens after that.
Another method is by presenting ads to you. The “best” place to do this is in the notification shade — and by “best”, I mean the way to get you to watch the most ads, so they get paid the most money. To get you to pull that shade down, the app pops an icon in the notification tray. This isn’t a legitimate notification — it’s a distraction. Sure, it’s how the developer makes a living, but it’s not an appropriate place to do so!
I’ve had the opportunity to review and use quite a few devices run by quite a few different OEMs. Many of these OEMs plop a handful of icons in the notification shade. From NFC indicators to Smart Stay and others, this “important information only” area gets muddied up by apps that OEMs seem to think are important — but really aren’t.
At times I consider carriers to be the worst offenders. In addition to trying to put their logo everywhere, they have to slap it in the notification tray. While that’s bad enough, redesigning the cellular data icon to try and cram their proprietary “4G” logo in isn’t just tacky, it’s absurd. A lot of research and study goes into how to make that icon descriptive and easy to understand. Their logo was designed for marketing purposes. It’s supposed to look good printed in full-color on a glossy page, or on a high-definition television screen. It looks terrible shrunk down and shoe-horned into the notification tray — and doesn’t convey the signal strength accurately or effectively at all. It gets in the way, and it shouldn’t be done.
Carriers also include their own bloatware apps, many of which seem to follow poor programming standards, further polluting the notification tray.
It’s time for developers, OEMs, and carriers all to respect the intent of the notification tray. After all, aren’t us users worth it?