I chose notifications as the first topic to cover because they impact my life in the real world the most. Notifications are how I know when somebody reaches out to me and serve as reminders of places I need to go and things I need to do.
Most of the differences between Android and iOS are subtle. Notifications are not one of those things. For years, notifications have been Android’s strength. They have been a core component of the operating system dating back to 1.0. iOS has been playing catch up here for years and they made some major overhauls with iOS 16. Unfortunately, their latest attempt is so broken and unusable that it had a meaningful impact on my life in the real world.
While using the iPhone, I was less responsive when people messaged me and completely missed important notifications that had ramifications in the real world. If you tracked my average response time for a message sent to me, it was almost certainly worse while I had an iPhone.
My take on notifications is that they come from different foundational goals.
On iOS, notifications are shown to you one time (or for a short period of time) and then it is up to you to remember to act on it later. Once a notification falls below the fold in Notification Center, it might as well be gone forever.
On Android, notifications are a primary interaction surface. You visit and interact with them frequently. If a notification exists, it will remain visible enough to remind you to take action, dismiss it, or snooze it.
Notifications are hidden below the fold
This one is completely baffling to me. iOS 16 has a separation between Time Sensitive and Notification Center. Time Sensitive notifications are visible on the lock screen but the rest are below the fold in “Notification Center”. Those notifications require a swipe up and there is zero indication that they are there.
I have yet to figure out the logic for when notifications appear as Time Sensitive or when they get moved to Notification Center. I often find notifications in Notification Center hours after they arrive without any knowledge of their existence.
On iOS, all notifications are styled the same way. On Android, there are multiple notification templates for different purposes. The most useful one is a conversation notification. Conversation notifications show multiple messages inline and get updated as new unread messages come in.
To catch up, you can read a single notification from top to bottom. On iOS, notifications stack by time so you have to expand a stack, then read each message in a separate notification from bottom to top. To make matters worse, conversations are often split between Time Sensitive and Notification Center or interleaved with notifications from other apps or other chat threads with different people.
On Android, conversation notifications are also given a higher priority and are put in a dedicated space in Notification Center so they never get lost in the mix of other notifications.
Apps disobey their own notification settings
On iOS, Apple gives you the ability to completely disable notifications for an app or use whatever settings are integrated directly into the app. Some apps have internal settings and some don’t. However, several apps (I’m looking at you Uber, Google Photos, and Instagram) disobey their internal app settings. I had to disable all notifications for some apps that occasionally send me important notifications just because I couldn’t disable the promotions they were sending in between.
All notifications on Android are posted to notification channels. Notification channels are categorized the same way as the in-app settings on iOS. However, Android controls the settings instead of each individual app so it actually works reliably.
On Android, I’m able to eliminate promotional notification spam without taking the nuclear option of disabling all notifications for the app.
Status bar icons
One of my favorite Android features is that each notification gets a status bar icon. You can, of course, configure this on a per-app basis but it serves as a subtle reminder to take care of something and prevents me from forgetting about something for hours. New icons are also shown on the always-on display to figure out what’s new with just a glance.
I consider notifications as items that I should take action on in the near future or information that is relevant right now. If I’m not ready to respond to a message or action on an alert, I’ll dismiss it or snooze it. Android will hide it for however long I choose and then re-deliver it at a later time.
Multiple media notifications
Android keeps track of all apps that recently controlled media and lets you quickly swipe between their media notifications. For example, I may be listening to Spotify, switch to YouTube, and then want to switch back to Spotify. iOS’s control center will only show YouTube whereas Android would let me swipe back to Spotify and simply hit play without switching back to the app.
Dismissing head-up notifications
Heads-up notifications are the kinds that slide down from the top of the screen on top of whatever you’re doing. If you don’t want to deal with it right away, you can swipe it up to push it into the Notification Center. However, on iOS, you cannot dismiss it directly from the heads-up notification. To dismiss it, you have to swipe it up, then swipe down from the top of the screen, then you can swipe it away. On Android, you can simply swipe it away from the heads-up notification directly.
If this piece resonated with you or you have any thoughts or questions, you can find me on Twitter @gpeal8.