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Android Jelly Bean notifications are amazing, so why don't more apps use them?

Editorial by Andrew Kameka on Tuesday January 29, 2013.

editorials · android news · software news · andrew kameka

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When Google introduced Android 4.1 at Google I/O 2012, Expanded notifications was one of the standout features demonstrated on stage. By dragging down a notification, Android users could take shortcuts to common tasks or gain additional information that would normally require launching an app. Expanded notifications, or rich notifications as some would later call them, looked like it would become the Next Great Android feature.

Android users are still waiting for developers to truly unlock the potential of expanded notifications. While the standard Google applications like Calendar, Gmail, Messaging, and Google+ have embraced expanded notifications, only a handful of third-party apps have followed suit. Surprisingly, the apps that would most benefit from the new alert system are not the ones that utilize it. Facebook could show more of messages when someone writes on a wall, and Twitter could show full tweets with options to retweet or reply, but neither app does that. Similar disappointment awaits those who wish they could pause a song in Spotify or Pandora, something Google Music has done for several weeks.

The few cases of innovation in Android notifications have mostly come from independent developers or smaller studios. While the official Twitter app has done nothing with expanded notifications, Twitter clients Echofon, Plume, and Falcon Pro all show rich alerts and provide shortcuts to retweet or reply. Even Google has implemented more options into its Google Voice app, but alternative messaging client Go SMS does provide links to reply to messages. Aside from Foursquare and Evernote, few of Android's most popular apps not built by Google have expanded notifications.

Lesser-known apps have experimented with Jelly Bean notifications and produced some excellent results:

- Battery Widget Reborn can show a chart detailing power level, an estimate for when the battery will run out, and disable power-hungry features like auto-sync or Bluetooth.

- PlayerPro, PowerAMP, and Songza follow the example of Google Play Music by including playback controls in the notification area. Album art, song titles, and buttons to pause or skip are included.

- Beautiful Widgets has an optional expansion that shows current temperature and a forecast for the next few hours.

Android Jelly Bean notifications - Google+, Songza, TuneIn
Android Jelly Bean notifications - Google+, Songza, TuneIn
More than six months have passed since Google first introduced its enhanced notifications in Android 4.1, and it's disappointing that more apps haven't jumped on the bandwagon. Ad-supported apps unsurprisingly haven't embraced the feature because it's counter-productive to their revenue goals to limit the amount of times someone opens an app and is exposed to an advertisement. But in the interest of improving customer experience, or at least adding another feature available to premium or subscription apps, static notifications keep apps from living up to their full potential.

The desire to put more ads in front of users appears to be the only plausible reason, because difficulty isn't the issue. At their "What's New in Android?" Google I/O session, Google developers Chet Haase and Romain Guy detailed how easily the Android 4.1 notification system could enhanced apps with bigger content views and actions. Google has since posted templates to ease the process and guidelines to show how to best implement notifications.

The absence of actionable or expandable notifications is not a dealbreaker for apps, but it is a nagging reminder that the developer has overlooked one of Android most distinguishing features. Android 4.1 devices have the potential to provide incredibly useful shortcuts and additional context when users drag-down to the notification area; it's time for developers to stop dragging their feet and take advantage of these features.

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About the author

Andrew Kameka
Andrew is based in Miami, Florida.

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