AppleWatch is a transition for Apple but even more importantly it is a transition for computing. From mainframe to distributed computer, to mobile computer, to wrist computer (or a computer that is worn).
With each transition comes a new interaction model.
The future of notifications is much more interesting than the future of messaging
— Benedict Evans (@BenedictEvans) March 26, 2015
I have an example that shows us how far away current enterprise technology is from being able to embrace notifications. Of course, we can’t take one example and generalize too much but I hope the example resonates. Once you see what I mean, you’ll see it everywhere. Just like bad kerning.
Notifications. Alerts. Same thing, right? According to my bank they are.
Only they’re not.
I get alerts from my bank when stuff happens. Like deposits. Here’s one with some markup:
Think about the Apple Watch, and try to figure out how this works on any level. The whole thing seems predicated on getting an email with a link, driving the behavior of clicking on the link to find out what they actually want to tell you.
It’s pretty lazy behavior. Overnight I get all the alerts from activity the day before. Which means I can wake to a few emails in my inbox that all look exactly the same, tell me nothing, and want me to click over to their site to figure out what they want to tell me.
[Update 4/28/15: On Sunday evening, I checked my Fidelity account to see that a dividend had been posted. Sunday evening. I got the notification this morning. Tuesday morning. Roughly 36 hours later. From a brand perspective, every time I see a useless alert it weakens my bond to the brand because they’re making me do the work that I think “I’m hiring them to do“.]
My health care companies are just as bad.
These aren’t notifications, not in a way that’s relevant to this emerging interaction model.
What is a notification?
If I’m correct in that wrist computing is the breakout form-factor for a notification-based interaction model, understanding what notifications are in the context of mobile and wrist computing is critical.
Let me propose that modern notifications must be:
- Information rich
- Interactive (where interactivity adds value)
The order of the above list doesn’t matter, except that in this order it makes a funny acronym: TIPI.
The personal thing is interesting, and I’ve discussed what it means to more traditional large companies and how they develop user personas.
I’m sure somewhere some security specialists are telling Fidelity that they can’t include the actual transaction information or account in email. Therefore, they can’t do it in a notification.
There’s an analogy to diving. As an expedition diver, dive planning was a big part of the dive. We had to plan our dive, figure what gas we needed and how much, factor in safety factors, and come up with decompression tables for the dive. If at each step along the way, we added a safety factor we’d never have a diveable plan. We had to plan the dive based on our experience, then add a safety factor.
The same comes with notification security. If you put “security” at every step of the way, out of the context of the overall experience, you’ll never have a usable experience. You need to start with the experience, create it, then add a “safety factor” to make sure it stays secure (and compliant).
The place to start
Ask yourself the following (in your own context) and then pull on each little thread of an idea that surfaces.
Why can’t Fidelity send me a simple, timely, rich, actionable notification?
Each thread will take you to a place of “old school thinking” that probably needs to transition.
The important thing to realize about this transition:
Companies won’t be able to fake notifications on a watch format the way they could fake them with email and a browser on a mobile device.
— Update February 2016
Almost a year has gone by, and I don’t think many app developers yet realize the importance of actionable notifications and how to create experiences that engage customers using them. However, after a global wearable study done by Techpinions Research it was unanimous that notifications were the valuable interaction model for wearables (not just the Apple Watch):
The unanimous feature every wearable owner (if product supports it) said was more valuable than they thought it would be was.. Notifications
— Ben Bajarin (@BenBajarin) February 12, 2016
— Updated April 2016
A great article on what it means to create good apps for Apple Watch
— Updated June 2016
Notifications continue to evolve as a UX of its own, unbundled from applications (and web sites) and most certainly way more than emails with a link to websites:
Apple going back to notifications as a run-time – a place to build standalone interactions.
— Benedict Evans (@BenedictEvans) June 13, 2016
— Updated September 2016
If you’ve made it this far, you’ll probably enjoy this article: What you must know to build savvy push notifications.