With the new updates to Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android released this fall, we are on the verge of another significant change in how we use the Internet. For six years we’ve been living in the world of apps, but in its place will rise what I’m calling the Notification Network.
Until now, notifications have been a blunt instrument for apps to try to get our attention. Every time you install a new app on your phone, you get a pop-up message that asks if you want to allow it to send you notifications. If you say yes, they arrive with the same intensity as emails, draining precious battery life, making your phone more annoying than savvy, and all you could do with a notification anyway was tap it to launch the app.
Apple and Google were both smart to recognize that if they made notifications more intelligent and interactive, it would ameliorate the app fatigue that many people feel given that there are millions of them. The new mobile operating systems, iOS 8 and Android L, now let you conduct business within these messages. You can reply to texts or like a photo without having to deal with the cumbersome (and distracting) practice of jumping over to that app. Ordering food and goods is imminent.
With time, notifications will only get smarter, and the companies that best understand this new way of communicating with its users will bring us just the right amount of information at the right time. Imagine Uber or taking cues from your calendar and your current location to recommend that you order a car now in order to arrive at your next meeting on time.
All of these interactive bits will be accessible even on your phone’s lock screen. That’s where the Notification Network will live, making it the mobile equivalent of Facebook’s news feed. “In the early days of social networks,” says Bret Taylor, CEO of the document-creation app Quip and cofounder of an early news-feed technology startup called FriendFeed that Facebook acquired, “you would go to your friend’s social network pages and find a handful of updates and notifications. When the news feed emerged, it gave us a nice way to bring those updates to you.”
As consumers, we’re always craving a less complicated, more personalized experience, and the new notifications improve upon apps’ original value. Recall that the reason we have apps is that Apple created them as a solution to the clunkiness of navigating the Internet on a phone in the mid-2000s. Just as that innovation helped make the iPhone a runaway hit, new fortunes are made whenever someone develops a tech advancement that makes our digital lives easier. When the web’s size and scope grew exponentially in the late 1990s, Google had the simplest way for us to find what we needed. When we wanted a more social Internet, Facebook delivered the cleanest way to connect us to our friends.
So who wins as more of our interactions with apps take place through notifications? Google and Apple are obvious candidates, given that much of the notification magic is part of each operating system. But three of the more interesting startups to watch are Wut, an anonymous-chat app that Google Ventures has invested in; IFTTT, which lets users connect apps to work together; and Yo, the much-mocked alert system. All of these services are drop-dead simple, and Wut and Yo already use a notification-like interface.
One sleeper pick: Facebook, the company that popularized the news feed. It has hooks deep in mobile apps, both as the preferred login and as the hosting platform for hundreds of thousands of apps. If Facebook can use those advantages to drive better engagement for all those apps–across both iOS and Android–the Social Network could become the Notification Network.