words from a colons

I don't use Notification Center, and it makes me sad

May 13th, 2014 history

As an Android and OS X user, I was excited when Apple announced that they were going to integrate something resembling Growl into Mountain Lion. Growl was, at the time, a surprisingly critical part of the OS X ecosystem. Apple bringing Growl's responsibilities in-house seemed long overdue.

I have barely touched Notification Center since a couple of days after Mountain Lion was released. What follows is an attempt to rationalise exactly why that is.


One of my favourite things about Android's notification interface is that if I get an email that I do not have to act on, I can archive it right from the notification. I use this a lot.

Notification Center's transient notifications recently got similar little buttons added to them. You can reply to an email right there, provided you decide to act on it and can get your mouse up to the button within five seconds of the notification appearing. If you miss this opportunity, you are out of luck, because the persistent versions of notifications do not retain these buttons.


When you have pending notifications on Android, it's like having a splinter. You can ignore them, and if you are busy, you can even forget they're there, but you won't feel right until they're gone.

As an example, here's before:

A messy status bar full of icons vying for attention.

And after:

The same status bar, but with no icons. Much cleaner.

Feels better, right? You now know, without taking any action, that there's nothing left for you to deal with right now. And everything is tidy.

Here's Notification Center's entire visible UI when you have notifications pending:

An icon that one can assume is supposed to represent notifications, with no badges or any indication that something important is here.

And when you do not:

Literally exactly the same image as the previous one.

Nothing changes.

Notification Center doesn't get back to you when you are no longer busy; you have to get back to it. There is zero motivation to look in the slide-out drawer unless you already know there's something there because you saw it earlier and made a note of it.

That bears repeating. This notification system requires you to remember that a notification appeared while you were busy (or briefly on the other side of the room) and follow up on it. Like an animal.


…so it goes unchecked. Notifications come in, and stay in, and will remain until you dismiss them.

Except that's not true at all. What actually happens is that each app has a rotating collection of the five most recent notifications they emitted. Thus, if you get a lot of emails, Notification Center is useless for triage. If you get a lot of tweets, Notification Center is useless for sampling. In all cases I've encountered, the app that spawned the notification is a superior tool for catching up on things. Further, most of them have icon badges or menu bar widgets to constantly remind you that something is worth your attention, making Notification Center entirely redundant.


Every now and then, though, I accidentally open the drawer when trying to scroll or something, and I get wistful. I look at countless notifications for things I have already dealt with and I think of what could have been. I look mournfully at my phone, sigh, and dutifully click all the tiny X buttons.