Push Notifications On The iPhone Are Great, But…

11After being scarce for the first couple of weeks following the new iPhone 3.0 software rolling out, apps with Push Notifications are now rolling out at a healthy clip. And that’s great, because the feature is really useful. To a point.

The issue I’m noticing now is that if you have too many apps with Push Notifications turned on, the whole system becomes a lot less useful. You see, Push Notifications are basically Apple’s way to get around allowing third-party apps to run in the background of the iPhone. So apps can now send these push messages to your phone to let you know if there’s some kind of message or update that you should open an app for. But if you have a lot of push messages coming in, I’m finding that you either have to pull out your phone every couple minutes, or risk still missing notifications that you probably want to see.

The problem is that the Push Notification message indicators are not built for heavy use. If you have multiple push messages coming in to you phone, only the latest one will be shown on the screen. And even when you unlock your phone, it’s hard to tell which push messages have come in. Though you can set a badge on app icons to let you know there is a message, if it was overridden by another message, you are forced to open the app to figure out what it was.

And let’s be clear: It’s not like I’m using Push on a ton of applications. I’m basically only using it (regularly) on three right now: Foursquare (a location-based social network [iTunes Link]), GPush (which does push for Gmail, which sadly isn’t approved in the App Store, yet), and Boxcar (which does Twitter @replies and DMs [iTunes Link]). At one point, I had it on for AIM too, but that got to be too much to handle in and of itself.

Between just those three, I’m getting pinged every few minutes during the regular hours of the day (if not more often during peak hours). And while that’s fine, because I can change things like the audio notifications, I want to be able to see a full list of what has come in since I last looked at my phone. Google’s Android platform handles this in a much nicer way, with a top drop-down menu that breaks up your notifications (which are also a bit different since applications can run in the background on Android). Of course, that is only after you unlock your phone, but still, that would be much more ideal than the current iPhone method.

iphone_status_screenBut better would be some sort of way to break up these messages when you still have the phone locked. I’m thinking first of all maybe breaking up Push Notifications, text messages and calls by colors, and displaying them in a list on the screen. Then then having some way to further break down Push Notifications on that screen, maybe placing the app icon next to each and saying something like (4) new Foursquare messages, like Apple currently does for text messages.

This guy did a nice mock-up last year, but that was before Push Notifications were even available. And Apple has been thinking about this too, according to its patents. A system that is something like this (right) is needed even more now.

Naturally, this should all be user-adjustable in the settings, but it seems like an easy enough thing to do. Because as many people are shortly going to find out, the current way of handling Push Notifications just isn’t cutting it unless you’re only using one app that gets messages once every few hours. And with more Push-capable apps coming everyday, the problem is only going to get worse.

[mockup: robertsdonovan.com]