Snowball Debuts A “Priority Inbox” For Your Phone’s Notifications

With a growing number of mobile applications available to download, and only a handful that see regular usage, push notifications have become one of the only ways for developers to grab users’ attention in order to get them to reopen their app and re-engage with their content. Unfortunately for app users, that means we’re often bombarded with notifications we don’t care about. Meanwhile, going into the phone or app’s settings and configuring how we want to be alerted for each app we have installed is a time-consuming process and something of a hassle.

Launching today, an app called Snowball wants to help with this problem by offering a different interface for interacting with notifications that allows you to track only those that are actually important.

The new app is the second version of Snowball’s earlier product, a unified inbox for all your messaging apps, which arrived last fall. While a clever app that’s seen 250,000 downloads to date, and still has daily users in the tens of thousands, Snowball founder and CEO Anish Acharya admits that it didn’t really take off as well as they hoped.

So the San Francisco-based startup went back to the drawing board. This time around, instead of building a unified inbox for messages, the team designed something that’s more of a “priority inbox” for your notifications.

Building the app itself was something of a technical feat.

“It’s completely undiscovered so far – we haven’t seen any other apps doing it,” explains Acharya, describing how Snowball takes over the entire pull-down notifications interface on Android, as well as the full notification swipe itself. “This was something we thought was impossible twelve months ago,” he says.

Though the startup is keeping the details of “how” they were able to accomplish this to themselves, Acharya notes that it’s not a “hack,” there’s no reverse engineering involved, and the team even ran it by Google and got the green light.

After installing the Snowball Android application, it replaces the notifications experience on your phone with its own, and, by default it will hide some of the most annoying notifications for you, like how many of your apps were recently updated – something no one thinks is interesting or useful, notes Acharya. From that point forward, when you receive a new notification, you can swipe on it to mark it as important or as one you’d rather hide in the future.

The hidden notifications are still accessible in a separate pane within the Snowball dropdown that you can tap over to see, but they’ll no longer be vying for your attention.

On Snowball’s main screen, you’ll see your most important notifications ordered at the top in an “Important” section, followed by “Everything Else.” That way, you’re able to keep track of those notifications that actually matter, without getting overwhelmed with the noise from all the rest.

In time, Acharya says Snowball will learn to make smart predictions about how users want their notifications prioritized by watching which apps you use and which you ignore.

In addition to allowing users to better sort their notifications, Snowball features a couple of other neat tricks, too. For example, instead of opening your messaging apps like Facebook Messenger, SMS, WhatsApp, Viber and others, you can reply to incoming messages directly from the notification itself. You can also watch YouTube videos or read URLs sent by friends in a card-like interface without having to open an app.

And when you’re prompted with a calendar reminder, Snowball can show you the current prices for Uber and Lyft in your area.

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This latter ability to tie data from apps together could eventually open the door for Snowball’s business model to come into play, as the interface could be configured to include a third slot for an Uber/Lyft competitor that could bid to have their fares shown to end users, as well. But this is much further down the road and would require Snowball to have an established user base.

“In the long-term, the reason we’re making notifications more powerful and functional is that we want to go from a world where the in-app experience is primary and the notifications experience is secondary to the inverse,” says Acharya. “Notifications are actually the center of everything you do on your phone, and using the app is a fall-back action.”

The startup is currently backed by $2.3 million in seed funding from First Round, Felicis Ventures, Golden Venture Partners, Google Ventures, Metamorphic Ventures, and others.

The earlier version of Snowball is being de-listed today and users will be encouraged to migrate to the new app, available here on Google Play.