Thinking post-app interactivity with iOS 10 Notifications

Connor Mason
  • Connor Mason
  • September 13, 2016
Thinking post-app interactivity with iOS 10 Notifications

In a year when the new iPhone hardware design is a subtle refinement, holding out for the dramatic reinvention in 2017, the new version of iOS is the headline. This year, iOS 10 makes the platform competitive in new spaces, showcases the latest hardware improvements like Touch ID and 3D Touch, and pushes Apple’s machine learning agenda forward. And, most importantly, iOS 10 opens the platform to developers in all-new ways, giving access to new corners of the operating system that most closely impact the user experience.

We examined how developers can begin to take advantage of these new features, and how new frameworks like SiriKit, richer notifications, and the Messages SDK can help brand marketers build better experiences for their customers. Apple has become the kind of company that only makes big moves—and iOS 10 is one of their biggest yet.


Until the introduction of Notification Center in iOS 5, receiving and managing notifications on iOS was something of a nightmare. For all its user experience differences, Android long held an advantage over iOS in terms of how easily users could interact with, organize, and dismiss the myriad messages and alerts we’ve come to receive throughout our days. In the ensuing years, Apple has evolved how its premiere operating system presents notifications from third-party apps, but has limited developers to titles and strings of text, reserving certain functionality—like the inclusion of image previews or high degrees of interactivity—to first-party apps like Apple Messages or Photos.

Interactive notifications in iOS 8 represented the first true enhancement to the functionality of notifications on the operating system, allowing third-party developers to surface a handful of options for user action following a swipe on a new alert. Receive a new chat message in Slack? Swipe to initiate a reply. Get alerted about a new comment on Facebook? Tap the “Like” button without leaving the lock screen. This simple functionality, coupled with a smarter Notification Center shade that helped users react to multiple missives over time, helped iOS stave off criticisms of its notifications system while Apple focused on other features.

But in a release that broadly opens components of the operating system to third-party developers—from the Messages and Maps apps to interactive widgets and access to Siri—Apple saw fit to reinvent what notifications themselves can be. From the types of content they present to how users can interact with them, notifications in iOS 10 represent an enormous opportunity for third-party developers to extend their apps’ functionality to the lock screen, meaning users can perform sophisticated actions or receive new types of information without ever having to open the app. Apple’s changes to notifications in iOS 10 aren’t to play catch-up with Android’s notifications system—they’re leap-frogging the competition in a substantive way that will change how we interact with apps for years to come.

What’s new in Notifications in iOS 10

In conjunction with Apple’s changes to the lock screen, making it more of a staging area for users to perform simple actions before they even unlock their devices, Apple has given developers new powers to make their notifications richer and more powerful than ever before. Notifications can now include complete views, just as an iOS app would, presenting users with discrete windows into the application from the convenience of the lock screen. Examples from Apple’s first-party apps include conversation threads from iMessage, previews of schedule availability from Calendar, and message content from an email in Mail. All users need to do is 3D Touch a notification (or use a new gesture, on older devices) to pop directly into a compact view of the app.

Notifications can now include complete views, just as an iOS app would, presenting users with discrete windows into the application from the convenience of the lock screen.

The value to users is obvious—no longer will they need to navigate their home screens, open folders, and launch apps just to take action on a simple notification. But the value this functionality presents to third-party iOS app developers has only begun to be realized, and could redefine the possibilities on the iOS platform as a whole. These notification views can include animations, images, and full-featured interactivity, blurring the lines between messages that the app sends you and the user experience within the app itself. In the past, brands and third parties could simply send a string of text to users, linking them to one piece of content within the app. Now, with rich notifications in iOS 10, developers can build apps that bring their functionality to you.

Now that users can perform sophisticated actions from within notifications on their lock screen, designers need to deliver a great mobile app UX without the app.

The intention is to accelerate users’ interactions with the operating system, making those two-second operations—which once required finding and opening an app—only a tap away on the lock screen. User expectations for mobile session lengths is shrinking as devices become more capable and as apps become more streamlined around common red routes. Moving key interactions out of the app itself and exporting them to a notification on the lock screen helps to ensure that users can more quickly and efficiently perform common actions with their apps, effectively trimming a multi-step process to only one.

Notifications, brought to you by the future of iOS

As apps on iOS transform themselves into new and different forms, the trend that began with iOS 8’s Extensibility features has reached a fever pitch. Apps don’t just exist within their traditional containers anymore. They’re fluid and extensible entities that use the connective tissues of iOS to permeate the entire user experience across the system. Using richer and more interactive notifications, just like the enhancements to notifications that came in iOS 8, eliminate the user experience friction of locating and opening apps, instead surfacing functionality and content immediately, wherever the user might be throughout the operating system.

Apps don’t just exist within their traditional containers anymore. They’re fluid and extensible entities that use the connective tissues built into iOS to permeate the entire user experience across the system.

The iOS Notification Center and lock screen are increasingly growing in prominence as part of the iOS user experience, demonstrating Apple’s insistence on Touch ID and 3D Touch as essential components of the overall iOS ecosystem. Notifications are perhaps the best case yet for iPhone 6s and 7 customers to begin taking advantage of 3D Touch, which is no coincidence—the more valuable and functional these hardware-dependent features become, the more likely Apple is to outperform iPhone sales estimates year over year.

With rich notifications in iOS 10, users don’t need to figure out for themselves what apps can do. Developers can build apps that bring their functionality to you.

But above all else, notifications in iOS 10 are exciting for developers for the same reason the first-generation implementation of push notifications were in 2009 with iPhone OS 3: unfettered access to customers’ attention. Notifications are an excellent mechanism to alert users to time-sensitive information, and the enhancements in iOS 10 only serve to enrich and enliven the type of information they can convey. As apps evolve to become less static, more impermanent, and more adaptive to our contexts, notifications are one avenue for brands to make their apps more immediate and useful. This also means that, as long as users engage with and act on notifications from their lock screen, the days of trying to eliminate those pesky red dots are over.

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