Possibly one of the strangest and most annoying designs in iOS 6 is the notification overlay, as shown in the image above. Annoying, because one cannot get rid of it once it appears – one must wait a few seconds until it flips away, back into obscurity. Strange, because it doesn’t follow the conventions of the rest of the interface. It animates into view as if it were printed upside down on the back of the foreground layer. No doubt someone thought that this was a cool animation, and yes, it is a nice effect, but it is just that – an effect. The multitasking paradigm that iOS adopts is that of layers stacked one on top of each other or layers next to each other. Having these 2 spatial paradigms competing is tricky enough. Take for instance the 2 different ways you can switch between apps in the iPad. First, you can double click the home button (or four-finger swipe upward) to reveal the last few apps that have been used. When you select an app, the animation is one of a the new app as a page being brought to the top of the stack and the old app being sent behind (although its not quite clear exactly clear where in the stack it’s being sent to, but that’s another topic altogether.) The second paradigm is that of the apps being laid out next to one another, with the active app showing in the screen and the previously used app to right of the screen. You can use a four-fingered gesture to drag the app to the right into the viewport.
In order to use these 2 paradigms interchangeably, one has to hold in ones mind the image of the apps being stacked on top of one another and at the same time laid side by side next to one another! Why confuse the user?!
The point I’m getting to is that Apple introduced yet another physical model that the one now needs to hold in ones head – that of a notification that cuts itself a little rectangle at the top of the apps viewport and forces itself upon you without warning and without a way to dismiss it. You may think that it’s not so bad – it’s only a few seconds. However, those few seconds can totally disrupt your flow. In the case I’ve highlighted above, I was drawing when the notification appeared. I was about to change tools but had to wait for the notification to disappear – it was obscuring the toolbar. Often I’ve tried to grasp at the corner of a button sticking out from under a notification only to be switched to the app doing the notification. Frustrating and flow wrecking.
I’ve often questioned the necessity for notifications interrupting my activity in my current app. One of the great pleasures of using my iPad is that I have one app and one app only open in front of me when I’m using it. Mono-tasking. Multi-tasking is not possible for humans anyway, and certainly not productive. I write better on my iPad, mostly because I can focus on the single task at hand. Notifications, when they were first introduced to iOS, were seen as a necessity, highlighting activity in an app that was still busy, but not visible, bringing to your attention an occurrence that was deemed important. This very model of working is something I, and many others, question as a fundamental problem of the way we work in our modern lives. Apple has not made this better, rather they’ve made it worse. Not only does it visually disturb the current viewport by tearing the top part of your screen, but it doesn’t allow you to dismiss it! It’s as if a colleague, seeing that you’re deeply engrossed in a task, walks over to your desk, picks up your keyboard, holds it for 5 seconds then puts it down and walks off again.
The issues highlighted in this article may be solved in the next version of iOS, version 7 and hopefully they will be solved gracefully. I haven’t had the chance to investigate the new OS yet, but will certainly do so when I can and feed back with my opinions. Here’s hoping that they move closer to a single, more unified model of the OS.