iPhone annoys the user with repeated notifications

Problem

It’s not very easy to criticize Apple products. The 10-3-1 design process and paired design meetings managed to make Apple a user experience design phenomena even without market research! But even in these great products there are some problems that annoys the user. Recently I noticed a new group on Facebook called Apple – Stop Stealing my Attention founded by Anders Green, a PhD of Human Robot Interaction. At first I thought it’s a misunderstanding but joining a group with 30+ members I found out the cause:

When you receive an SMS on iPhone, it notifies you 2 times (by default). And this seems to annoy a handful of scientists and interaction designers at the group. I contacted the group manager and we exchanged a dozen of emails so that I can understand the problem (I don’t have an iPhone). It took another couple of days to find someone with an iPhone to be kind enough to send the screenshots in English language.

Apparently Apple designers decided to notify the user two times for every incoming SMS message. This can be quite annoying specially if you have read the SMS first time it came on the preview that appears on your lock screen. If your iPhone is on the desk (it’s the case with many office people), you just take a look at your iPhone’s screen when it glows after receiving an SMS showing a preview. Another issue is that after a while of using this 2 time notification feature, user gets used to it and when two consecutive SMS’s arrive, he may still think that it’s the second notification that he’s used to ignore.

It’s actually very easy to turn this double notification off, but apparently many people don’t get it and keep asking about it on various forums (there is even an eHow article for it!):

Let’s see what the configuration looks like. It’s in Settings > Notifications > Messages:

iphone sms notification

If you click on Repeat Alert, the following screen appears which allows you to set the frequency of the repeating alert:

iPhone (4S 5.1) repeated notification settings

 Not so hard, but apparently many non-expert users couldn’t find this. The main issue here is the 2 time notification. As you see in the screenshots, even the person who dedicated these photos has these settings on once rather than the default twice. By the way I’m curious to know why would people want to set it to 10 Times! ;-)

Solutions

First the obvious solution: assume once as the default instead of twice.

Second solution is a little bit more complicated to implement but a couple of people suggested that when I was asking their opinions if this notification is annoying. They said:

I read most of the SMS messages on the lock screen but iPhone has no way to know that I’ve read it so it notifies me again after a while even though I’ve read it. I would be glad if without unlocking the phone I could signal it that I’ve read the SMS. For example, if iPhone is on the table its accelerometers are still. Then when I pick up the phone to take a look at my SMS, it can sense that I have moved it and then interpret it as I’ve read my SMS on the preview screen. Another idea is that I can tap on the SMS in the lock screen to notify it that I’ve read the SMS and I’m not interested to be notified again.

And the third solution is something that HTC has used in its smart phones since years ago: when it receives an SMS, it audibly notifies the user. But then as long as the message is not read an LED keeps blinking on the phone. It’s not an annoying blink. The LED goes on for half a second and then it’s off for about 10 seconds, then again it does that. Smart, non-obtrusive and polite way of notifying the user. I’ve experienced this notification on my HTC Hero (Android) and HTC Touch Diamond (Windows Mobile 6.1).

Notes

I tried to inform Apple about this issue but since I don’t have an iPhone I was stopped here:

Contacting Apple support needs hardware serial number

Apparently Apple only accepts support query from owners of their products. I have an iPad, but honestly it’s too much work to type the serial number and then probably the site will complain that I provided the wrong serial number for iPhone. I’m not going to buy an iPhone to report this issue, but if any of the readers has an iPhone and is willing to contact Apple about it, here is the link to the support system.

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