Push and local notifications came on leaps and bounds in iOS7, to the extent that they're no longer really annoying* and in fact, have been verging on being quite useful when used intelligently within the overall experience of a mobile app.

Notifications displayed on my lock screen are, by some stretch, the most frequently visible real time notifications that I receive in the course of my day. So, when Apple officially declared iOS8 and it's myriad of updates yesterday, it was the evolution of the notifications, part of the iOS UIKit library, that caught my attention.

At both NuWe and Nourish Care, we've been looking closely at the opportunities for using notifications to improve the overall user experience, simplify the ways that users interact with our apps starting even before they've gone through the rigmarole of actually unlocking the screen, finding the icon, opening the app and logging in before they get to do what it was they wanted to do in the first place.

Some technologies offer considerable promise, such as the iBeacon protocol for adding real world context to user actions.

But notifications were really missing some additional, albeit simple, but important features to make them really useful without the need for things like iBeacon. And yesterday, goddamit, I think they got it.

Apple talked about 2 primary enhancements to provide Interactive Notifications:

  • Inline Comments - for example, responding to a text message inline within the notification.
  • Inline Actions - for example, offering user some inline buttons which, when tapped, will open the app and provide some context with which to customise the experience.

Let's have a look at them a little more closely:

Image from Yahoo Tech

Image from Yahoo Tech

I can't currently see within the apple documentation where this specific type of interaction resides, and if indeed it is available outside of the message app for use with 3rd party apps - I really hope it is. I can think of a number of great use cases for taking the input and parsing the string to create a very streamlined user experience for manual tracking activities. Even better, the option to use the voice control as well.

I presume it must reside somewhere within the UIKit library, if you spot it, let me know :)

 

Image from Techcrunch

Image from Techcrunch

Actionable Notifications, found in the UIUserNotificationAction class reference give us additional options to setup buttons that the user can tap straight from the notification.

We can set an action, optionally require user authentication, and we can use different UI patterns based on whether the action is likely to be destructive (such as deleting some data) as a result of the interaction. The default is non-destructive, set it in the property.

@property(nonatomic, assign, getter=isDestructive) BOOL destructive

You can also configure whether the action will load the app to the foreground, or simply process the action in the background, using these constants:

typedef enum UIUserNotificationActivationMode : NSUInteger {
   UIUserNotificationActivationModeForeground,
   UIUserNotificationActivationModeBackground
} UIUserNotificationActivationMode;

Oh my frickin' God, this is awesome!

*some developers still abuse them and make them annoying, I can think of a few examples...