Android’s New Notification Feature Is a Decade Overdue

Add these up and that’s a a lot of of apps giving me free rein to send me notifications until I’m irritated enough to tell them no. Some of these I could (and should) uninstall, others I have to keep on my phone. I just don’t want them spamming me to tell me the developer updated their weird photo management desktop app that I will never use.

Play nice

To make matters worse, notification categories must be created exclusively by developers. But developers don’t have to play nice. For example, Amazon only uses three categories in the Android system (“Notifications”, Account Authentication and Alexa) but refines them further in the app itself. If you try to mute or turn off an ad with push notifications, you may accidentally turn off shipping notifications. (And at least in the past, Amazon Charitable donations conditional on receiving personalized ad notifications.)

Even with developers – including Google – playing by the rules of the system, it’s easy to create new notification categories to bypass the ones a user has muted. The core Google app for Android has 30 different notification categories, currently including things like “Tips & Tricks”, “Suggestions” and “Miscellaneous”. Good luck figuring out what they all mean. Oh and they are always changing.

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Force apps to ask for permission before Sending notifications will not fix all of this. People will probably still allow Amazon to send notifications only to get stuck with some ads because they still want delivery updates. However, it’s better to cut off some of the junk before it arrives than chase it afterward.

The problem is that because of how Android updates work, even this small but necessary change will take years to make a big impact. Android updates take some time to roll out to most users. In May 2022, only 28.3 percent of Android devices were on version 11 or later. Android 11 was first launched in 2020. In other words, it could be years before your phone supports this feature.

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Even if you’re one of the lucky few who own a phone (probably a Samsung or Google Pixel) that will support it soon, developers don’t have to support it just yet. It will likely be mid to late 2023 before apps will target Android 13 and be forced to ask for permission before sending notifications. It might be sooner for some apps, but others might hold out as long as they can.

Considering how long it will take for the Android ecosystem to catch up with this change, how important such basic permission should be, and especially given how much attention Google has otherwise given to its notification system… it’s shocking that this happens so late.

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When I first bought the T-Mobile G1 – both mine and mine the very first Android phone – notifications were one of the things I was most looking forward to. It was a handy little to-do list of all the things I needed to act upon sitting on top of my phone, and over time I was even able to take care of some of those tasks without ever having to leave the shadows.

Today, notifications on Android have become a bit of a nightmare. I had to uninstall apps I would otherwise only use because it became too tiresome to hunt down all the junk notifications. I no longer trust that when my phone buzzes it must be something important. And the time I have to spend making sure apps are behaving the way they should has increased significantly. I’m glad Google is finally asking for permission instead of forgiveness. I only wish it had done that much sooner.

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