Apple’s iOS 15 preview earlier this week gave us a look at one important new feature coming to your iPhone’s notifications: help. A few new tools can act as a lifesaver for us of us up to our eyeballs in a sea of notifications every day, regulating which apps and people are allowed to bug us and when. But on the flip side, app developers also get some extra tools to get your attention and may very well start sending you even more messages – albeit in a less disruptive way.
First the good news: the new notification features in iOS 15 look really good and useful. There is a new feature called Focus that allows you to choose which people and apps you would like to see notifications from at any given time. It̵
When you create a new focus mode, Siri can scan your outgoing messages and calls and automatically suggest allowing notifications from the people you talk to the most. There’s a nice trick, too: communication from the people you approve can come from other apps, like Facebook Messenger, not just from iMessage or texts. When you receive this Facebook Messenger message in iOS 15, you may see calls to associate that person in that app with a matching person on your contact list as well. Once you have done this, communication from that person in a third-party app will be allowed to interrupt your focus mode, provided you have authorized them to do so.
You also have the option to set a kind of away message when using a focus mode that tells others that you are temporarily unavailable when they send you an iMessage. When your friend has not heard from you for hours, they do not have to guess if you hate them or if you are just really busy with work and that is nice for everyone. iOS 15 also adds notification summaries, which will group lower priority notifications in digestions you receive at certain times of the day.
All of this gives you more control over interruptions, which is great! But what about app developers who want you to engage ~ with their platform? They also have new opportunities. They can now use one of four types of interruption types, two of which are new in iOS 15. First, passive interruptions, a new, less intrusive form of messaging, are available to developers who do not wake up your screen or make your phone vibrate – they go straight to your notification center. Earlier versions of iOS allowed the user to designate messages from specific apps to be delivered silently, but this new framework lets the app developer choose to deliver them this way.
These are the types of messages that are likely to end up in summaries if you have enabled this feature. They also do not appear only in chronological order in the summary digest – machine learning helps to sort them by priority. They probably also include images and other graphics, as Apple encourages developers to include media as part of the notification to increase its chances of appearing at the top of the list. And since the risk of annoying you is lower, developers have an incentive to send more frequent and engaging messages. They will be less disruptive, but these are the kinds of messages we’ll probably see more of in iOS 15.
The second new type of interruption is “time sensitive”, which is a kind of Notification Plus. It behaves like a standard message, illuminates your screen and plays a sound or vibrates, but with one important difference: it is allowed to break through your focus mode settings and notify you even if they are not from an “approved” app. The ability to view time-sensitive messages can be turned on and off by the user, so if you really do not want to see them, you do not need to. In theory, though, they should be for really time-sensitive events, like a package delivered or your credit card company making sure it was you who bought two return tickets to Maui.
In theory. Apple lets developers decide which messages deserve a time-sensitive designation, so it’s more or less on the honor system. The company encourages them to maintain trust and keep in mind that users can turn off notifications for their app if they feel unnecessarily bothered. And not to forget, Apple itself has bent the rules before on what is considered intrusive to a message. Can developers end up overusing time-sensitive messages? Possibly, but they probably won’t gain much by doing so, as users may deselect them and may decide to shut down the app altogether.
There are a few other things worth noting about notifications in iOS 15:
- With compatible audio devices like AirPods, Siri can read any incoming message to you. Previously, this feature was limited to things like incoming messages. By default, Siri reads the contents of messages and time-sensitive messages.
- Messages with a “critical” interrupt type remain largely unchanged: these are things like amber alarms that bypass your ringtones to play a sound and get attention. App developers still need special permission for these notifications, so we should not suddenly start seeing more of them in iOS 15.
- Notifications will look a little different with larger app icons and pictures of contacts included in messages. The actions you can take on a notification (like a picture, etc.) also get graphic icons.