Steven Levy: ‘What the Apple Watch Means for the Age of Notifications’

Steven Levy, writing for Medium’s Backchannel:

We aren’t at that level of desperation yet with online notifications. But the Age of Notifications is about to face its biggest mess yet, as alerts move from phone screens to watch faces. Notifications are just about the entire point of a smart watch — you’re not going to be reading books, watching movies or doing spreadsheets on them.

I disagree, strongly, that “notifications are just about the entire point of a smart watch” — or at least for Apple Watch. There’s a reason why Apple didn’t mention notifications prominently at either of their Apple Watch events. Take another look at Apple’s Watch pages on their website, and see how much attention is paid to notifications.

But, notifications are without question one of many important features. And if you feel like your watch is more annoying than helpful, you’re not going to wear that watch. One of the most important pieces on Apple Watch in the last few weeks was Jeremy Keith’s, which wasn’t about the Apple Watch itself but rather about being ruthlessly parsimonious with regard to allowing apps to send you notifications in the first place.

Back to Levy:

So what’s the solution? We need a great artificial intelligence effort to comb through our information, assess the urgency and relevance, and use a deep knowledge of who we are and what we think is important to deliver the right notifications at the right time. As time goes on, we will trust such a system to effectively filter all our information and dole it out just as needed.

I think he’s on to something here: some sort of AI for filtering notification does seem useful. I can imagine helping it by being able to give (a) a thumbs-down to a notification that went through to your watch that you didn’t want to see there; and (b) a thumbs-up to a notification on your phone or PC that wasn’t filtered through to your more personal devices but which you wish had been.

But: this sounds too much like spam filtering to me. True spam is unasked-for. Notifications are all things for which you explicitly opted in, and can opt out of at any moment.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015