Tag Archives: mobile

Who are phone notifications for?

Phone notifications aren’t just reminders. They’re interruptions, especially if you have sound or vibration turned on. That gives them a lot of power, and means they should be used responsibly.

In short, phone notifications should serve your interests as the person using the phone. Not the app’s. Not the service’s. Yours.

If someone you know sends you a message, you probably want to know that. If you put an appointment on your calendar, that reminder is going to help you. A shipping update, or delivery notice? Probably helpful as well. Completion of some long-running process that you requested or are waiting for? OK. App and system updates? You do want the phone to keep working properly, so there’s a case there.

If your friend tags you on a photo, or replies to your comment, or sends you a message, then yeah, Facebook or Twitter or Tumblr or Mastodon can justifiably notify you. It’s the start or continuation of a conversation between you and that other person. (Though you should still be able to mute it if you don’t want to talk to that person.)

But when Facebook starts pushing friend suggestions, or “did you see so-and-so’s comment on this conversation that you’re not part of,” or choosing to promote some subset of people’s broadcasts? That’s not in my interests, and that’s not in the other person’s interests. That’s Facebook advertising itself, because they’re desperately afraid they’ve lost my eyeballs.

It’s no different than the Black Friday through Cyber Monday ads that Amazon pushed into my notifications over Thanksgiving weekend.

We can pare down notifications, but it takes time, and not every app offers fine enough controls over which notifications it sends. And of course you have to re-do it every time you get a new phone, and every time you add a new app.

Advertising in an alert is, IMO, an abuse of the feature. We’re bombarded by so many demands for our attention as it is. Phone notifications should stick to those that help us do what we want, not those that distract us from it.

Trying to get at the features left out of the mobile app

I use extensive filters on Gmail to categorize mail the way I want. I pre-filter some things to look at later, prioritize some lists (like allergy or uptime alerts), and pre-categorize things that I may want to file away after looking at them.

The problem is, I can only change filters on the desktop site. When I’m reading on my phone, I need to remind myself not to archive or delete messages that I want to start filtering.

It occurred to me: I can label those messages “Change Filter.” I could even do it right away – there’s a “Manage labels” option on the Android app!

Nope!

I can’t add labels in the app, just change the download and notification settings for each.

So, website then…

Except I can’t get at the full Gmail website on my phone. Or my tablet. Google insists on showing a stripped-down mobile site, which has even fewer capabilities than the app.

I can’t fault them for starting with the mobile site. It is helpful to focus on the features that work best on small touchscreens, under-powered processors, and high-latency, low-bandwidth networks, and can be done by someone on the go, rather than someone sitting at a keyboard with a big screen and a mouse.

But if someone wants to use the functionality you’ve left out, and is willing to slog through the desktop site on their phone or tablet, you should at least let them get at it!

In this case I waited until I could log in on a desktop, then added the label. But not everyone with a phone has a desktop or a laptop. And as the balance keeps shifting towards phones as people’s primary internet access device, that’s going to be more and more common.

Forgotten Smart Watch

Two years ago I bought a Pebble smart watch. For the first week or two I wore it constantly, to get the sleep tracking data. That was cool, but not cool enough to keep it up, and it was uncomfortable to sleep with, so I started taking it off at night.

I kept putting it on every morning for maybe eight months, using it for step and heart rate tracking, alerts, music control, and of course time. Plus the kid loved using the app to change the appearance of the watch face. People had come up with some really whimsical designs!

The watch kept working after the company went under. Fitbit bought what was left and agreed to keep the cloud services up for a year or so, and they updated the firmware and phone app to reduce the watch’s dependency on those services when they finally shut them down.

After a while, though, I got out of the habit of putting the watch on in the morning. I misplaced the Pebble, found it again, wore it for a few days, and forgot it again. Repeat.

What Do I Miss?

I do miss having the time available at a glance, but I can dig out a plain watch for that. The calendar reminders were helpful too. But I don’t miss having other alerts on my wrist, even after paring them down to the essentials, and the fitness tracking was really only a curiosity for me. Then outside of its core functionality, it was too clunky to use for, say, to-do lists or games.

Only a narrow range of the watch’s capabilities really appealed to me, and it turns out they weren’t enough to keep me using it.

Repurposed

Every once in a while, the kiddo would ask about the Pebble. I finally found it again and charged it, and decided to pair it with an old phone and give it to him instead of wearing it myself. He’s been wearing it 24/7 for a week now.

It’s basically a watch and fitness tracker only right now. Fitbit shut down the Pebble services over the summer, and I haven’t been able to get it working with Rebble (the volunteer group that’s put together a replacement server), so the marketplace with apps and watch faces aren’t available. And I only put limited apps on that phone, so there’s not much in the way of alerts. But he likes the step/heartrate tracking, and having a buzzing alarm that he can set.

Though he’s somehow learned to sleep through the tactile version of “Reveille” already! 🤦‍♂️

Update: I did eventually get it connected to Rebble. The first thing he wanted to do afterward: A round of random watch faces, for old time’s sake.

Airplane Mode: Battery Saver!

I keep one of my old phones as a spare and for tinkering (to the extent that you can do that). I upgraded it to LineageOS and used it for a few days when my most recent phone died last month.

13 days ago I charged it, put it in airplane mode and put it in my laptop bag. Today it’s still at 34% charge. On a 5 year old battery.

Obviously it didn’t last that long with actual usage, and wouldn’t even just sitting in the bag with wi-fi and data sync. But I’m still impressed!

The Lesser Evil of Selfie Sticks

I’ve known about portrait distance for a while, and often thought that was a downside of using fixed-lens phone cameras for portraits. To frame someone’s face in a phone you have to either zoom (losing detail) or hold it close enough that the viewing angles distort the face. I prefer using my phone for long shots and using a camera with an optical zoom for portraits.

Unexpected consequence: Selfies are now a major source of young people’s self-image…which is distorted, leading them to feel worse about themselves and even seek out plastic surgery.

The researchers looked specifically at selfies taken from 12 inches away — a common distance for someone snapping a selfie without the assistance of a selfie stick. In a selfie taken from that distance, men’s noses appear 30 percent wider and women’s noses appear 29 percent wider than they actually are.

I think we can all agree that selfie sticks are a lesser evil than unnecessary cosmetic surgery!

Update: From the Facebook comments, here’s a link to a series of portraits taken at distances ranging from 2 meters down to 20 cm, demonstrating how different your face looks at each distance.