Both Amazon and Google have recently announced proactive notifications for their respective connected devices. Instead of simply reacting to your demands, they will be able to light up when they have something to say. Awesome or, well, just plain annoying? Let’s investigate…
Notifications a go-go
We have all had the feeling of being harassed by our telephone when a multitude of application notifications flood in, so we can understand that you are perhaps rolling your eyes at the prospect of another device hassling you! However, the proactive notifications on both of the speakers will not be that intrusive; Google Home will simply light up, and Alexa will chime and light up, and both will only speak when prompted.
If done right and in the appropriate context, proactive notifications could be highly practical, for example, a cooking app could tell you when your water was boiling, you could be alerted to set off to your meeting earlier due to traffic issues or your car could tell you when you are low on gas… However, proactive voice notifications on assistants raise several issues. While notifications on a smartphone can be treated in a glance, listening to your digital assistant reel off a number of notifications is less practical. Amazon’s Echo Show is equipped with a screen, which could overcome this issue. However, this feature poses others concerns, for example, often users have more than one device, therefore, should the notifications be sent to all? Furthermore, most digital assistant owners are out during the day, so how should developers create the experience so users don’t feel bombarded when they return home and that users who are around the device all the time still find the feature useful? Google and Amazon will have to carefully consider how notifications are rolled out to make sure the devices don’t drive users crazy!
So, how exactly are they going to do it?
Google is keeping things uncomplicated to begin with. The device will light up (no sound) when it has a notification and, when prompted by the user saying “what’s up”, will give news regarding reminders, flight changes, traffic delays ahead of upcoming appointments.
“We’re going to start simple, with really important messages like reminders, traffic delays and flight status changes,” said Rishi Chandra, Google’s vice president of product management, on stage at I/O 2017. “With multiple user support, you will have the ability to control the type of proactive notifications you want over time.”
It appears that Google is playing it safe and ensuring it gets it right before elaborating the feature.
Amazon on the other hand is expanding notifications to all skills. Notifications on Echo devices and third party Alexa devices will be at the discretion of the developer that builds the skill and it has not been confirmed if Amazon will limit the number of notifications the developer wants to send. All notifications will be opt in and triggered by the user saying “Alexa, what did I miss today?” or “Alexa, what are my notifications?”. Amazon also stated that there will be the possibility of temporarily suppressing all notifications by employing the “do not disturb mode”.
Long road ahead
It’s still early days for proactive notifications, but clearly lots of challenges lie ahead for both of these Internet giants in order to fine tune this feature. While notifications can be useful for certain types of apps, for example breaking news, this capability can be exploited, as is often the case with push notifications. For example, news apps enable users to opt in for all or nothing notifications for breaking news and then push notifications for events that are not urgent. It will be interesting to see how developers expand this feature in the future, however, if they get it wrong, we might see a couple of devices thrown out of windows 😉