Last Updated: August 10th, 2012

Hello and welcome to round 2 of Getting To Know Android 4.1. If you missed the inaugural episode (about the lock screen, software buttons, and icons) you can catch a rerun right here. And if you did see it, I suggest you go look at it again, because I updated it with a crazy menu button bug. Seriously, go look. I'll wait.

Today we're getting into something a little more meaty: The revamped notifications system! And we aren't doing some wimpy overview, we're sticking everything I can find under the GTKA microscope. First up, the fresh, new design:


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Just look at that, everything is different. For starters, the status bar is no longer displayed when the notification shade is open. So while you're playing with your notifications, you can't see your signal strength or battery percentage.

The time is now much bigger, and the day of the week is now on top of the date. The "Clear All" X has been changed to a strange, 3-line stair step symbol that no one is ever going to figure out without trying first, and the default thumbnail background has been changed from black with white diagonal lines to a solid dark blue.

Like I said last time, Jelly bean uses significantly less of ICS's trademark blue. The blue line separating the date form the notifications is completely gone, and the date, time, settings button, clear all button, carrier label and bottom design have all had the color sucked out of them. Gray is the new blue.

The carrier presence got a bit of a downgrade (yeay!), their label is now a little smaller and, like I said, it lost its blue coloring. The blue circle has changed to a solid line that is gray when untouched, but turns blue (it's back!) when your finger is interacting with it (see pictures below). The "light up" effect is really pleasing. All the other UI bits do something when you touch them (buttons, icons, etc), it's nice to see this does too now.

Switching from blue to gray really puts the focus on your notifications. If you look at the ICS screenshot, the thing that stands out most is the neon blue stuff at the top of the panel. In Jelly Bean, everything is more of a neutral color scheme, and nothing really catches your eye.

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I've got to point out he cool new opening animation. As you slide down the notification shade, the underlying screen gets darker the further down you go. It's very slick looking.

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How's this for a change? The fonts in the notification panel got a big overhaul. Titles have switched from a bold Roboto to a much thinner weight, and they bumped up the size a few notches. Secondary text is also bigger, and has been dimmed down to a light gray. The right side app icons are a little smaller.

Overall, the new design looks cleaner, lighter, and much more modern. This is an excellent example of why I love design. A bunch of extremely minor changes add up to a night and day difference. The details make all the difference. Changes like this are so good they are humbling. I will never be this skilled at figuring out what makes something look good. Kudos to whoever came up with this.


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Notifications don't just get a slick, new look - functionality is much improved too. This is what the new notification system can do. Big-ass notifications. Very cool.

Any new-style notification can be expanded or contracted with a vertical, 2 finger swipe that just feels right. We need more of this. Multi-touch gestures are an untapped power usage boost  all throughout Android.

If you've got more than one notification, only the top notification will be expanded, and the rest will be in regular "list mode." Swiping away the top notification will move the next one up and expand it, and of course, you are free to expand whatever you want with the 2 finger gesture.

And not only do you get big-ass notifications, you get big-ass notifications with buttons. Remember, in ICS, how the Music player notification had Play and Next buttons? Well, They've extended that to just about everything. You get a share button from a screenshot, you can call back a missed call, you can snooze an alarm. They've taken the ICS music notification to the next level. It's awesome.

Bigger notifications make perfect sense. Most of the time, the notification panel is an empty void. So by all means, if I have a notification, display as much information about it as possible. There's really no reason to have blank space in the panel, and, when things get busy, multiple notifications are already handled beautifully with the collapsible system.

Let's take a closer look at our new toys.

Screenshots (And G+)

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First up, screenshots, a bloggers best friend. On the left we have ICS, with its boring, standard size notification and tiny thumbnail. In the middle (and right), we see Jelly Bean's new and improved screenshot notification. The big thumbnail gets a washed out look, which, besides looking cool, helps distinguish your picture of UI elements from actual UI elements - an important (and appreciated) consideration. The big screenshot notification also gives you a handy share button at the bottom.

On the right you can see the condensed version, which keeps the cool picture filter and shrinks it down to the usual thumbnail. It's interesting that they felt he "Touch to view your screenshot" text was necessary on the small notification, but not the big one.

The large screenshot notification layout is kind of weird, isn't it? Why is there a tiny, "blank" thumbnail of the app icon above the giant thumbnail? This is a rare example of when consistency can be stupid - things are just a little too rigid. For instance, you don't need a tiny thumbnail when the whole notification is a thumbnail. And, while we're at it, why is the "screenshot captured" background opaque and the "Share" background transparent? Why is the Share button at the bottom of the notification at all? Design this like the Music notification with the command(s) at the top right of the notification.

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If you need another example of thumbnail weirdness, check out the Google+ instant upload notification. Your photo is displayed in the large and small thumbnails. I think it's clear that this "large thumbnail" functionality is a tack-on to the original notification, and well, it shows. This is silly looking.


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Next up: Gmail! My absolute favorite Android app. Notifications here come in two flavors. First, there's the "Big list of emails" if you have more than one, which is a carbon copy of the real inbox layout, with the sender followed by the subject. While expanded, it will display up to 7 emails, after that all you get is an ellipsis. At the bottom of the notification is the account it came from, and the on right, the number of emails.

I find the size restriction to be very arbitrary. I don't think it really makes sense to truncate my list of emails when the rest of the notification panel is blank - stretch out! There's no reason to leave blank space when there is more information to display. Don't get me wrong, it's a great "version 1," and a big improvement over the standard "X new messages" notification, but really, use the space that is there.

Oh, by the way, these scaled-down pictures are an excellent demonstration of the improved readability the design tweaks have brought to the notification panel. Compare the ICS screenshot on the left to Jelly Bean on the right; the bigger, thinner font is much easier to read.

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And now, my biggest disappointment with the notification system. Like I said in my Galaxy Nexus/ICS Review, I want an Archive button in my Gmail notifications. That was my very first thought when I saw the Play and Next buttons in ICS's music player. In Jelly Bean, it seems like they added buttons to every notification except Gmail. I'm crushed. Gmail is completely button-less.

It just seems so obvious! With the bigger notifications, I have even more information about an email now. Sometimes, like in the screenshot on the right, I can see the entire email. Ether way, it's enough information that I always know if I want to read more, archive, or reply to the message. So give me those options. Remove my account address and give me Archive/Reply buttons. That would be perfect. And while we're at it, why are labels not displayed anywhere? Color coded tags below the (always useless) avatar would be great.

Text Messages


Messaging, the built in text message app, displays a luxurious 8 lines of text. You should be able to see all but the longest text messages. There's no buttons here, but you really don't need any. Tapping the notification opens the Text app and you're ready to reply.

Google Voice, as usual, has been neglected.

Everything Else

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There's not much to say about the remaining ones. Calendar, Missed call, and Ongoing calls get handy buttons, while Alarm and Music were left out in the cold. An expanded Music notification with bigger album art would have been nice.

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Long pressing on a notification will, just like in Recent Apps, give you the option to look up the devices App Info. I know what you're thinking, "Why on earth would I want to get to App Info from a notification?" Well, there is now a "Show notifications" checkbox in App info. You can turn off notifications for an individual app! Cool.

This feature got me all excited, and once I got Jelly Bean on my phone, I immediately set about blasting away the incredibly stupid "Location set by GPS" notification that constantly exists whenever you are using Navigation. Unfortunately, all the system app notifications are bundled with the "System UI" APK, and can't be disabled. That's right, notification blocking is on a per-APK basis, so it's all or nothing.

With this redesigned notification system, you can see the first baby steps of a whole new way of dealing with notifications. The panel is changing from "Hey, this just happened." to "Hey, this just happened, what do you want to do about it?" and that's an extremely exciting idea. There's no reason to make me jump into an app just to hit a single button. Dealing with it directly from the panel is easier, faster, and makes me more productive. I love it, and can't wait for version two, when they finally (hopefully) add and archive button to the Gmail notification. Please?

Ron Amadeo
Ron loves everything related to technology, design, and Google. He always wants to talk about "the big picture" and what's next for Android, and he's not afraid to get knee-deep in an APK for some details. Expect a good eye for detail, lots of research, and some lamenting about how something isn't designed well enough.
  • http://twitter.com/redbullcat Phil Oakley

    I'd love to be able to reorder notifications. Long click and drag up or down to move a notification. That'd be awesome!

    And yeah, Gmail needs buttons on notifications and you need an expanded notification for music, showing bigger album art, album info, thumbs up/down, shuffle and rewteet buttons. Let's take advantage of these notifications!

    Oh, and expanding notifications to be bigger and take up the whole space, like the Gmail example you mentioned.

    • Julio M

      In my opinion, reordering defeats the purpose of a notification. What you need is a reminder. But they could always add it, it's all about options.

  • https://twitter.com/#!/thedeusexmakina [J. B. cyruz]

    Great article, thanks. I really hope Jelly Bean will make it to my GS3 soon.

    • Prabal

      Good luck for that.

      • https://twitter.com/#!/thedeusexmakina [J. B. cyruz]

        Hey, thanks. Samsung said Q4, but we'll see.

        • http://twitter.com/redbullcat Phil Oakley

          You should just flash it ;)

          • https://twitter.com/#!/thedeusexmakina [J. B. cyruz]

            Once it works properly.

          • http://twitter.com/redbullcat Phil Oakley

            Fair enough :)

    • http://www.anivision.org/ Christopher Bailey (Xcom923)

      Same here

  • nsauce7

    I really dislike how when you pull down the notification bar, the status bar is hidden and the time flips sides color and size. I want to see the battery bar cell/WiFi signal. To me its just a bit disruptive but overall the notification changes are great.

    • oneillperson

      Agreed. I'd also like to see a specific battery percentage # up there when I expand the notification bar.

  • JonJJon

    The clear all icon it probably meant to be 3 notifications in the pane swooshing off to the right as they all get cleared.

  • http://btwnworlds.tumblr.com/ Lou G

    I'm new to Android (I sold my iPad--I got tired of the walled garden), so all of this is new and exciting to me. I'm LOVING everything. I understand for those that are used to android, and see things then go "oh why couldn't they do this.." or something, but for me each and every feature is amazing, cool and just plain and awesome.

    I can't wait to get my google nexus 7!

    • http://twitter.com/_vinr vinothr

      Good move. Welcome to the bright side of the dark side.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=636165701 Zaeem Shahzad

      You, good sir, have yet to see what wonders Android can perform. Welcome! :)

    • http://btwnworlds.tumblr.com/ Lou G

      I was just so, SO tired of the walled garden..of "I want this feature." and "ooh! that looks nice on Android; why can't I have it?" I know some people will think that this is a downgrade but I can only see a benefit.

    • Kenny O

      I had an iPod touch that I loved, and after using it for a while I really wanted an iphone and an iPad......But I had T-Mobile and could only get an Android phone if I wanted a discount and I also wanted a mobile hot spot for my soon to be purchased iPad. After using the Android for one day, I was hooked I never even wanted to think about i-anything. I gave my iPod touch to my 2 year old son. I don't even argue with iOS people that want to bash Android, they just do not know how much better Android is and continues to be IMO. Jelly Bean is amazing, runs like a dream (well, like Butter) and shows such continued improvement to an already stellar OS. Google continues to innovate, while Apple is content to litigate. Nexus 7 is going to win a lot of people over to Android, and when they see how amazing it is, if they didn't have an Android phone before - their next one surely will be.

    • Bas

      Welcome :D

    • Bas

      Welcome :D

    • Bas

      Welcome :D

  • lazyboy

    I think it's important to note that buttons, pictures, and everything else going on with these new notifications are open to developers so any app can do this. I'm looking forward to controlling Pandora like I control music now, and hopefully google voice will get an update that makes it behave a little more like the default messaging app in the notification department. Heck, maybe even gmail will bring in those buttons someday before Key Lime Pie! I dislike the 2-finger gesture to make things bigger though. That makes it impossible to handle one-handed and I can't guarantee the notification I want to "control" (for example, pandora) will remain on top.

    • Ron Amadeo

      PANDORA?! Keep dreaming. They haven't updated their UI since cupcake.

  • Mitchell Feigley

    What about the new way the notifications slide into view when opening the drawer? I was expecting that to be shown.

    • Ron Amadeo

      ...Huh? Notifications don't slide into view. They're stationary, like they've always been.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

      Do you mean how the apps slide into view after you click on a notification?

  • Joe

    still cant believe Google hasnt adopted notification drawer widget buttons as a default feature. This is incredibly long overdue, and all this effort into improving the notification area and apparently no one thought it might be a good idea to include this. Unbelievable.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=636165701 Zaeem Shahzad

    Ron, I love these articles. You point out so many things. It's a wonder why Google hasn't put you on their design team yet! :P

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

      Hey there. We like Ron here.

      • Ron Amadeo

        But... they have free food. Made by 5 star chefs.

        • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

          It's made of little baby seals. Do you really want to be part of that, Ron?

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1745689461 Hal Motley

            I love the freshness that a club provides! XD

            Besides animals do have the right to be tasty.

  • Ribbed for her pleasure.

    So, when is virtualization coming to android?

  • fixxmyhead

    i love these in detailed posts

  • Gav456

    Love the changes, can't wait to flash this on my soon-to-be ex sense XE. As usual brilliantly written, thanks police, much love! Btw, why is Disqus sometimes the new UI and sometimes the old one? New one looks nice, but doesn't like Swype

  • Brandito

    Shouldn't need to wait for the next version of notifications for that archive button, just a gmail app update really.

    • Ron Amadeo

      .... You're totally right. Man, that would make my day.

  • http://twitter.com/Kaerosnow Chris Bozsik

    I read somewhere that the Jelly Bean notification updates allow you to hide notifications... does anyone know if that would mean that apps that automatically display an icon in the notification bar (such as Last.fm) would be able to have that icon and notification hidden? I love scrobbling my music but I hate having that extra icon and notification up there whenever I'm listening to music, I'd rather just hide it.

    • Ron Amadeo

      Yep. You'd be able to block all notifications from that app.

  • leonardo

    "3-line stair step symbol that no one is ever going to figure out without trying first"
    I got it the first time I saw. And I just have a galaxy S i9000 with Gingerbread.

  • Yik Sheng Lee

    I think I would love to see Android totally move away from iOS's icon concept and redesign the home screen as a complete dashboard (not just widgets and definitely not 'live tiles') that accommodates the concept of "Hey, this just happened, what do you want to do about it?". The app launcher is enough to cater for those who wants to use icons to launch individual apps in my opinion.

  • Skillit

    Is there a new api so 3rd party app can make use of the new notificatio features ?

  • IceBeam

    "bold Roboto to a much thinner weight,"
    Probably making it a lot harder to read (yeah i saw 'larger size' but lets face it the kids at google don't give a crap about people who don't have perfect eyes - look at how their rubbish chrome browser doesn't even reflow text!)

    • Ron Amadeo

      The bigger text is easier to read, just look at the screenshots!

      It doesn't effect notifications, but there is a "Large Text" check box in accessibility. Check it out: http://i.imgur.com/LT7mq.png

  • IceBeam

    I wish Google would fix important stuff instead of wasting time on rubbish like this - you still can't pinch zoom in the gmail app! Pathetic - that's a functional limit!

    • setspeed

      Agreed. This has been overlooked for far too long. Also I want to know when/if they have fixed what is probably one of the longest running annoyances in Android which is the limiting syncing of contact photo size to a ridiculously small 96px * 96px - REALLY?? STILL??

  • Freak4Dell

    Since I have personal and business GMail accounts syncing to my phone, I quite like the account address being there. If you can deal with tapping on the messaging notification to get to the reply screen, you can deal with tapping the GMail notification to get to the screen with the archive button on it. Also, I like how the notifications have a maximum size. It keeps them looking like notifications. Notifications are meant to notify you, not to replace your app.

    The only real complaint I have about the new notification system is that the status bar disappears. It looked much more like a pull down window when the status bar was there. Now it just looks like yet another app. The whole thumbnail thing for the screenshot and G+ notifications is definitely strange, but it doesn't bother me that much. Hopefully it will be fixed in the future, though.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1745689461 Hal Motley

    To me notifications and Jelly Bean itself is a little bit hit and miss, at the same time as improving stuff they can make it a tad worse. Therefore, I am not as excited about Jelly Bean as I was Ice Cream Sandwich.

    I think that while the notifications are no doubt smarter, there is a real sense of incompleteness here:
    1. Google could have shoved the settings slider-button to the far right and added the signal indicator+battery indicator beside the clock.
    2. Google could have worked on better integration with other stock applications, I think that the stock Music app and indeed the other missed stock applications, could have done much much more with this new notification system.

    3. Lastly, I really preferred the cool blue approach, rather than the dull grey. I guess that's my opinion though.

  • Abhigyan Banerjee

    The GTKA series is another of those things that get me back to Android Police. Great work guys. You're now the ONLY Android blog I subscribe to. The others are just redundant and dull.

    On the notifications front, I hat how the new pull down replaces the status bar. In my opinion, that just makes it very iOS-ish. For all you know, crApple will find a new way to litigate over this. Would hate to see that happen. Instead of looking like an overlay, it should have simply been the pull down status bar way of doing things.

  • Marco Antonio Sousa

    I miss the buttons to turn on wifi, bluetooth, gps, data service and vibrate mode there's no more in notification area... since Gingerbread =(

  • Max M

    Did Jelly bean fix the bug where pausing the music player would remove it from the notification shade? That is my biggest complaint with the ICS notifications.

  • CJ456

    Love the new notification system, its refreshing, functional and good looking, it still has some small glitches, hope OEMs won't ruin it (but improve it)

  • Orca123

    I would love a delete button for mail notifications.

  • Simon Belmont

    Nice overview, Ron. Yes, I know I am a bit late on reading this.

    Been busy. Definitely worth the read though.

  • Carl Perizzolo

    I have a Nexus 7, and I like it a lot. However, I did something and I can't fix it. Somehow, I now have a sidebar down the left side with my folders and labels. It takes up a third of the screen, and I can't figure out how to make it go away.

  • Ian

    What about Google now notifications? Cant see 'em anymore are they missing or is it just me/?

  • rob

    I realize this is an old thread, but I just picked up a new Jelly Bean device. First, I'd like to thank you for taking the time to provide all this information. Second, I'd like to chime in with a contrary viewpoint.

    I really don't like the new notification system at all, and I think it's a huge step in the wrong direction. There's definite feature creep going on here, with the notification shade turning into a mismash of disparate functionality instead of what it used to be: a simple, consistent mechanism for notifying you that something occurred. And all that text on the screen at once most certainly does NOT make things easier to read, especially when you replace the standout bold title font with one that's thinner and only marginally larger than everything else. And two-finger gestures to clean up the screen? Really?

    Good apps are designed to present their information in an intuitive, meaningful way. Is it really that difficult to tap a notification to be directed to that well-designed presentation? I've got an idea: how about blinking the LED in morse code so we can read our messages without even touching the phone?

    The most useful tools are simple and intuitive. IMO, the Jelly Bean notification system has forgotten this, and is now more like a Swiss Army Knife. Personally, I'd rather take the extra step of sliding open the toolbox drawer in order to grab a real screwdriver or pair of pliers.