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:
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.
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.
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.
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+)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?