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Back in the day, when Facebook first introduced chat heads for quickly replying to messages without leaving the app you were using, it was groundbreaking. Google picked up on those cues and added an option to answer messages right from notifications. The concept of chat heads even made into Google's phone app. Now, Google is testing a native implementation of those floating bubbles for all notifications on Android Q, as our colleagues over at 9to5Google found out.
Right now, this feature mostly behaves like Facebook's chat heads. You can move notification bubbles around on your screen, and they stay on top of any activity that isn't full-screen. To dismiss them, you can move them to the bottom of the screen, which works both for individual bubbles and all of them at once (although right now, dismissing a single notification will make all disappear). When you tap on the stash of bubbles, they spread out at the top of the screen, and you can see their content, including the usual quick actions like replying — making conversation possible within the bubbles. Along with that, there are also shortcuts at the top to enter an app's system notification settings and an extra button to open the app, which does the same as just clicking the card below.
While the physics of these bubbles already feel production-ready, everything else doesn't. You can only see five of them at a time since that's the number of bubbles that fit next to each other. Silent alerts, like Android System warning you about an app displaying over others, are placed as prominently as messages. Dismissing bubbles doesn't make the actual notification disappear in the notification shade. In the expanded view, the circles are also placed too high up, mingling them with the status bar. And, should you be an avid user of Facebook chat heads, things get confusing pretty fast:
Left: Android Q notification bubbles on the left, Facebook Messenger chat heads on the right. Right: Android Q notifications and Facebook Messenger chat heads both opened.
To try the new interface yourself, you need to use the following ADB commands:
adb shell settings put secure experiment_autobubble_all 1
And, once you notice how awful "Notification Heads" are right now, here's how to deactivate them:
adb shell settings delete secure experiment_autobubble_all
I had to restart my phone to remove them completely after punching in the commands.
It remains to be seen where this experiment is heading. I can't imagine Google revamping notifications completely. Dragging down the status bar is embedded deeply in our muscle memory, both for Android and iOS users. However, I can see that with screens getting ever bigger and new form factors like folding screens, we might need to rethink notifications for some devices at least — and this test shows that Google keeps that in mind.