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Nobody Knows That I Use These Apps (jakelevine.me)
167 points by alexmr on Apr 5, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 64 comments

I love this about Windows Phone's Live Tiles. I never open my weather app. I hardly ever open the Facebook app. I hardly ever open my stock market app. I just check their Live Tile, and at a glance it tells me exactly what I need to know. It's the biggest thing I miss, by far, when I'm using my Android phone. The information density of Android and iOS doesn't even come close, even with a proper notification center.

I really want Android live tiles. Widgets just aren't comparable.

What do live tiles have that android widgets are missing? Honest question.

taude thinks similarly to how I do. Live Tiles feel like a part of the ecosystem and there's not a widget available for every app I wish there was on Android. Then you have to factor in that there's just not that much room on the Android home screen, and widgets come in a variety of odd shapes and sizes.

Live Tiles are consistent, with only three square (rectangular) sizes to pick from. The fluid scrolling through them (rather than page by page) makes it feel more spacious. I have an entire home page dedicated to Facebook, for example, because the Facebook widget that shows me updates (and only one update at a time) takes up fully half the screen. The weather widget I use takes an entire line of icons, and the calendar widget takes up two columns by three rows. It's like playing a jigsaw puzzle trying to arrange a useful "live" home screen. Live Tiles are also visually consistent, which Android widgets are not (my Android home screen looks hideous).

A Live Tile is a app shortcut that also acts as a widget by displaying useful information. An Android widget is a widget that can also link to the application. That tiny difference is a huge gap in comparison.

In short: It's not an inherent or technical difference so much as an ecosystem difference. Win8 developers think about Live Tiles differently than Android developers do about widgets. (Right?)

The non-discrete page-flipping (so you can scroll one column at a time, instead of a whole screen) is nice. I don't know any Android launcher that can do that.

This one can:


With Lightning Launcher, you can also skip the grid altogether and freely align, scale and even rotate your widgets and zoom in and out in the launcher, if you want. It's very customizable.

The new home screen on the HTC One?

Tiles are similar to Android widgets, except they're integrated into dashboard in a more "cohesive" manner. On my droid phone, I optionally have to add a special widget (if there's even one for the app, and I sometimes have to download it extra), set the size it takes up on the dashboard page, etc. On the Win phone, the icon you click to start the app is same one that's showing the live data. It's omnipresent. A subtle difference.

The OS understands twitter and facebook natively. If I message someone on facebook, I see that conversation right in-line with my SMS chats with that contact. So there's just one tile for all my messages.

There is a single "People" tile that shows me all the news from facebook and twitter in a single stream. There is another "Me" tile that shows my notifications about mentions or tags.

I think the most important thing is that tapping these doesn't feel like launching an app. I don't have to "go check facebook" and wait for it to load, and then "go look at twitter," etc. I just tap a tile, and in 4 seconds I have everything in one native-looking interface - it even honors the color scheme I picked for the phone :)

I think the Google Now widget does quite a good job. It tells me the weather, if I have a package being delivered, sports scores, and quite a few other things. Granted, I've used Live Tiles and did find them pretty useful and I like the flat UI so I think my ideal experience would be a combination of both Now with Live Tiles.

If I could get all my apps to work with Google Now, I would love it. However, Facebook, for one, does not update Google Now. Is there a public API so apps can push data to Now?

Not yet but I believe it's in the pipes over at Google.

Is this a limitation of Widgets, or of the status of Widget development, though? It seems to me that there's a LOT of untapped potential when it comes to widgets.

> Widgets just aren't comparable.

I'm curios, I haven't used Windows Phone, what's not comparable?

The live-ness of tiles is overstated, in my opinion, but the concept of tiles is wonderful. Here's an example: you're going on a trip so you pin restaurants that look interesting from Urbanspoon, a map to your meeting location from Maps, and some sites you want to see from their web pages. It turns your home screen into a todo list, which is interesting to me.

Ah. From that description it sounds like there's not a real difference in what widgets allow apps to do, but there is in how easy it is to add and utilize widgets (with Windows being at one extreme, where all or most app icons are widgets)?

Do you think that's an accurate assessment?

Yeah, a Live Tile is a widget, but it's a well integrated widget. It's an application shortcut that displays information while still looking like an application shortcut. Widgets are completely separate, visually. Windows Live Tiles don't need to be specifically added, if you add an app shortcut to your start screen it's automatically also a widget that looks visually consistent with the rest of the OS.

Your assessment is not too far off. Live Tiles is a more elegant way of handling widgets.

Sort of, I guess the biggest difference is in how you add them. Adding widgets is an intentional thing; you decide you want a weather widget on your screen. A tile is something you discover and decide to keep for later. So you find a restaurant you like, you pin it. You don't say "I want to pin something, let me look through a list of pinnable things and pick one".

That's one use for Tiles, but not the one I'm referring to. Pinning a map is great, but pinning a weather app makes it continuously update the local weather and forecast right on the app shortcut. Pinning a stock app makes your stock quotes show up right there on the app shortcut. There's many use cases for pinning a Live Tile, and the best part is they're all done using the same mechanism.

To do something like this on Android, you'd need an API for an app to install a widget. I don't know if that's possible outside of the standard appstore download/install process.

Widgets could do this on Android, if Widget makers chose to implement that. For example Facebook's widget is your stream.

But most widgets are not very interactive, they are more like app preview snapshots, with a tap to launch the app.

taude already explained it but I will add my two cents. With widgets the look depends on the developer, which I found annoying when I had an android since I had to go through several screens just because some widgets where really big.

Live tiles are "free", they are the same icon that you would use to start the app and the look and feel is more uniform and rearrange between them in a more convenient way.

Also you can pin a lot of app specific items. For instance, from the people hub I can pin a tile of the whole app and/or pin specific people, and when you do that the tile itself seems like a different app. In my wife's tile I can see whatever she posted on Facebook or twitter, and also it serves as a shortcut to publish something on the wall, or to call or text her, it's just very convenient!

Google Now will get you there. http://www.google.com/landing/now/

Seems like the author has only worked with iOS.

On Android push notifications are done through GCM (Google Cloud Messaging), when it's sent your application gets a callback (Intent). So it is up to the application to decide what to do with it, whether it is to show a notification or do something else entirely. So on Android you have a pretty good idea that the the user is actually getting a notification. Jelly Bean and up you can also do very rich notifications with images and actions built right into it.

On iOS when a remote push notification is received there is no indication sent to the application at all. The only way the application knows something has happened is if the user actually opens the notification.

I haven't programmed on windows phone, so I am not sure how much an app developer knows that a user is viewing a live tile or not. Maybe someone who's built one can chime in.

Overall it seems to me, that what the author is describing is Android, where the app developer has at least some feedback as to whether a user is seeing the notification (albeit not an exact: user has seen x notif).

Edit: Wording

> On iOS when a remote push notification is received it there is not indication sent to the application at all.

I'm not well versed in push notifications, but I thought this was part of the value that a company like Urban Airship would provide?

Only if you use their inbox-like thing, which will still not tell you deliverable rate, it just ensures the recipient can see a list of all attempts.

The actual push notification itself is entirely untrackable unless the recipient actually taps on it, or it is received while your app is running. IIRC you can read out the application's badge number, but that only shows you what the most-recently-received notification was (if it set a badge value), it implies nothing about any intermediate ones. There is no way to list the notifications, nor count them. You can do this with local ones you generated yourself, but not ones pushed to the device.

While someone is actively in your app, you do get a method called that gives you the notification as it arrives - which is handy, because the system entirely mutes it (doesn't go into the notification center, doesn't appear at the top of the screen). You can do that to do a negative tracking system ("they didn't receive this, don't count it in the stats"), or to show it yourself.

The usual approach is to track acks or callbacks driven via user actions on the server-side. Adding a "guaranteed delivery" QoS will involve queuing, waiting and retrying on non-ack timers - and do so without abusing users' trust in your app.

no it's a limitation of iOS - which you could argue is by design. the app is just not notified, no matter if it's urban airship or your_custom_app

Regardless, the application has to be opened to get information about click through/context.

The push notification can have a payload that your app uses when the app is opened via the notification.

I know this is completely off topic, but is there any reason a website should have a rapidly changing gif animation as their tab icon?

I tend to open a ton of tabs and leave them open (particularly if they're interesting and I want to re-read it or refer to it in a blog post), but the constant oscillation of that tab icon is so distracting that I feel compelled to close that tab as soon as possible since it's going to get in my peripheral vision as I do other work (it's even distracting me as I type this very post!)

I thought the blog post was really interesting but now the only thing I remember about the site is the obnoxious icon, and it compels me not to look at the archives for other potentially intriguing posts :(.

Dear OP, please change that icon. I think it will increase readership and good will of your otherwise interesting blog.

I had to test in most of my installed browsers before I found one that actually animated the icon - Firefox. Chrome, Safari, and Opera have all decided (rightly, you'll probably agree) that allowing animated favicons is not a good idea.

Chrome has a hideously awful alternative though: The tab icon throbs when AJAX updates a page (Gmail, etc), regardless of the web developer or user's preferences.

Came here to ask for a firefox add-on that disables favicons.

Counterpoint: I love it.

I'm the exact opposite -- using Facebook for many years and experimenting with many apps has trained me to avoid allowing applications to interact with me out of band.

Back in the day, I was getting harassed about my friend's achievements in Farmville or Mafia Wars on Facebook. More recently, some app my wife installed lets me know every time I'm within a quarter mile of a Target store. The beauty of iOS is that I don't need to deal with a dozen little icons demanding attention like in Windows.

The Windows 8 approach is refreshing, I'm curious to see how it develops.

I mean, the responsibility is sort of on you to manage what notifications you receive. This seems a bit like installing a bunch of toolbars and Bonzi Buddy and then claiming that your browser sucks. (for the record, I had numerous Farmville-playing friends and never received push notifications about that).

> The beauty of iOS is that I don't need to deal with a dozen little icons demanding attention like in Windows.

This is confusing to me. Aside from Java updates and similar things that are largely hidden, what icons in Windows demand your attention? One thing I don't like about iOS is all the badges on icons, which, to my psyche, are much more demanding.

I agree that it is my responsibility, I've choosen to handle it by saying "No" in most cases. But I'm a bit of an appaholic -- I download new apps all of the time, and don't have the time to figure out what chatter a particular app is going to bother me with.

I'm on my work Windows 7 laptop right now, and I've been bothered by the following since 7:30 when I came in:

- SCCM has some updates for me that must be installed in 7 days

- AV is slowing down my computer, for my safety.

- Some printer is unavailable

People at home get bombarded with Java, Adobe, and other apps whining about updates or whatever. Microsoft recognized this as a serious enough problem that it basically hides most toolbar icons automatically. (I have 19 on the work laptop, with 4 visible)

I don't know too much about how push notifications work, but don't they have some kind of tracking on them? If not, why not? That would seem like a perfect (obvious) solution for what the article describes. If you could somehow track when people take actions on your push notifications, or discard them. Or heck, even if someone decided to receive them, that should indicate that they are looking at them. Mainly because if someone isn't looking at them, they would probably get very annoyed by push notifications from apps they do not care about and thus, turn those notifications off.

Again, maybe I'm just naive about how it all works, but it seems like it could be a pretty measurable metric already?

On iOS, it's pretty much just fire-and-forget. You do get notified when a device isn't reachable anymore, which usually means the app has been uninstalled (so that's sort of feedback). (I think this also might trigger if the phone is offline for a long time, but I'm not sure.)

> Imagine if app developers could send more data (images, videos) through push notifications, or even receive simple responses (“Yes” / “No”) from users without requiring users to launch the application itself.

You can do this today on Android.

Dark Sky definitely knows you're getting value on those notifications. Popular apps get positive ratings from happy users. Dark sky doesn't need a specific metric to tell them the notifications are working; having a bunch of people 5-star your app saying "I love the notifications!" is sufficient.

Never heard about Moves but it seems to record everything, send it to their server, analyze it there, then send you that notification. So, they know it's being used.

Yes you are correct. Reading the built-in help of the Moves app show the data collection end up on their server... So they clearly know which user is still running the app. If users were to disable pushes and no more daily data collection was happening then Moves will know they lost one user, but stating they don't know as the article show is a wrong conclusion.

The author says the app developers have no way of knowing if he's using their app. Now having never developed an iPhone/Android app, just want to confirm if it is true. Isn't it that their servers would know that they are sending push notification to a phone after all?

I totally disagree here. I think most people know how to turn off their push notifications and its way easier than unsubscribing from an email newsletter, how many notifications pushed out and how many active users in my opinion would be a direct correlation.

"Imagine an entire suite of apps with which you interact without ever opening. Imagine if app developers could send more data (images, videos) through push notifications, or even receive simple responses (“Yes” / “No”) from users without requiring users to launch the application itself."

Then what is the point of having apps? Isn't this just cramming a lot of extra bits into the notifications? I think if all apps did more and more in the notifications, people would start to say it was cluttered or difficult to use/read.

The great thing about notifications for me is they are quick and simple. If I want to do more, the application is a click away. I don't need a faux app inside the notifications panel.

This triggered a Deja-vu moment for me from pre-tablet times when there were entire web-sites sprouting up around the no-click movement. You could do everything without clicking, until touch-screen devices came out and roll-overs stopped being an option.

I think real-time updates can work really well in a google glass world, especially with smart watches. Although they can cause trouble if you're trying to focus on something. I foresee a hide-notifications button next to the mute button one day.

Just like the no-click movement, a notification-heavy world will probably piss off analytics people, until metrics on data displayed/consumed notifications come out.

This is why Google Now is so awesome. It's a whole suite of basic apps that most people use, pushed to you only when they're relevant. It's the most impressive software on my phone by far (and I have 200+ apps).

Unrelated, but you have an error on your page:

    Warning: sprintf(): Too few arguments in /home/jakelevine/webapps/blog3/wp-content/themes/codium-extend/functions.php on line 190

I find it curious that the idea being touted is essentially the same as the the way iGoogle works. And of course iGoogle is being shut down.

So why is one on the rise and the other falling? Is this yet another example of the apps-win-over-the-web trend? Is the problem with iGoogle that it was trapped in the browser? Is it that iGoogle was one company's little piece of the web versus an idea that is being pushed as the front-and-center UI for an OS?

One way to know if a user is getting utility out of your product is to charge a monthly subscription. If a user is paying you, you know they are using the app and gaining utility from it, even if it's just a daily push notification. If they stop paying you, you know they are not getting utility from the app.

Hmm so you can't track how many people turn off the notifications? I would assume the metric would be based on how many people leave them on without getting annoyed and switch them off. The lower your notification disable rate is, the more successful you are right?

Isn't the value from the number of installs of a app or the number of times someone paid for the app? Unless they started using notifications to send me ads....which with 100% certainty cause me to uninstall the app (if such a practice is even allowed).

Sadly, push message spam is legal on iOS too. Of course you can disable notifications per-app or not allow the app to send them in the first place. But uninstalling the app is easier and The Right Thing :)

Spamming ads to the notification bar is a popular technique on Android. Zynga loves to do it, as do others.

Short of blocking them with a host file addition after finding the adhost, one can block notifications for individual apps via the app info (hold press on notification and select app info).

Must be on Android 4.1+ I believe though. I dont think ICS had it. There's also a bug in blocking notifications for 4.1 that inadvertently blocked Toast messages within apps as well, but it was fixed on 4.2. Just something to be aware of if you go blocking them and a developer was not aware enough to avoid putting important info in Toasts.

Guess I've been pretty fortunate because I haven't seen this.

"how many steps i took yesterday "valuable information"

ah. :P

I think this will just end up in a popup nightmare anyway. "you have 50 notifications - 45 requires a reply" inline or not: yay.

I think it would also be interesting if one could simply subscribe to push notifications without even having to download an app.

This light interaction is exactly the sort of thing that products like Glass are going to excel at.

On Apple, isn't a major limitation of iOS? OR is there a mechanism to utilize push better?

Isn't this what analytic packages are for? The app receiving the push message on your phone could anonymously provide analytics back to the server and with that knowledge alone, they know you are using it. Also additional analytics can be provided to see if you actually open the app.

On iOS unless the receiving app is either an official background app (aka GPS/VOIP/Music) or if the app is in the foreground then you are out of luck the app will not know a push was received. The only time the app knows a push was received is when the user act on the notification or if the push did contain a badge then the app can access the badge value... Otherwise nope!

Basically the summary for iOS is really the push is received by the notification center -own by Apple, and your app has no access to it when it run. Technically too if you go in the iOS settings and decide to remove the app from the Notification Center screen, then the pushes start to be 'lost'.

The concept of push is good and iOS now are better than in the past but they are far from being perfect and the iOS settings screen is a mess/confusion when you start playing with it.

> The business impact is that companies are evaluated and funded on the basis of metrics like Daily Active Use, Monthly Active Use, Impressions, Visits. Notifications happen prior to all of these metrics.

These are all vanity metrics, not revenue metrics. There is no problem in adding a new one to the list: "Notifications served" and assuming they are received by engaged users. Just like page views and visits, as good and as bad.

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