Smartphones investigate

Android's killer feature just boosted its lead over iPhone

A key feature where of Android trumps the iPhone is notifications. With iOS 6 and Android 4.1 on the horizon, the gap is about to widen.

Google's Hugo Barra introduces Android 4.1 at Google I/O 2012. Photo credit: Google

Leading up to Apple's WWDC 2012 earlier this month, I wrote that Android still had one killer feature that was unlikely to be replicated in iOS 6. The feature, of course, is Android's alert and notification system that provides timely updates of key messages and glance-able views of the most important information on your smartphone.

Now that WWDC and Google I/O have spilled the beans on the next versions of iOS and Android, it's clear that the iPhone not only failed to gain ground on Android in notifications but is falling farther behind.

While Apple announced some good stuff coming in iOS 6 -- such as 3D maps, Siri improvements, FaceTime over cellular, and the new Passbook app to digitize loyalty cards, coupons, and tickets (my favorite new feature) -- the new iOS does little to improve the notification system introduced in iOS 5.

Meanwhile, in the upcoming Android 4.1 "Jelly Bean," Google is unleashing major improvements to its already-potent notification system. With a two-finger gesture to expand the alert, Android notifications will now include additional preview information and more actionable options. For example, this enable the following :

  • For a missed call, tap "Call Back" or "Message" (to send a text)
  • For a calendar notification, snooze the alert or quickly email all of the participants using a canned response (if you're running late or can't make it, for example)
  • For Gmail, preview messages more fully and initiate a response
  • For Google+, see a photo that has been shared and +1 it or share it straight from notifications
  • For Google's Music app you can see the song that's currently playing and hit pause, play, or skip straight from the notification

While all of the examples here are from Google's own apps, the new notification capabilities aren't limited to those apps. Google has rolled out all of these capabilities to third party app developers and apps like Pulse, Foursquare, Spotify, and Path are already queuing up their apps to take advantage of it.

Of course, if too many apps take advantage of notifications then it can flood the notification shade and make it a lot less useful. Fortunately, Google now has a better solution for that, too. You can now long-press any notification to see which app posted it and get into the notification preferences for that app where you can disable all notifications from the app or even uninstall the app.

To get a look at the new notification system in action, take a look at the two videos below. The first video is Google's introduction to Android 4.1 Jelly Bean and the part about notifications begins at the 3:23 mark in the video. The second video is CNET's first look at Android 4.1 and the bit about notifications runs from 0:40-0:59.

The biggest beef with Android 4.1 notifications is that they will never come to a lot of current Android devices because of the slow update fiasco in the Android ecosystem. Currently, about 65% of Android devices are still running Android 2.3 and only 7% are running Android 4.0.

The prospects for getting a lot of today's devices onto 4.1 aren't very good, although Google said that the Galaxy Nexus, Nexus S, and Motorola Xoom will get the 4.1 update in mid-July. New Android devices will start getting 4.1 in the second half of 2012, beginning with the new Nexus 7 tablet that was announced at Google I/O. However, a lot of the Android phones that will arrive in the coming months will come with Android 4.0 and will have a questionable timeline for ever getting Android 4.1. That's too bad, since this notification system upgrade takes a great feature and makes it even better.

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About

Jason Hiner is the Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He is an award-winning journalist who writes about the people, products, and ideas that are revolutionizing the ways we live and work in the 21st century.

11 comments
Mary1010
Mary1010

I switched from Android to iPhone and I found that Android updates were much more timely. It's not specific to Facebook either. Gmail and other apps all suffer from the same problem. I love they have an explicit push option for most of these apps yet it still acts like its on fetch. A good side-effect is that data usage and battery life is better on my iPhone than my android.

VW-Driver-2012
VW-Driver-2012

Android users, welcome to features us Windows Phone users have had for about a year!

fhrivers
fhrivers

Google is grave-robbing hoping that no one will notice... *Yawn* Too bad the interface is still ugly as sin.

KBabcock75
KBabcock75

Sorry I bought a Droid and have not been able to upgrade it since 2.2. If I had bought a iPhone I would be enjoying the newest iOS. Their not burning me a second time, iPhone is next. All the greats features mean nothing if the majority of the installed based can not use them,. I can see at one point not being able to upgrade but a year after I buy the phone?!? They will be able to pull in the kids who are always looking for the newest hardware with this strategy (or lack of strategy) but people will get tiered of spending big bucks only to not be able to use the newest OS.

bromass
bromass

In one and a half day tops, you have flashed your phone and had gone thru so much that the only fault u have are your own. That does not sit well! (to say it lightly)

RockerGeek!
RockerGeek!

I have a Verizon Nexus and as soon as I saw that Team Liquid ported the GSM code for ours, I snatched it up. I've had 4.1 for a little more than 24 hours on my phone w/no major issues. (Had a couple small ones, totally my fault though.) I really enjoy the new notification system. It's very fluid and helpful. One thing I noticed straight away that wasn't mentioned was that after I flashed my phone, signed in and started resyncing apps, the "app1 was installed" notifications didn't fill up the top of my phone. In fact, as soon as it finished, it disappeared! I got other notifications for emails and texts as my stuff synced to my phone, and they weren't jumbled in the mess or accidentally cleared by myself. The new notification set up is just the top of the jelly bean pile...it gets way cooler as you use it!

dangoody27_1
dangoody27_1

Hence the reason they acquired Motorola. Apple has the advantage of only having 1 piece of hardware to deal with and only 3 previous models. Android is on multiple devices from multiple vendors. Now that Google can control the HW & SW side, things will be a lot better.

MLFManager
MLFManager

I have had most of these features forever, so what's the big deal?

Dr. Solar
Dr. Solar

The Motorola Droid (if that's the Droid we're looking for) came out in 2009. If you'd bought an iPhone then, it would have been a 3GS, which is the oldest model Apple still supports. Once the next iPhone comes out, you're not going to be able to upgrade to the next iOS.

JJFitz
JJFitz

about the next Android OS. It's just the techies who care. To prove it, try this... Find a random Android user on the street, subway, bus, restaurant (wherever) and say, "Hey, what kind of phone is that? Oh. Cool. Does it run on gingerbread or ice cream sandwich? When do you think it will get jelly bean?" I guarantee that most people will say, "Huh?"

RockerGeek!
RockerGeek!

I read your comment several times and I think you're referring to the small issues that I caused myself. Let me clarify- I had forgotten to wipe my cache and data one of the times I flashed Jelly Bean (yes, I've seen multiple versions and flashed a few), so Google did not ask for my info at first boot. That can happen on ANY ROM, not just a brand new one. However, if you meant something else (not sure b/c of your grammar: or rather your lack thereof), please elaborate so that I might answer any questions you have. :)