Tech News

iOS 15 features could include Apple’s big notification upgrade

Apple’s iOS 15 and iPadOS 15, its upcoming major software refreshes for iPhone and iPad, will include a significant rework of how notifications are handled, according to a new report, potentially addressing a growing criticism of alert overload on mobile devices. The two new OSes – one designed for phones, the other for tablets, after Apple opted to cleft development in two – are expected to be previewed at WWDC 2021, the company’s annual developer event in early June.

Notifications and the Lock Screen in general has increasingly become a point of contention for iOS and iPadOS users. In the early days of the iPhone platform, Apple’s treatment of each notification as a separate block made sense; more recently, however, with a dramatic uptick in the number of apps and services wanting to push out their respective alerts to users, the Lock Screen has arguably become unruly and it’s easy to potentially miss a notification.

Apple has finessed the UI over the years, including grouping notifications by app, and there are settings which can control whether software can show a full notification or a more fleeting one. All the same, chatter of a revamp has been around for some time, and it seems iOS 15 and iPadOS 15 will be when it lands.

Users will be able to set different notification preferences, based on their current status, sources tell Bloomberg. That could include whether their iPhone or iPad makes a noise. Unlike the current, fairly blunt “Do Not Disturb” or driving modes – the latter which can automatically activate when the iPhone is in CarPlay mode in a vehicle – there’ll be multiple settings supposedly accessed via a new menu.

For example, users could set that they’re working, sleeping, driving, or a custom category – such as exercising – with a different set of notification preferences for each. That menu will be accessible from the new Lock Screen as well as in the Control Center. Automatic message replies, as are currently supported in driving mode, will also be supported for each status.

For iPadOS 15 specifically, there’ll be new Home Screen options. The widgets that Apple added to iOS 14 last year, which can be intermingled with regular icons on the Home Screen, will be expanded to iPadOS 15 it’s suggested. Currently, iPad widgets are corralled into a separate pane.

Both iOS 15 and iPadOS 15 will also expand Apple’s focus on privacy, the sources say. There’ll be a new menu which lists all of the personal data being collected and shared by apps, in part of an attempt to make more clear what information may be gathered in the background. It follows new rules Apple has applied to developers around disclosing data sharing policies and more.

Finally, there are said to be changes afoot to iMessage, Apple’s messaging platform. Though possibly not arriving in time for WWDC 2021, the updates are believed to be with a mind to making iMessage more of a social network than it is now, though exactly how that would operate is unclear at this stage.

WWDC 2021 kicks off on June 7, and – like last year – will be held entirely online rather than as an in-person event. Registration is open now, and unlike in previous years will be free and uncapped in number to developers.

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Flappy Bird Comes to Mac as Clever Interactive Notification

Most notifications you receive on MacOS turn out to be fairly routine: a new email from mom, an update for your favorite app, a reminder to finally start backing up your Mac. But not anymore: One developer has been able to cram the entire game Flappy Bird into a notification.

The remarkable feat was achieved by developer Neil Sardesai, who took a clone of Flappy Bird created by Wil Eastcott of PlayCanvas and crowbarred it into the new UserNotificationsUI framework in MacOS Big Sur. The result is a large notification (roughly the size and dimensions of an iPhone screen) that you can interact with to play the popular side-scroller game.

Sardesai shared a video of the notification in action. At first, an innocuous-looking alert consisting of a few lines of text appears in the top-right corner of the screen. When the user clicks the arrow on the notification, it expands to reveal the game, which can be interacted with by clicking anywhere inside the alert.

Did you know you can put a whole game inside of a push notification

— Neil Sardesai (@neilsardesai) April 9, 2021

Sardesai’s work raises questions as to what else might be possible with the UserNotificationsUI framework. Perhaps your favorite Mac puzzle game could send you a new miniature brain-teaser at regular intervals to keep you on your toes. Or we might see a reminder or calendar app presenting a large notification with directions to your next appointment.

On the other hand, it might be possible for some enterprising marketing team to send you large ads delivered via notifications, which might be a more unwelcome development. If this line of inquiry starts to develop, no doubt Apple will have something to say about it, given the company’s stance on invasive ad tracking.

However, Sardesai seems confident this is an unlikely problem, as you must explicitly give an app permission to send you notifications (which can then be revoked), and most of the alert’s content is hidden until you click to expand it.

The original Flappy Bird was removed from the App Store in 2014 after its creator, Dong Nguyen, revealed he was troubled by what he felt was its addictive nature. Since then, hordes of clones have appeared on the App Store and elsewhere — one of which allowed Sardesai to port the game into a clever Mac notification.

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Tech News

Microsoft Edge crowdsources which notification requests to silence

Although notifications have been around since the earliest days of desktop computing, the smartphone has probably made them even more pervasive and invasive. The practice has even crept into other non-mobile systems, particularly web browsers and websites. Browser makers have been trying to keep these notifications in check, include requests to even show users those notifications in the first place. Microsoft has just announced that Edge is also leading that front with a new adaptive notification request system that seeks the wisdom of the crowd on what to keep quiet or allow.

Web browsers have actually tried to control the flood of notifications by asking users first whether to enable notifications on a per-site basis. That itself, however, has also become distracting, forcing browser makers like Google and Microsoft to implement “quiet notifications” that don’t display a popup prompt. Instead, the prompt will be hidden behind a subtle icon on the address bar.

Quiet notifications, however, are all or nothing and they also silenced what used to be notifications that were mostly accepted by users. Microsoft also reported that some users were confused about how to enable notifications again or why they weren’t receiving them in the first place. It realized that it needed to enable notification requests on popular sites while quieting others and developed what it now calls Adaptive Notification Requests.

In a nutshell, this means that notification popups will be determined by whether a website is known for having a high acceptance rate for such requests. Rather than be the one to judge that itself, Microsoft says it will be using data gathered from actual user choices to rank sites. Each action, such as clicking on “Allow” or “Block” or even ignoring the popup altogether gives sites a score that will determine whether those popups will show up for other users.

Quiet notifications were enabled by default but starting Microsoft Edge version 88 they will be disabled by default instead to make Adaptive Notification Requests work. Users who manually changed quiet notifications before, however, won’t have their settings suddenly changed from under their feet. It also bears noting that this feature necessarily involves some data being sent back to Microsoft to accumulate those user choices, though we will give it the benefit of the doubt that proper security and privacy measures have been put in place.

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Tech News

This random message notification will crash your iPhone before you even read it

It’s been a minute since we’ve had a weird iPhone texting bug, so it’s about time for another. EverythingApplePro has uncovered a strange character-emoji string that will crash iPhones running the latest version of iOS.

The bug only appears to affect iOS 13.4.1 and involved a string of Sindhi language characters you’re unlikely to receive unless someone’s trying to mess with you. But with cabin fever setting in from our nationwide coronavirus shelter-in-place orders, it’s highly possible your friends might try it out on you.

As bugs go, it’s more of a nuisance than a security risk, but it will cause your iPhone to become unresponsive and possibly crash when the notification arrives. The bug isn’t limited to texting either. Any notification containing the string of characters can potentially lock up an iPhone, as EverythingApple Pro realized after tweeting about the bug.

The bug is confirmed to have been fixed in iOS 13.4.5—which also patches a few iOS Mail flaws that were uncovered this week—so if you want to fix it you can sign up for the Public Beta. Otherwise, turning off notifications for messaging apps will also mitigate the issue.

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