Push notifications are one of the miracles of the modern age - they help us stay connected, informed, and responsive.

Yet despite the proliferation of Smart devices, Personalisation, Machine Learning models, and ubiquitous sensors and tags … they are also incredibly annoying and distracting.

Many people have more than one device - just sat here writing this I have an Android phone, an iPad, my semi-smartwatch, a Windows laptop, an Alexa device, and the Mac I’m typing on right now. Oh, and on that Mac I also have a remote desktop connection open to a work Windows machine.

When someone sends me a message on Telegram or Teams the notification pops up on my Mac - which is great because that’s where I’m working, and where I can react. But then every other device also lets out a little chirp because they want to be helpful. Same for a calendar notification. Every one accompanied by a chorus of devices demanding attention.

What is also very frustrating is if I’ve left my iPad in a different room (I work from home and a large part of my routine is spending different parts of the day in different parts of the house) it still merrily chirps away to itself (annoying anyone who happens to be in the room), and when I pick it up later there’s a stream of stale notifications all vying for attention even though they’ve long ago been responded to. It’s not just the iPad that’s at fault, if I cancel a calendar reminder on my phone, it’s still waiting for me in Outlook when I get back to the computer.

What we need to see is two-fold - targeted notifications, and housekeeping.

Targeted Notifcations would be smart and see devices work together to determine where you are active and while notifications may be sent to all of them, they’d not all beep, just the one you’re active on. If it’s not obvious which device is ‘active’ (ie I am not actively interacting with anything) then using the sensors on phone or smartwatch it should be possible to make a good guess which device is closest to hand where I might want to be alerted.

If you don’t see or action a notification on one device then they would be allowed to try and get your attention on the next device you become active on, unless…

Housekeeping would use the same underlying communications infrastructure to ensure that once a notification was cleared or responded to in one place it would disappear everywhere.

Of course it seems logical, but it would require a lot of moving pieces to come together with both the push notification providers adding support, platforms and applications enabling this, and everyone playing nicely together around a common standard.