Let's talk lock screen notifications.

There's a lot of talk around a notification center that will undoubtedly be coming to Windows Phone 8.1 and while I'm happy for the people who really want that, I don't think it will be that important to me. It wasn't on my iPhone 4, the only time I ever interacted with the notification center was by accident as I pulled it down while playing Fruit Ninja. What's far more important to me are lock screen notifications and I think WP can improve a lot in this area.

First of, there's some things I really like about the current lock screen notifications in WP:

  1. They're persistent and stick around until you actually open the app. While my iPhone had good notifications on the lock screen, they disappeared as soon as you unlocked your phone. So the reminder to check your mail disappeared as you unlocked your phone to do something else.
  2. They're opt-in rather than opt-out. You select which apps you want to have on your lock screen, rather than having it polluted by notifications that you don't really care about which you'll have to disable manually. This also makes the persistent nature possible; if I put my mail on my lock screen, I probably care enough about it to have always be there until I actually check my mail, the same can't be said for some game giving you a notification slash advertisement that a new DLC pack is available to buy.

But now for the bad parts:

It just blows my mind that Microsoft decided that 5 apps on your lock screen should be enough. I'm hardly a huge app user but I want at least the following apps to show me notifications: work mail, personal mail, messages, calls, WhatsApp (already used up my limit here), Lync, Skype, Twitter, Facebook. And I don't understand why I can't do this. There's no technical limitation, there's no UI limitation. This limitation is completely arbitrary.

Just make the bar that the icons live on scroll to the left, with an indicator there's more to the right. Or add a second row of icons in case you have more than 5 notifications. It's not even a hard problem. The only advantage the current approach has is that the same app always has the same position; WhatApp is always the right-most icon for me. This is nice, but I would be willing to sacrifice that just to know that someone tried to talk to me on Lync. And even that characteristic could probably be maintained without the 5-app limit.

The same goes for the detailed notifications.

I hope and expect Microsoft to realize this, but still consider it ridiculous that this current limit was even shipped and persisted through three GDR updates so far. One thing that actually makes me pessimistic that WP 8.1 will fix this is that this exact same limitation was kept for Windows 8.1 (just a slightly higher number).

In its current form it feels a lot like form over function; sure the lock screen is sparse and beautiful now, but is that really worth it? And can't we find a way to keep the beauty without sacrificing function?