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Notifications Are Better Than Alerts

Posted by Padraig on Feb 02, 2017

The latest beta release of iOS introduces a new feature that allows developers to prompt users to rate their apps. The rating is selected and submitted without leaving the app. It is presented as an alert, using the standard system appearance.

SKStoreReviewController modal alert

It’s a welcome addition but I believe the current interface has a significant flaw. I would like to propose an alternative design.

The problem is that the alert is modal: it takes over the whole interface and must be acted upon (by rating the app or tapping “Not Now”) before the user can do anything else in the app.

Developers can try to avoid bothering users with alerts at inopportune times but if an app is on screen at all, the user probably has a specific task in mind. An alert forces the user to act on it before they can continue, which risks annoying them. This could lead to negative reviews, ignored requests, and an increased likelihood that the user will disable the rating feature system-wide.

iOS already has a feature for communicating information passively: enhanced notifications. These are a fantastic way for users to interact with content without having to switch to another app and without having to interrupt their current task.

Users interact with notifications every day to heart tweets, respond to messages, triage podcast episodes, read news, and more. Notifications don’t require them to act immediately. They don’t block interaction with the rest of the screen. Users can complete whatever task they were working on and then turn their attention to the notification.

I believe that the notification pattern could improve the effectiveness of the rating feature.

  • An app requests that the user be prompted.
  • iOS decides based on policy whether it is appropriate to show a request.
  • If iOS decides to show the request, the interface slides down from the top of the screen like a notification.
SKStoreReviewController proposed notification alert
  • The user can dismiss the UI by swiping up, or waiting, just as they would a regular notification.
  • The user can pull it down or tap to reveal a rating UI.
SKStoreReviewController modal alert

The key point is that users can complete whatever task they were intending to before interacting with the notification

If the new rating feature uses a notification style interface, I believe it will reduce the frustration caused to users by modal alerts. This could lead to fewer users disabling the rating feature, and more ratings being submitted to the App Store.

I have filed an enhancement request with Apple. If it seems like a smart idea to you too, please consider sharing this post and duping the radar.

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