I happened upon an article on The Verge recently that spoke to the
broken process hassle of adding a ringtone to the iPhone and how in 2016, experiences like this make the iPhone feel like it’s stuck in 2008.
I am going to document the process that, in 2016, I went through to get my preferred ringtone on an iPhone. It is a story of complaints and gripes, yes, but it is also a story about why Apple’s philosophy about how it thinks the “future of computing” should work keeps making the mistakes of the past. It’s not just process, it’s layers and layers of politics.
This article could not be more accurate, however I don’t think it goes far enough. Just as big an issue as what Dieter Bohn outlines on The Verge is how other UX elements like customizing ‘audio alerts’ for iOS Apps and Notifications is just as broken.
Let’s look at the Alert experience for communication apps – E-mail, Messaging, Notifications and Alerts, etc. Depending on the app, the experience falls into one of two experiences: You are beholden to what the app has chosen as it’s default Alert sound (with rarely any option to change it) or, iOS ‘assigns’ the “Text Tone” alert to all similar communications apps by default. So if you have different communications apps such as two email apps (Gmail and Apple Mail for example), or several chat apps (What’s App, Google Hangouts, Telegram, iMessage, etc.), things become problematic pretty quickly, as you are not able to audibly discern which type of message you are receiving when you phone is in your pocket, bag or wherever.
Yes, you can choose which alert sound you want to assign to email (or text alerts) in iOS’s ‘Sound Settings’, but it is a global setting. And you can assign I prefer to use the Gmail and the Google Inbox apps for my email and have buried Apple Mail in the proverbial “Other” iOS folder on my phone (that’s a whole other issue but thankfully Apple is addressing that). Unfortunately, in this very common scenario, you are not able to customize the Alert sounds assigned to each of these apps. I have to live with whatever the app publisher has defined.
This becomes an issue because I’m not able to audibly differentiate between a Notification from someone I follow on Twitter vs an Email via the Gmail app. Within the Twitter app, you have the ability to receive alerts when certain people/handles you follow send out a Tweet. Since this is set up as an ‘Alert’ in iOS’s Sound settings, whenever I receive one of these ‘Tweet alerts’, it too has the same audible Alert tone as Text messages or many other ‘Alerts’ from other apps, so there is no way to know from the sound which alert just came through. You have to look at the phone to see if the alert is from Twitter, IFTTT, or whatever service you use. Thankfully, Google Inbox has updated their alert sound to a very nice but subtle tone so I am able to use that to know that an email has arrived (In turn, I shut down the Gmail app’s alerts all together).
In many ways, the ‘Alert’ experience and the ringtone experience documented in The Verge are metaphors for Apple’s legacy of controlling the full end-to-end experience. This approach has obviously proven successful for them but at the same time, they need to really think through where they can strike a balance in their approach. Android goes to the complete other extreme, where you can customize too much of it’s experience, and I think that becomes too overwhelming to even the most advanced users. That also brings in too many opportunities for errors and big issues and from that perspective, Apple’s hard line controls are a huge benefit to them and the customer.
Apple has an interesting opportunity to relax subtle but important elements of iOS, and re-work some of their legacy User Interaction experiences to give it’s users/customers enough control to customize the phone to their lifestyle while still providing the controls needed to ensure the essence of the iOS experience is not compromised.