On iOS badges and information density

June 12, 2015

“iOS

Invariably, every time I post a screenshot of my iOS homescreen to Twitter, the @replies roll in fast and furious regarding the badges on many of my icons. The comments range from “Wow, how can you stand all those badges?!”, to “Wow, you’re so behind on x, you should just give up!”. Nonsense, all of them.

The pocket computer (for the past few years I've loathed calling these things phones) is a tool. I use it for work, play, and damn near everything in between. I’m fond of saying that these days I can do 90% of my job from this hand-held machine—it’s THE BEST. Also, I’m an information junkie and to actively not surface data that I think would be useful seems insane to me.

Does that mean I get notifications and badges for every app on my iPhone? Of course not. You’ll notice, for example, that the Mail app has no badge. Of course that’s not because there is no unread email (honestly, it’s a safe bet that each day I deal with more email than you or anyone you know), but rather because that information wouldn’t help me at all—I always know there’s a kajillion emails waiting for me. (For the record, I also don’t get notifications for email—work or personal—because it makes no sense to be interrupted with a small fire every 30 seconds.)

I’m on my iOS device 10+ hours a day. I like to be able to, at a glance, get a sense for where certain things are, and badges help me do that; I like to know what my various “queues” look like (e.g., RSS, Instapaper, Slack, messages, etc.). I don’t look at this device 1000 times a day because I have a pretty background (I do) or because I’ve rearranged my icons into a “fun” pattern (I haven’t). I look at it 1000 times a day to get stuff done and manage my time.

The iPhone is a beautiful tool, but a tool nonetheless. Let the machines work for you now, because soon enough we’ll be working for them.


The reasons above are the same reasons why I use the “Modular” watch face on my Apple Watch, and frankly, it never even crossed my mind to use any other. The whole point of me glancing at my watch is to glean some information (above and beyond just the time), not to see how cute Mickey Mouse can look while eating up 50% of my beautiful retina display.

You should follow me on Twitter here