How Apple can solve the multiple iMessage alert conundrum

By , Apr 13, 2012

If you’ve taken advantage of iOS 5′s iCloud functionality, you understand how much potential is on tap. iCloud coerces all all of your iOS devices to stay in sync; at least that’s the theory.

While the potential is certainly there, iCloud still has a way to go before all of its issues are ironed out; though I definitely commend Apple for being gung-ho about its rollout.

One of the main issues that I’ve personally experienced — and no doubt countless others share similar sentiments — is with iMessage. More specifically, since iCloud can sync every iOS 5 device you own, all of your devices alert you when you receive a new iMessage.

Now I know; why not just disable alerts altogether for all but one device? Well, there’s a number of reasons why I would not want to do that. The main reason being is that you shouldn’t have to select one feature over another. iCloud is meant for convenience, and taking such a step would certainly be a leap backwards.

Instead, let’s examine a more proactive approach — utilizing the iPhone’s built in technology to solve the issue. That’s exactly what we tried to do. Introducing our solution to the multiple iMessage alert conundrum — Alert Priority.

We first came up with the idea of Alert Priority during our inaugural iDB podcast. We were all discussing how annoying notifications were, and I mentioned the fact that whenever I receive an iMessage it comes to every single iOS device I own. Trust me, if you’ve yet to experience that phenomenon, believe me when I tell you it’s incredibly annoying.

Needless to say, Alert Priority is an idea that we brainstormed on the whim while recording our podcast. Since then, we’ve attempted to flesh out the idea and give it some substance.

Here’s how it might work:

  • When a new iMessage arrives, the device at the top of the Alert Priority list receives the notification.
  • If that device is unavailable, the next device on the list receives the notification.
  • This Alert Priority is only valid when the devices are within range of each other, as determined by GPS location awareness. Locations are polled at set intervals to conserve battery.
  • In the above example, only the iPad will receive an audible Notification.

Seems feasible enough, doesn’t it? By the way, the video drawings were done with the awesome Paper app for the iPad. Check out our post on Paper for more details.

What do you think?

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  • Kok Hean

    This would be great!

    Anyway, how did you create the mockup screenshot?

    • http://www.youtube.com/myjailbreakmovies/ Jeff Benjamin

      I used photoshop with the help of the iOS 5 GUI PSD.

      • Kok Hean

        Nice, thanks for the reply!

      • Anonymous

        I thought it looked rendered…
        But overall, pretty impressive.

        Also, when you say it can be configured in the Settings app, do you mean that it’s already there or we have to install something?

  • Emre SÜMENGEN

    Sorry, but doesn’t make sense (to me)…

    Sign-up to iMessage with different IDs if you don’t want to receive the message?

    I like the fact that I can be with my iPhone or iPad and it doesn’t matter which… I am sure to get my message and be able to reply in time…

    By the way, having all those matching and queueing will delay the message, making it like a push-mail conversation :(

    • http://www.youtube.com/myjailbreakmovies/ Jeff Benjamin

      How doesn’t it make sense? I can understand if you wouldn’t use it, but how doesn’t it make sense? The thing is, It would be an option. Not mandatory. I understand that not everyone would like it, but I would, and I’m sure many more would too.

      • Anonymous

        I know I would love it!

    • http://twitter.com/M0esmac Modest Noreika

      So if your iPad is in your house while your family members are there, and you with your iPhone are at school whatewah, your family will hear notifications and read them. Thats nice.

      • Anonymous

        Well, basically, yes.

    • Anonymous

      It makes a lot of sense and is a great idea. The typical scenario would be an iPad and iPhone or Mac & iDevice. While you’re at home might want to give your iPad/Mac priority over your iPhone etc. You would get the notifications at your iPad/Mac but could continue on the iPhone when ever you felt like it as it would update when you opened the iMessage app. Step outside without your iPad/Mac and you would get the notification at your iPhone.

      It would be bliss…

  • Anonymous

    Why would the devices have to talk to one another? Why not just have iMessage respect the priority setting and ignore the other devices. iMessage already reports read receipts so you know when your messages are read, so it’d be easy enough for iMessage’s iCloud priority service to determine if the message was successfully sent to the first device on the list. If the message was successful, the other devices don’t display an alert. If the first device is unreachable, the message goes to the next device and so on.

    • Anonymous

      Watch the video and it makes sense.

  • Anonymous

    Someone should make a tweak for this. I would if I knew how.

  • Anonymous

    Nice!! I have iPhone, iPad, MacBook and iMac. And this is nice, because when i receive a iMessage i have to read quick because if i not read fast then push to all devices, sometimes bip, bip, on iphone, bip bip on ipad… :) drive me crazy :) and this is a great solution!!!

  • http://twitter.com/EthanBB SK.i-Net

    Great concept … alternative method of positioning … all devices are on same WiFi network = alert just one ;-)

  • Anonymous

    It’s not a conundrum at all. I don’t want my iPad, iPod touch, or worse, my MacBook Air or Mac Mini (thanks to mountain lion) receiving iMessages when I’m not at home to answer them. Therefore, I use iCloud on my primary device i.e., my iPhone which also happens to be the device most people carry anyhow. I have an alternate address that I use for my iPad. You can add subsidiary addresses under your iCloud account for things like FaceTime and iMessage if you have multiple idevices.

    Your idea seems cool but there’s no way I would have all of my devices setup with the same iCloud account. I can see it now, I send my wife a sexy messages on her iPhone at work and when she replies the kids at home are on the iPad reading it.

    No thanks!!!

    • Dan

      Hahaha, never thought of that. It’s just me and the gf at home so we don’t have that problem but it could be an issue down the line.

  • http://twitter.com/smimon Simon Wood

    Seems reasonable, but I think location via GPS is a bad idea. Plenty of people disable location services altogether, or will have devices indoors or in their pockets where you cannot get a satellite fix. Additionally, a device could poll via GPS, consider itself “in range”, and you could walk out the door with it 2 seconds later. If the device you have with you is 2nd on your priority list whilst the 1st remains at home, you’re not going to get the notification. Or at the least, you’d have to wait 30 minutes extra for it if I understand your Interval idea correctly?

    A better way to determine whether devices are “in range” might be based on a combination of a) whether the devices are on the same wifi network b) which wifi networks are in range (compare lists) c) triangulation of position from masts

  • Mathew Rice

    Really like the concept Jeff, but I’m thinking the phrase “Alert Priority” could be revised.
    Why not “Alert Proximity”? Considering your concept involves the known location of devices and their proximity to one and other, “Alert Proximity” seems more fitting.
    “Alert Priority” feels a lot more like I would simply have the convenience of prioritizing which devices visually and audibly alert me where as “Alert Proximity” deals with managing alerts in relation to the location of the devices.

    To take this concept further as well, if iCloud/iMessage could be intelligent enough to prioritize my alerts proximity based on which device I last responded to a message with, that would be fantastic.

    So to summarize, the prioritization of alerts would be managed by the proximity of the devices and for whichever device was last used to respond to the most recent message.

    :p I guess an even better feature name for this comprehensive wish could be, “Alert Awareness”…
    What do you think?

  • Mace Francis

    Man this would be so great. I support!

  • http://twitter.com/Hpridham Hudson Pridham

    The method you’ve outlined is flawed: what if a user is using a device listed as secondary in priority when sitting right beside a device listed as the first priority? All notifications would be alerted on the first priority device sitting beside the user but the device in the user’s hands would remain silent. Doesn’t this strike you as problematic?

    Also the use of GPS to find device locations? Seriously, that is a huge problem, I can’t believe you’re even suggesting it.  GPS has a massively detrimental affect on battery life and only work outdoors.  Using cellular triangulation would save the battery but wouldn’t give an accurate fix on the devices position, not to mention users would be incredibly adverse to the idea of letting Apple know where they are 24 7.

    That said this  problem can easily be fixed if you used the device’s Bluetooth radios to detect if the devices were in range of each other. Bluetooth only has a range of about 30 feet anyway see you’re getting the same effect as the GPS range tracking… whatever it was you were suggesting…

    As for the devices being beside each other when notifications come in, ‘alert priority’ has to be aware of the last device a user happens to be in contact with (meaning which device was last interacted with). This information can be synced up to iCloud, thus allowing for proper dispatch of notifications from the cloud to the device the user is using. This system is elegant and more apple like in its approach because it doesn’t require users to decide which device they prioritize more. Instead, the priority is done automatically by which device they happen to be using. Using this approach applied to my previous example, if these two devices were then pulled apart notifications would be automatically sent to both of them because the Bluetooth link between them would be broken. If the devices were brought back together notifications would resume being sent to just one device, likely the device the user is carrying as it is likely the device that the user would have been using last.

    If you like this idea please update your video as I think it’s an excellent way of showing Apple how to do their job correctly.

  • Anonymous

    Can we all agree that iMessage is just the beginning…I mean I have apps that I run on both of my iOS devices (iPad and iPhone) and sometimes I get notified on both for things. Like Facebook sends a little update, or twitter, etc. How about apps in general that are set to notifications go to whatever device is either prioritized or last used? That way when I get an email I don’t get a pop up or ping sound on my phone, iPad and mac but whatever I am using at the moment? I know this may be complicated in the backend but that is how it needs to run on the front end.

    my two cents

  • http://www.facebook.com/AKChris82 Chris Williams

    Dude this is SWEET!!!..Now i Don’t have to get it on my iPad..when my iPhone is right NEXT to me..or when the Next OS comes out for the iMac..SWEET..I hope this is an Achievable goal.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve noticed iMessage/SMS has been SENDING out Messages multiple times from my iPhone and some of my friends and families iPhone 4/4s.

    Anyone else been getting this problem for the past week or two?