Mobile

Smarter Smartphone Alerts Come In When You Want Them

A startup says its algorithm can tell when a smartphone notification would just annoy you.

A majority of adults in the U.S. own a smartphone.

Smartphone notifications can be annoying if they interrupt you while you’re working, eating, or sleeping. A startup says it has a way to make sure they’re always helpful.

Called Triggerhood, the New York-based startup says it has built software that developers can add to their apps to collect data from an app itself—such as how long it’s been operating, when it’s opened, and when it’s closed. This information is combined with location data and signals from smartphone sensors that indicate whether the phone’s user is running, driving, or tilting the device, and is sent anonymously to Triggerhood’s servers, where an algorithm determines whether you’re likely to find it a good or bad time to get a notification.

It takes a few days to build a personal profile for a user before Triggerhood can determine that, say, a news app should send you notifications about articles after you go running rather than during your run.

Triggerhood’s cofounder and product head, Guy Balzam, says several small apps are using it. His company is working to bring it to some larger apps as well. Balzam says the information it collects isn’t personally identifiable or linked to a user’s identity.

Cary Stothart, a Florida State University graduate student and the lead author of a recently published paper on disruptive cell phone notifications, says that his research indicates that simply knowing you’ve received a notification can pull attention away from whatever you’re doing at the time. If Triggerhood can figure out how to hold off on sending notifications to people who are driving or working, he says, that could help reduce distractions.

He doesn’t think it will lead to an overall reduction in the notifications we get, though. “Ideally, these apps shouldn’t send notifications unless it’s important,” he says. “But they have to compete with each other, so there’s no stopping them.”

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