By May 27, 2013

Expand and Collapse Android Notifications

I’ve been an Android user for over three years. One of the things I like the most about Android is how quickly it evolves. My first Android handset (HTC Droid Incredible) ran 2.1. While I managed to figure it out the user interface had a lot of room for improvement, especially for new users.

Android 4.0 contained several major user interface improvements in October of 2011, but Google hasn’t stopped there. Currently at version 4.2.2, Google’s touch-based operating system has some big changes like multi-user accounts on one device.

However, every once in awhile I find little things that are pretty damn neat. Expanding and collapsing notifications is the latest small feature that impacts my daily usage in a big way.

Android puts notifications at the top of the screen (iOS does this now, too). You can reveal the notification pane by swiping downwards. Here you’ll find tidbits of information, like an unread email message, the weather, or a Facebook update.

The ability to expand notifications came about in June of 2012 with Android 4.1., according to the Android version history page on Wikipedia. I remember watching the Google 4.1 announcement; one of the 4.1 improvements was the ability to reveal more information and immediate actions within a notification.

What’s unclear to me is if 4.1 allowed users to expand and contract notifications, or if this was introduced later. Until I discovered this trick, I always thought Android expanded a notification only if there was enough room to do so.

Expanding a notification is easy: put your finger on a notification and swipe down. The tricky part is collapsing it again. The most consistent way I’ve found is to do a pinch gesture, but this can be difficult if you have large fingers and/or are working with a smaller display. Sometimes I’ve been able to swipe up to collapse a notification, but this isn’t always the case. Try the pinch first.

Here’s a quick video to show what I mean:

I really like the notification expand and contract functionality. I can quickly make decisions if I want to open, delete, or reply to an email. I also like expanding and contracting the weather notification so I don’t have to open the full weather app on my phone or tablets. However, like each version of Android, there’s a refinement period to make this functionality more user accessible, and also more “discoverable.”

Perhaps future iterations of Android will have more obvious behavioral rules about expanding and collapsing, and maybe even a visual indicator that you can grab and resize your notifications.

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