Why Notifications Are Critical for Google Home and Amazon Echo

Android Headlines is reporting that a new notifications option is showing up for some Google Home users in their companion app. However, those users don’t report any changes when selecting the feature. It is not available on my Google Home app as of this morning, but its presence likely forecasts a near-term feature release. The Verge reported in September that Amazon was planning to bring spoken notifications to Alexa, but we haven’t heard or seen any indications of this to date.

Notifications – A Key Feature

Notifications are among the most important features introduced on mobile devices. An Experian study in 2013 revealed that mobile users averaged 150 sessions on their phone per day. That’s about 10 times per hour for most people. The big driver of these many, discrete sessions are notifications. They prompt users to interact with the phone and go directly into an app.

Localytics published some telling statistics about mobile notifications in 2016:

  • Push notifications increase app engagement by 88%
  • 65% of users return to an app in 30 days when push notifications are enabled
  • 50% of users opt-in to push notifications

An Engagement Tool

Quentin Delaoutre is the co-creator of Jab, a messaging skill for Amazon Alexa. He commented to me recently that messaging will be an important for communications-oriented skills like his. Users can today check their Jab messages by asking Alexa to open their Jab skill, but it will be an added benefit in the future when the Echo can automatically notify a user that a message has been received.

You can see from the video demo that checking Jab for messages is easy enough. However, an audible tone that indicates a message has been received or a notifications center of some sort would be a plus. This could take the form of a tone or text message when a Jab is received and another to let the user know when messages waiting. What we are looking for is the iOS equivalent of a notification on the lock-screen, a chime or buzz, or the number notification you an see on apps on the screen. It will be important that the user isn’t required to go into their Alexa or Google Home app to receive the notifications since those apps are rarely used. A push or passive notification is an essential usability feature.

This is about Alexa skill and Google Action engagement. I am not aware of a study that has evaluated how many Amazon Echo or Google Home sessions are initiated each day, but it is fair to assume the average number is well below 150. Notifications can drive that engagement number up and help make voice assistants more integral to daily life.

A Retention Tool

Voicelabs reported in January that retention for Amazon Alexa skills is an issue. The report concluded:

When a voice application acquires a user, there is only a 3% chance that user will be active in the second week.

This is again where our knowledge of mobile user experience can be instructive. Notifications cannot overcome a poor user experience if the voice application is substandard, but it can keep users engaged and remind them why they tried out the voice application in the first place. Discovery is already a tough problem for new voice applications on Amazon and Google, developers need as many tools as possible to address the retention problem as well.

Will Cortana Have Notifications for Invoke?

There are many aspects of mobile user experience that do not translate into a voice and audio experience. However, notifications almost certainly will. It will be interesting to see if Microsoft Cortana has notifications enabled for the new Invoke device by Harman Kardon. A key selling point for the device is expected to be Skype integration. It is an open question how would you know when you are receiving a Skype call to your device or when one has been placed and you missed it.

Notifications and alerts are essential features of communications mobile apps and data show that it is a big driver of user engagement and retention for all types of apps. It’s time we had these same features for the voice user experience. The Google feature reveal is a good sign that notifications may soon be here on at least one platform.