How location-based, persistent reminders could change the game for iOS

Posted by Matt Birchler
β€” 4 min read

UPDATE: I talked about this on my podcast today, if you would rather listen to me gush about this feature instead.

There are a few app types that get special treatment in iOS. Payment apps, for example, get to build in Siri actions. Ride-hailing apps can build in Maps extensions, and photo apps can build in extension for the stock Photos app. And then there are apps that tap into iOS's Wallet system and can display location-based, persistent alerts. What that means in practice is that you get your:

  • Airplane ticket when you are at the airport
  • Cubs ticket when you're at Wrigley Field
  • Target Cartwheel code when at Target
  • Girt card code when at Starbucks

There are more examples, but those are the common ones I get. It's a great system because it's iOS being its best "proactive" self. I'm not telling it that I want to have quick access to my ticket because I'm about to walk up to the gates at the stadium, it's already there. I don't have to dig through my "Never Use" folder on page 4 of my iPhone when I'm at Starbucks and just want to pay for a drink. It's great!

What I would love is for all apps to be able to deliver persistent notifications based on location as well. In my epic Android review, I mentioned how much I love Google's location-based notifications. This one, for example, is what I saw when at a random Target store:

This was helpful in that it gave me some information about that specific store's hours and its return policy, but Apple has the potential to present a lot more than this is it allows third parties to tap into this. Let's follow this Target example further.

Target has an iOS app that allows you to shop, browse for weekly deals, and find coupons. What if I could give the Target app permissions to "location-based notifications" and it could pop up a persistent notification every time I was at one of their stores? Using iOS 10's new rich notifications, Target could present me with any relevant coupons and maybe some popular items from that week that are in stock at that store. They could have a Nintendo Switch inventory feature where I could tell it to alert me if the store I'm in has any Switches in stock. There's tons they could do with this, and I would definitely turn this on for one or two stores.

Or how about a shopping list app that automatically came up whenever you were at a number of stores that you normally do your shopping at? It could pop up as soon as you pull into the parking lot and show you your list of things you need to pick up. Using iOS's rich notifications it could present you with an interactive checklist that you mark off as you go. And because it's a persistent notification, you never have to go back to the app every time you want to check it. Hell, you don't even have to unlock your phone!

Maybe all this shopping talk is bugging you and you want to get away from it all. You're going on vacation to Yellowstone National Park and you downloaded their app because you don't want to miss a thing. They could use persistent, rich iOS notifications to give you a map that shows your exact location from your lock screen when you're in the park. Maybe it could even show a couple points of interest close to your current location.

Let's go back to the airport example, too. Airlines already have the ability to put your ticket on the lock screen as soon as you walk in the door, but what if there could have their full app present you with a persistent notification instead. Pressing into this would show your boarding pass, but it could also show your flight's status and maybe even a countdown clock to when you should be at certain milestones in the process. The airport isn't a national treasure like Yellowstone, but they could even do some sort of mapping by detecting what part of the airport you're in and where you need to go.

By allowing all third parties to do this, and for users to be able to pick and choose what apps get to use these special persistent, location-based notifications, the possibilities are huge! My OmniFocus tasks could be on my lock screen all day when I'm at work. My movie tracking app could come up whenever I'm at a local theater so I remember to log the movie I'm going to see. RunKeeper could be there whenever I get to the gym to start a workout in a flash. My payments app could come up when I get to my store every day.

If Apple did this, they would have to put some new rules in place to make sure your phone didn't become a notification nightmare. There would have to be separate permissions for regular notifications and these special location-based notifications. If one of these somehow was allowed but I don't want it (how many of us just hit "OK" for every permission an app asks for?), I should also be able to easily turn off its ability to do this right from the lock screen.

But location-baed reminders are already a thing in iOS, they're just limited, and rich notifications are something that feels like a big part of the future of iOS, so bringing these things together just seems right to me. Is this coming? Probably not, but I really wish it would.