The stock Android 4.2 notification “toggles” are practically worthless, but Google Now can make them better
Google finally introduced a notification area settings menu in Android 4.2, but it wasn’t what most people were looking for. While manufacturers like HTC and Samsung, as well as lots of custom ROM developers, have long included toggles to change settings and perform actions from the lock screen, Google’s official offering only provided shortcuts to specific areas in the settings menu, with the exception of the brightness and airplane mode toggles, which actually work as independent toggles.
In certain situations, this actually makes the new notification area less efficient than the old system. With the new system, it takes three taps to turn WiFi or Bluetooth on and off from the notification menu: one to switch to the quick settings menu, one to tap on Bluetooth or WiFi settings, and another to actually tap on the toggle. With the Android 4.1 notification shade, only two taps were needed: one to open the main page of the settings menu, and another to adjust the toggles. Because the Nexus 7 has two separate shades, this doesn’t apply, but even so at best the new notification toggles are only just as efficient as the old system, and in a few cases actually require more taps to accomplish the same goal.
The obvious solution to making the notification toggles better is to make the notification toggles both actual toggles and user customizable, just as CyanogenMod does. Toggles that actually work with one tap and can be added or removed by users would be a start (as an aside, I’m particularly baffled that the Nexus 4 doesn’t have a screen rotation toggle while the Nexus 7 does), but it wouldn’t be anything new. Nearly everyone has already done it before, and Samsung even has some contextual notification menus on the Note II.
However, Google does have a service already at its disposal that could make the notification area settings great: Google Now. While admittedly inspired at least somewhat by Windows Phone’s Live Tiles, I think that Google would find it beneficial to add tiny Google Now cards to the notification area settings. Currently, a notification displays in the regular notification area indicating that there are new cards to be viewed, but doesn’t show much actual information. Utilizing the empty space that is already present in the notification area settings menu, Google could add tiny Google Now cards with sports scores, weather, and traffic times, all in a way that is even more easily accessible to the user. In fact, the Clock app already does something of the sort by showing a contextual “tile” when there is an upcoming alarm, although the information isn’t very useful most of the time.
I’m sure there are limitations to adding Google Now-type tiles and live information to the notification area settings menu, but when combined with functioning and user customizable toggles, the feature could make that extra notification shade really great. Whereas currently it doesn’t serve much of a purpose at all, with Google Now cards the area would once again become useful. True toggles are the next logical step to make the notification settings area more useful, but if Google really wants to do something different, they should utilize the information they already have with Google Now to turn the wasted space into a useful (and fairly unique) feature.