The Magic of LED Notifications on Mobile Phones

Posted By Debbie on October 4, 2017

Time to talk about the UX of color. As I write this, there are two phones on my desk. Samsung Galaxy Note 5 (my main phone until the Note 8 came) and my only-for-testing iPhone 6. Both are plugged into charge. Both have off, black screens. Can I tell which one is charged up and which one is still charging?

Yes, the Android phone is fully charged and running on AC. A solid green LED light tells me this. The light would be solid red if it were still charging up. The iPhone has no light. I have no idea if it’s done charging.

The UX of color.

Many Android phones have front LED lights that can show up in a variety of colors. Samsung removed this light from their 2017 J7 and I read a lot of online posts where people lost it. Why is a little light so important to Android users but not important enough to Apple to include it in their phones?

The LED on my phone can do some truly amazing things. Now, it does require that you have a decent memory. Like how icons can quickly become hieroglyphics if you’re not careful, lots of LED colors are not for people with very short memories. I have a great memory so this works for me.

Without any special setup, my phone will use different blinking LED colors for:

  • You have a calendar reminder going off.
  • You have a Facebook Messenger chat message.
  • Your phone is charging.
  • Your phone is done charging.
  • And a few others like text message received.

Some Android apps then let you choose what color you would like the LED to blink. That means I also have:

  • A white-ish LED for WhatsApp.
  • Different colors for each email address I pick up (thanks, TypeApp). Purple for Ptype, blue for personal email, orangey for voice acting side work, and red for current contracting job.

If you are imagining the phone blinking in a circus explosion of endless colors, it does not. It blinks JUST for the color of the last notification received. If I have a calendar appointment reminder going off AND a Ptype email comes in, I will just get the purple blink of the Ptype email.

How is this useful?

How many times do you pick up your iPhone and turn on the screen JUST to see if any messages are waiting for you? Or anything is going on? I don’t have to do that as much with my Android. If there is no blinking, then I have no notifications and nothing is going on. I can continue to be human and social rather than constantly checking my phone to see if I missed something.

If we’re out at lunch and I see orange blinking, I can say OK, that’s a voice acting email, I can check that later. Red blinking is current contracting job email, I may want to peek and make sure nothing’s on fire. Green blinking is Facebook Messenger. That can probably wait.

The UX of color and the Android LED light has helped me be a little more social. Turn on the phone screen a little less. Any blinking means I could check notifications. No blinking means don’t turn on the phone to see what’s going on because nothing is going on.

Also helpful is the Android UX of sound and vibration. Stay tuned to the next blog post for that.