The End of App Icons As We Know Them: True or False?

November 17, 2014

Recently we noticed lots of articles about a so called paradigm shift in mobile apps development. Many mobile app developers have agreed that the experience of our primary mobile screen being a bank of app icons that lead to independent destinations is… dying! It is said that how we experience content via connected devices – laptops, phones, tablets, wearables – is undergoing a dramatic change. The idea of an app as an independent destination is becoming less important, and the idea of an app as a publishing tool, with related notifications that contain content and actions, is becoming more important. This will change what we design, and change our product strategy.

Let’s make an attempt to clarify this issue: are these changes what we really need to expect or are they greatly overestimated?

Things began to change with iOS 8 and Android KitKat, where the notification center is becoming the most important screen in the phone.

Notifications used to be signposts to go to other places. They make it possible to know about everything that happens without having to fire up an app. A notification lets you know you have a new email, a new text message, a new Snapchat etc. Literally, they work as reminders to open an app. But what’s changing today is that they’ve become INTERACTIVE. They’re not just simple announcements or even calls to actions anymore. They are actions in and of themselves. It seems interactive notifications will impact all sorts of new users’ behaviors.

Moreover, Android enabled breaking notifications into independent cards that stack below each other. This means that we have moved pretty quickly from notifications as signposts, to containers (cards) that include content, and actions on that content.

This is why mobile app developers are talking about app icons dying and the appearance of notification cards in their place. Let’s see what Oleg Sheremet, UX/UI Designer at Intellectsoft, thinks about this issue:

Certainly notification cards are increasingly becoming functional (in iOS and Android simultaneously). Cards are absolutely irreplaceable in specific new devices such as smartwatches. They help to quickly understand what has happened lately and react. Whether a user opens the application using the icon or interacts with it through the card – for me, it is an open question, and I think that the answer depends on the individual case and specificity of an application.

Let’s consider me as a typical user. For example, I use Twitter every day. I open it approximately six times during a day to see what is happening in the world in these troubled times. If you remove an application in the form of an icon somewhere far away, then I will have to use notification cards. That is why first of all I will need to find the Twitter card among lots of other cards. Then I will see the latest tweet or comment on the card.  If this card is the last comment on my tweet, and I want to look at the list of recent tweets of those I follow, I will either have to change the type of the card (after all, if I swipe left and right, I will see a similar type of data – comments to my tweets) or, with the help of this card, open the application and select what interests me there.

Even if the card contains the last tweet and I can swipe to the left or right in order to see the rest of the tweets, I still prefer to open the application to full screen, because it’s more convenient for me to run through the tweets by scrolling down. That is why, in this example, I feel that there may be different situations. To be notified and respond to something is OK. To search for a card in aim to run the app to see the tweets is not OK, because it’s easier to open a Twitter icon that is always at the same place.

Apparently, the concept of notification cards and icons dying will increasingly be implemented in everyday life, but at the moment I do not see how it can completely replace the “display of a bunch of apps icons that lead to different places.” Another very interesting question for me is how to get rid of screens with icons in the case of games 🙂

As we can see, the question of cards replacing icons depends on the user’s desire/intent to stay PASSIVE (to be informed, reminded or, as a maximum, to be offered the chance to make a response or another simple action) or to become ACTIVE (to create new content or take other more “complex” actions) while using a specific app.

We offer you the main principles of notification card development that are important to consider today when imagining the next product or refreshing the current one.


  1. Try to think about what is the most valuable minimal content you can display in notification cards and the actions attached to that.

  1. Think about not just screens in an app, but a system of objects and relationships between them.

  2. Apps will become more about information and communications. We need to think of them as services instead of as windows onto our data. The things that can make best use of single click efficiency will soar.

  3. In a world of many different screens and devices, content may appear on an incomprehensible number of devices and in an incomprehensible number of situations. This will need new design principles and new ways of thinking about researching context.

  4. The daily mantra for developers: “Sketch systems, not screens. Design systems, not destinations”.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and concerns below. We promise to do our best to quickly respond and keep the conversation moving forward.