More mobile platforms need a feature like BlackBerry's Hub

Evan Selleck
Contributing Editor from  Arizona
| April 11, 2013

My first smartphone, the one I bought for myself, was a BlackBerry-branded device. I can’t for the life of me remember which particular model it was, but what I do remember is one of its software features: the universal inbox. I used it all the time. It was just the simplest way to find emails and text messages at the time. Just hit one option and there they all are, waiting to be seen. I didn’t have to worry about running more than one dedicated app, or anything like that. I could do it all from the universal inbox.

That idea has been one of BlackBerry’s (or RIM’s, back in the day) strongest features, I think. Sure, they’ve got BlackBerry Messenger, but I think it’s the universal inbox that’s been one of the largest selling points for the smartphone of smartphones. We’ve seen it slightly tweaked in its most recent iteration, and now it’s a bit more robust, but the BlackBerry Hub within BlackBerry 10 is still that same universal inbox of yesteryear.

And that isn’t a bad thing.

I’ve grown accustomed over the last few years to using anything else but a universal inbox. To be perfectly honest, I haven’t used a BlackBerry for longer than a week since I got my hands on the Bold 9900 two years ago. I used the universal inbox on that device, even after having not used it on other devices, but I did it only because that’s the way it works on a BlackBerry device. It just makes sense for the device you’re working on. And the same goes for the BlackBerry Hub in BlackBerry 10.

It isn’t just because BlackBerry 10 is built around the idea that you can “peek” into the Hub at any time, to see what items are lying in wait therein while you do other things. While that’s an admittedly great feature (and I use it all the time), it’s just the way BlackBerry is meant to work, as far as I’m concerned. It’s just the way it is. Open one thing, and all the correspondence, or notifications, you can think of are right there, waiting to be activated, manipulated, and/or deleted.

This got me thinking about Windows Phone, and the sheer fact that Microsoft’s mobile operating system is missing a way to populate missed notifications. I used to think that they didn’t need one, that Live Tiles work just as well, but obviously not everyone puts a Live Tile for every single app they’ve downloaded. Even with the new way to customize the Windows Phone Start screen. Which is why Windows Phone needs both options: a place to see past, missed notifications, as well as their Live Tiles.

If you noticed, I kept putting missed notifications in there. This is one area that many people have to get accustomed to with BlackBerry’s Hub, or the old universal inbox. Unless you delete something, it stays in there, taking up space. So Facebook or Twitter notifications, text messages, missed or made phone calls, voicemails, emails, and whatever else you may have set up for Hub notifications are in there, all the time. You are constantly looking at every single “inbox” right then and there.

I’m not sure that this is one thing that other platforms would need to emulate if they were to think about creating their own Hub. And, as you may have surmised from the title of this particular piece, I do believe that other platforms should be looking at ways to creating their own Hubs. I know that they’d be copying BlackBerry and all that, but this is one feature that I’ve truly missed. I really enjoy just being able to respond to pretty much everything I use every day, like Twitter and text messaging, right from the Hub, without having to open a specific application tied to those things.

I can set a Facebook status message from the Hub. Send a tweet, or an email, or a text message. I don’t have to open Facebook, Twitter, or even touch the text message app icon. The Hub allows me to do it all from there.

iOS’s Notification Center is good, but the fact that if you open an application that has a notification, without directly interacting with the notification in the NC, the notification doesn’t go away makes it really annoying. It also means I have to tap that little ‘X’ to get rid of the notification more often than not. Android’s notifications disappear if you open the app, so that’s a good thing.

But I think Android and iOS, and Windows Phone, could implement the usage of a universal inbox if the designers gave it some real thought. In Apple, for instance, I think they could make a universal inbox for their own specific apps. All Mail, iMessage, and iCloud notifications in one area, and able to be interacted with inside the hub, and not in a specific application. You could throw in some social networking options in there, too, like Facebook and Twitter, for good measure. The big step would be allowing other developers to allow their apps into the hub, too. That would be the kicker.

And this is where Android would shine, by putting their own hub right into Android, so that developers can put their application’s notifications right there, and allow for the user to interact with it within the hub. It won’t remove a person’s usage of the application, though. You’d still need to go to the Twitter app to see your stream, or open the Facebook app to see your timeline, for instance. It’s just a way to post, or interact with others, in a quick fashion, all from one place.

Do I think Apple, or Microsoft, or Google will implement their own version of BlackBerry’s Hub? No, unfortunately, simply because I believe they’ve grown accustomed to individual applications running the show on their platforms. Even Windows Phone. You’ve got a notification shade, or Notification Center, and Live Tiles to notify you of these individual events in individual applications, and that’s been working just fine for them for quite some time. No reason to stop it now, right?

Still, I think it would be a nice change of pace for those platforms, and I believe their designers and developers could make some pretty interesting things. Do you think Apple or Microsoft or Google should implement a Hub-like feature into their respective mobile platforms? Or is the way they’re doing things just fine for you? Let me know.