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Gabriela Barkho, The Observer, writes about the designers who create the “undeniably annoying” sound notifications used in mobile technology. Barkho notes that most of us shut off the noisy notification that tells us someone is trying to call us, replacing the ringtone with vibrate, but what of other sound notifications?

Barkho writes that “[t]he new age of mobile sound is as much about representing the app’s brand and mission as it is about the user experience.” Ouch. The thought of fighting your way through a crowded room with everyone holding a bleating cell phone is horrifying. Fortunately, however, designers recognize that sounds can annoy. Says Josh Mobley, a composer and sound designer, “[t]he trick is to make a sound that people will hear that isn’t going to annoy the shit out of them every time it plays.” Hear, hear.

While we are happy to learn that designers are aware of the problems posed by annoying sound notifications, what will happen when every app demands sound notifications that brand stand out? Imagine the horrorscape of competing notifications, with each designer trying to make their audio stand out. How will people cope when they can never have an uninterupted moment?

Maybe they won’t have to.

Why? Because according to Chris Kyriakakis, professor of electrical and computer engineering/systems and director of the Immersive Audio Laboratory at Univeristy of Southern California, the next big thing in sound notifications is spatialized sound. Kyriakakis calls spatialized notifications “a great leap forward” that would allow a user to use direction to decipher communication. How? He imagines that “a ding from front and center of your headphones could signal an urgent text, while a softer one from the back-end could be a less important notification.”

If it’s true that sound spatialization is the future, then maybe this brave new world of sound notifications won’t be as horrific as one might imagine. Among other things, Kyriakakis envisions spatialization with headphone use. Sure, city streets may be even more difficult to navigate as we weave our way around battalions of headphone-wearing people meandering in the streets, focused on distinguishing a ping from a beep  But at least we wont have to hear it.

Originally posted on Silencity.com

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