What is custom app notification on Android?

Custom notifications allow developers to create personalized notification layouts and functionality for Android apps. Android’s notification system provides a standard template for basic notifications, but custom notifications give developers more control over the appearance, actions, and behavior.

With custom notifications, developers can craft notifications that match their app’s branding and stand out on a user’s device. They can add custom layouts, images, colors, and fonts that fit their desired aesthetic. Custom notifications also enable adding custom actions beyond just opening the app, like replying to messages and other app functions.

This article will provide an overview of how to create custom notification layouts in Android, style them, attach actions, customize sounds/vibrations, implement expanded notifications and heads-up notifications, and best practices for custom notifications.

Creating Custom Notifications

To create a custom notification in Android, you need to build a notification channel and notification object. Notification channels allow you to set different priorities and behaviors for notifications.

Here’s an overview of creating custom notifications in Android:

  • Create a notification channel – Channels group notifications and let you set importance, LED light, vibration pattern etc. [1]
  • Set notification priority – Can be set to high, default, low or min importance.
  • Build notification object – Specifies the UI for the notification via the layout.
  • Issue notification – Call notify() to issue the notification.

When building the notification object, you can specify a custom layout with buttons, images etc. This allows you full control over the notification appearance.

Channels and priority levels let you control notification behavior and how intrusive it is. So you can make customized, high-quality notifications.

Notification Styling

You can customize the appearance of notifications to match your app’s branding and stand out on the user’s device. Some key ways to style notifications include:

Custom notification icons – Set a unique icon for your notification using setSmallIcon(). Choose an icon that represents your app.

Accent colors – Define a color using setColor() to theme the icon, app name, and expanded notification background. Pick your app’s primary color.

Importance – Set the notification’s priority with setPriority(). High importance makes it appear more prominently.

With custom icons, color accents, and priority, you can style notifications to match your app’s brand identity. Users will recognize your app from the notification alone.

Adding Actions

Notifications can include actions that users can take directly from the notification interface. Actions allow users to quickly perform tasks such as replying to messages or marking emails as read without having to open the full app. Some common notification actions include:

  • Reply – Allows users to reply to a message directly from the notification.
  • Mark as read – Lets users mark an unread message/email as read.
  • Archive – Archives the associated content.
  • Delete – Deletes the notification and associated content.
  • Call back – Calls a phone number associated with the notification.

To add actions to a notification in Android, first create an Notification.Action object for each action. Then add the actions to the notification builder using addAction(). For example:

Notification.Action replyAction = new Notification.Action.Builder(
  Icon.createWithResource(context, R.drawable.ic_reply), 

Notification.Action markAsReadAction = new Notification.Action.Builder(
  Icon.createWithResource(context, R.drawable.ic_mark_as_read),
  "Mark as Read",

Notification notification = new Notification.Builder()
  // Other notification setup

This will add the specified actions to the notification, allowing users to interact directly from the notification shade. Properly implemented actions can greatly improve the user experience around notifications.

Custom Vibration/Sound

One of the most useful features of custom notifications is the ability to set custom vibration patterns, sounds, and media playback. This allows you to assign unique vibration patterns or sounds to specific apps, contacts, or notifications so you can identify them without even looking at your phone.

To set a custom vibration pattern, go to Settings > Sound & vibration > Advanced > Vibration pattern. Here you can create your own pattern by tapping the screen to turn vibration on and off. You can make simple or complex patterns this way. Many Android phones also allow you to import custom vibration files if you want to get really creative.

For custom sounds, go to Settings > Sound & vibration > Advanced > Notification sounds. Here you can set different notification sounds for your phone, messaging apps, email, calendar events, and more. You can use default system sounds or import your own audio files like MP3s. Some apps like WhatsApp even let you set custom sounds right within the app.

Another option is media playback, where a music clip or other audio can play with the notification. Apps have to be designed to support this, but you may see it as an option in some messaging and social media apps. It allows you to play a song or sound effect when you get a notification from specific people.

By tailoring vibration patterns, sounds, and media playback to different apps and contacts, custom notifications become far more useful. You can identify who is calling or messaging without looking at your phone. Custom sounds also allow you to set more pleasant or unobtrusive notifications for different situations.

Expanded Notifications

Expanded notifications allow more information to be displayed directly in the notification shade when a notification is expanded. They were introduced in Android 4.1 Jelly Bean.

Expanded notifications make use of the BigTextStyle and BigPictureStyle notification styles to show more content. The BigTextStyle allows a long text message to be displayed, while the BigPictureStyle can display a photo or image. Some examples of expanded notifications include email apps displaying the full email text and messaging apps showing a preview of the received message and photo.

Expanded notifications can also contain controls and templates to enable quick actions without opening the full app. For example, an email notification may contain Reply and Archive buttons. The notification controls are defined using a Notification.Action object.

According to the Material Design guidelines, the recommended template for expanded notifications is the messaging template which shows the sender avatar, message preview, and quick reply action.

By default, notifications will expand when swiped down with one finger on the notification. Users can also disable expanded notifications in their device settings if desired.

Heads-Up Notifications

Heads-up notifications were introduced in Android 5.0 Lollipop as a new type of full screen interruption designed to show users timely and relevant information at a glance [1]. They pop up on top of the current screen for a few seconds before going away. Heads-up notifications are particularly useful for showing priority notifications that require immediate user attention.

There are three priority levels for heads-up notifications that control how intrusive they are: high, default, and low. High priority heads-up notifications will show up even when Do Not Disturb mode is on and will be noisy to attract attention. Default priority acts normally, while low priority heads-up will not make noise or peek onto the screen.

Users have granular control over heads-up notifications in the system settings. They can toggle them on/off altogether, set importance levels for individual apps, and customize the timeout duration. There is also a “No interruptions” mode that blocks heads-up and limits notifications to just gentle banners.

Notification Grouping

Notification grouping, also known as notification stacking, allows multiple notifications from the same app to be grouped together into a single summary notification (OneSignal). This prevents the notification shade from becoming overloaded with notifications from a single app.

Android groups notifications automatically based on the app they came from. To group notifications properly, developers need to set the same android_group value for each notification they want grouped together (OneSignal).

Notification grouping behavior changed in Android 12. Google removed the preset notification categories like “Conversations” and “Silent”. Users lost granular control over notification grouping and now rely on the app developers to group notifications appropriately (Google Pixel Community).

With Android 13, users regained more control over notification grouping. They can long press a notification to change grouping behavior for that app. Users can also fully disable notification grouping in the system settings if desired (Google Pixel Community).

Summary Notifications

Android allows collapsing multiple notifications from the same app into a single summary notification, which helps reduce notification overload. This feature groups related notifications together and shows only the most recent one as a summary. Older notifications remain accessible by expanding the summary.

To enable summary notifications in an Android app, use the setGroup() method when building notifications to assign them to a group. The system will then automatically bundle notifications from that group if certain conditions are met, like notifications arriving close together. Developers can customize criteria like timing and number of notifications before aggregating.

Summary notifications improve the notification experience by cutting down on repetitive alerts. Users can still conveniently access older notifications within a summary. However, as noted in the StackOverflow discussion How to keep track of notifications, they are less useful on wearables where glancing at notification details is difficult.

Best Practices

When implementing custom notifications in Android apps, it’s important to follow best practices to provide a great user experience. Here are some key guidelines:

Give users control over notifications – Allow users to opt into different notification types and categories in your app’s settings, and make it easy to turn notifications on or off globally. Don’t spam users with unnecessary notifications. See Push Notification Best Practices: 7 Questions Designers Should Ask and 10 Push Notifications Best Practices.

Keep notifications relevant and time-sensitive – Only send notifications that are useful in the moment. Don’t bombard users with notifications for things that aren’t urgent.

Use notifications purposefully – Decide what scenarios warrant a notification and avoid overusing them simply because you can. Consider your goals and use cases.

Personalize when possible – Use data like names, interests, and context to customize notifications and make them more relevant. Generic, repetitive notifications are easy to ignore.

Follow platform guidelines – Adhere to Android’s notification guidelines for proper formatting, iconography, colors, and behavior. This helps create a seamless user experience.

Test notifications thoroughly – Check how your custom notifications look and function on a variety of Android devices and OS versions. Fix display issues and confirm desired behavior.

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