If you use an iPhone, iPod Touch, or an iPad, you are familiar with what Apple calls badges, even if you don’t know that’s what they’re called. When an app wants to tell you something, a red circle appears in the corner of that app’s icon, telling you how many somethings it wants to tell you. That’s a badge. Unread mail is a good example. If you have three unread messages in your email box, the mail icon will have a badge with a 3 in it.
Ever since 2010, you can combine up to twelve apps in a single “folder” (on the iPhone and iPod Touch anyway. The iPad supports more but I don’t know the exact number). Folders show badges too. With a folder, it shows the sum of the numbers on the badges on all of the apps in that folder. So if your mail app and the Facebook app are in the same folder, and if you have three unread messages, and three Facebook notifications, they’ll each display a badge with a 3 on it, but the folder will display 6.
Now, I don’t know how to design an app and I certainly don’t know how to crack open an app to get at the code it uses. For that matter, I can’t do the same with the operating system, but I can tell you this:
— the rules for displaying a badge, both at the app and the folder level, hold that it will be displayed if the number of things to tell you is at least 1. No badge will display if it’s less than 1.
— the number that’s displayed on a folder badge is the sum of the number of things all of the enclosed apps want to tell you.
I know this because of a problem I had on my iPhone for about a week before I decided to see if I could fix it. I have a folder called Internet, which contains a total of eleven apps: mail, three web browsers, Facebook, twitter, WordPress, tumblr, Google +, google, and Wolfram Alpha.
To illustrate the problem, let’s say I had a badge on the mail app with a 3 in it. The app would have a 3, but the folder would have a 2 in it. Let’s say the badge on Facebook had a 3 on it (and was the only app with a badge). The folder, like with Mail, would say 2. If both Mail and Facebook had a 3 (each), the folder would say 5.
Yeah, it was pretty annoying. No matter the app or apps, the folder would say 1 less than the correct number. If only one app had a badge, and its number was 1, the folder wouldn’t have a badge at all.
So last night, I methodically sought out the problem. I took the apps in that folder out one at a time, and watched the number on the folder. If the number didn’t change, I put it back in the folder.
And that’s where I found the culprit: the Google+ app. I’m not sure how it happened, but it must’ve gotten a negative 1 for the number of things it wanted to tell me (and in fairness, I don’t use it much…)
So in the example above, with a 3 on Mail and a 3 on Facebook, when you add in the negative 1 (that wasn’t displayed because it was less than positive 1) on Google+, that adds up to 5.
So it’s obviously a bug in the Google+ app. Could the operating system be better at managing this, too?