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Push Notifications Explained In Simple Words

Mar 16, 2022

By Shubham Kushwah

Reading time — 7 minutes

Push Notifications Explained In Simple Words at veonr blog by shubham kushwah

What are Push Notifications?

A message that appears on a mobile device is known as a push notification. They may be sent at any time by any app.

The best part is that the users do not need to be in the app or using their devices to receive them. So it acts as a reminder or alert. The only difference is that it's invoked remotely. Unlike your regular alarms.

Evolution of Push Notifications

  • 2009 - Apple Push Notification Service (APNs) launched

The first-ever push notification service in the world.

  • 2010 - Google Cloud to Device Messaging (C2DM) launched

Google steps in the game. Launching their own.

  • 2013 - Rich Notifications introduced for android users.

Before this... only thing that could be there in a push notification was text. Now users can have images as well as custom action buttons.

Those "Mark as read", "Archive", "Delete" buttons that you see on your email and slack notifications... Yes, those are the custom buttons.

  • 2014 - Interactive buttons

Apple introduces buttons to enable users to be able to send immediate responses. This lets the user take quick actions.

Uses of Push Notifications

  • Display the most recent sports results

Check your phone - and most likely there's a football scorecard in the notifications. Sent by Google.

  • Encourages users to take action right now.

This can be for a sale that's about to come soon. So that the user can be prepared. Or it can be for an event. Prompting the user to signup within a limited time.

It can be for stock alert. When the prices are down. Or when the prices are up.

If you have the Amazon app. You must have noticed those flash sale notifications. That's all done through the push notification channel.

Push Notifications vs SMS

Some people get confused here. They think a push notification is the same as a regular phone SMS. They see a notification. There's some text in it.

And that's about it, right? No. There's a bit more to it.

An SMS can only be sent if the mobile has a SIM provider installed. If you do not have a SIM card - you will not receive any messages.

Similarly. A push notification can only be received when you have the specific app installed. For example - you cannot receive Amazon's sale notifications if you do not have the amazon app on your phone.

So if you're using a tablet that has the amazon app. But you do not have any SIM card on it. You will still receive amazon's sale notification.

Push notifications work on all devices - including Android, iOS, Windows, Mac, etc.

Why use Push Notifications?

Now you might be wondering... why should I even bother with push notifications - when I can just send an SMS.

Push notifications can contain rich data and visuals as well. So it's much more relevant to display things like:

  • Weather information as it changes. In real-time.
  • Traffic and navigation alerts
  • Flight confirmation, cancellation, updates, and alerts.
  • Football scores as they happen in a live match.

Push notifications vs Email

Push notifications are a much better way of communicating small bits of information. The reason is - email is prone to be blocked. Or marked as spam. Or might not be read at the right time.

Most people do not open an email as it arrives. It can take a few hours. A few days. A few weeks as well in some scenarios.

Or the user may never receive the email because the spam filters thought it was a spam message.

Push Notifications are great for

  • Upselling any products on your eCommerce store.
  • Improving your customer experience and support.
  • Knowing your customers better by understanding their actions.
  • Instant notifications and alerts.

Ok ok. It sounds great. But how does it work? What's the technology behind push notifications? Here you go...

Analytics and data

If you really want to know your users better - you should have push notifications setup. As well as proper analytics services setup for the final pages.

For example - say that you send notifications to the users when your eCommerce store has an upcoming sale.

You send the notification - and when the user clicks on the banner - they are taken to your website.

But when it comes to tracking - do you know that they came from this notification? Or did they visit the site directly?

For scenarios like this, we recommend having an analytics tool setup. Something like Veonr Analytics will make this a piece of cake.

How do Push Notifications Work?

Let us take the example of the Amazon app.

  1. First. They will establish a relationship with the operating system's push notification service.

Every operating system (OS) has its own version of handling push notifications. Android, iOS, Mac, Windows, BlackBerry, etc.

  1. OS grants permission to the app via an API (Application Programming Interface)

The app can utilize this API to communicate with the OS - if there's a push notification to handle.

  1. Now. On the user side of things. First of all the user needs to have the app...

So the user goes to the respective app store.

  • Play Store for Android
  • App Store for iOS and Mac
  • Windows Store for Windows

and they install the app.

  1. Once the user opens the app - they might be asked to log in to their account. Which gives them a unique ID. That can later be used to share with the Operating System to send push notifications.

  2. The app will also pass on these credentials to the publisher's servers.

Where the server can identify a certain user and their unique device.

  1. The publisher of the message composes the notification. Formats and specifies which users should receive this notification.

  2. Publisher then decides whether this is an immediate notification... Or should it be sent after 14 days for example?

Or in the case of the Black Friday sale. The user may be prompted same day every year.

This way the notifications are scheduled preemptively.

Push Notification Opt-in for iOS

In iOS devices. All the apps that want to receive push notifications - need to ask for permission. Whereas in Android apps it's there by default.

So it's a bit of a challenge to get the users to opt-in for your push notifications in the case of iOS apps.

Display format and availability

  • What if the user has the screen locked?
  • What if the user is watching a YouTube video on full screen?
  • What if the user is playing a game?

The users will see a banner popup in the top part of their screen - just like any other system notification. And this notification will be shown no matter what the user is doing.

The user can always access push notifications... by swiping down from the top section of their screen.

Grouping

Did you notice when you receive more than one email? The Gmail app combined them all together. And displays them as a single card group - rather than one individual card for each email.

Badges

When there's a notification for a certain app. The OS also marks that app with a red badge in the top right section of the app icon.

This can be seen on the app icons on the homepage of your phone. Or in the app drawer as well.

Wrapping Up

That's it. For this article. Push notifications are great for quick communication with your users.

But make sure to not spam the users with sales notifications all the time - or ask them to do certain things. Do not annoy them.

Because not only are they likely to disable push notifications. If they are too frustrated. They might even end up uninstalling your app completely.

Great. Now you know everything about push notifications.

Don't forget to share this with your friends. Cheers!


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