iOS 12 notification changes should make you rethink your messages
Friday, September 21, 2018
iOS 12 notifications are here, and Jordan Harp talks more about how developers can embrace the new notification landscape to roll with the changes.
It feels as if our mobile screens are swimming in notification overload these days, and it’s no wonder why when leading mobile marketing companies plaster billboards in Silicon Valley with promises to engage mobile users.
In a hyper-connected world where consumer attention is scarce, notifications are an incredibly powerful way to reach users wherever they are. But users are quick to turn them off for abusive apps.
That's why we spoke to Jordan Harp, Product Manager at Pusher, to learn more about notification changes in iOS 12 and how developers can adapt to embrase the change.
ADM: We’ve heard a lot about email deliverability, but can you explain why developers should care about push notification deliverability?
Harp: Notifications are the lifeline of applications, letting users know when they’ve missed critical activity. But neither of the push notifications gateways - the Apple’s Apple Push Notifications Service (APNs) and Google’s Firebase Cloud Messaging (FCM) - offer delivery guarantees. There are network, device, and operating system issues which can impact deliverability, but developers lack this crucial insight of their notification service. For instance, certain flavors of Android block notifications if the app is in the background, and the initial release of iOS 11 led to complaints of non-delivered notifications.
ADM: What can developers do to solve the notification deliverability issues, and where do you fit in with that?
Harp: In order to solve these deliverability issues, developers can either grapple with these gateways themselves - identifying the issues and implementing fixes to resolve them, or they can use Pusher Beams. As a hosted service for delivering your transactional notifications, the Beams API works behind the scenes to solve common deliverability issues and give developers observable health metrics.
ADM: Many developers send notifications without any action to take when tapping the notification just takes users to the apps home screen - can you speak to what developers should do to avoid this?
Harp: Every notification is an opportunity to interact with an end user. If the content is too broadly targeted and doesn’t lead the user to an engaging in-app experience, the user will have a negative experience. Repeat this enough times and users will either opt out of notifications or uninstall the app altogether. Instead, developers should focus on sending notifications which are timely, relevant, and valuable to the user, and deep link to the page in the application which is related to the notification content.
ADM: What are the benefits of using push notifications to communicate with users over SMS or MMS where delivery is more reliable?
Harp: While SMS and MMS have their benefits for purposes like public broadcasts about a flight delay, their time as a delivery mechanism for security codes in two-factor authentication may be due for retirement due to security concerns. On the other hand, notifications from a native app have the potential to provide a lot more contextual value than SMS/MMS. On the basic level, there’s the app name and badge, so the user is immediately aware of the sender. But beyond this, notifications build on top of the operating platforms, which provide ways to include deep actions directly into the body of the notification, allowing users to interact with an app without even launching it.
ADM: Why are developers looking for alternative push notification services, rather than building it themselves?
Harp: If developers build a notification service themselves, they need to host the device tokens and keep them up to date as they change, scale batch/throughput capacity, and develop a proprietary segmentation backend which is persistent.
80% of our users were integrating notifications directly through free Apple and Google services before they started using Beams. Three out of four developers using Beams were able to set up a test notification service in less than 30 minutes.
Once they’re using Beams, they have a realtime Debug Console and Insights metrics to debug and observe their implementation. Ultimately we want to provide great infrastructure so that developers can focus their time on building great apps.
ADM: There’s a huge movement to make technology into time well spent for users, how can developers approach this when it comes to notifications?
Harp: It feels as if our mobile screens are swimming in notification overload these days, and it’s no wonder why when leading mobile marketing companies plaster billboards in Silicon Valley with promises to “Engage the [poop emoji] out of your mobile users.”
Notifications opened within 90 seconds of being sent account for over half of the total open engagement with Beams, demonstrating the incredible power that a notification has to prompt user action on the spot.
We believe that notifications that are transactional in nature provide more value to the users. Transactional notifications are triggered by developers when important activity happens inside an app - alerting users when their delivery is arriving, their conference call begins, or a player on their fantasy team scores.
These are useful alerts when something happens that the user should know about, rather than poorly targeted promotions which have a scorched effect on the user base. Contrary to the billboards of Silicon Valley, engagement shouldn’t be measured by what it takes out of a user, but what it gives them.
ADM: How can developers empower their users with control over which notifications they’ll receive?
Harp: Developers can offer a preference page inside their applications to let users configure which notifications they’d like to receive.
The DKLive app by DraftKings uses Beams to let users configure their own notifications by sport, scoring play, and whether a user has drafted particular players to their fantasy team.
When you’re providing this kind of granularity - where a user can essentially customize their own individual notification service - it’s much easier if you have an API which provides these tools for instrumentation.
ADM: How do you think iOS 12's notification grouping is going to change overall engagement for developers since it's aim is to help reduce clutter for users, and give users access to the notification settings directly from the lock screen notification center?
Harp: It’s time for everyone to rethink what a notification helps accomplish. Is it about juicing marketing numbers by beating your users over the head with promotions? Or is it about providing a holistic experience that compliments the value proposition of your app?
We think it should be about the latter, and I applaud Apple and Google for embracing the trend of Time Well Spent by building these sort of features into their notification platforms. Ultimately if users are opting out of your notifications, this is a strong signal that you could make them more valuable, and any engagement gained by burying these settings or un-grouping the notifications would be hollow.
Pusher Beams will be looking into ways that we can empower developers with the tools they need to make their notifications Time Well Spent for users in the future.
ADM: How will the notification space look different in a few years, and what trends are driving this change?
Harp: It’s easy to look at a trend like Time Well Spent as a threat to notifications since the implied harm of receiving them begs the question, will we eventually not want to receive notifications at all?
A historical metaphor might be email - where marketing teams initially caught on to the engagement they could get from spamming everyone on their list, then eventually came around to realize that users prefer quality over quantity. Now there are premium email newsletters like Stratechery where users actually pay to receive emails because the quality is so high.
I think the underlying platforms like iOS and Android, infrastructure providers, and app developers will respond to the user demand for quality by improving notification personalization. I’ve spoken to notifications PMs at larger companies who are investing in machine learning for notifications so that they can reduce the number they send but increase the likelihood that a user wants to receive one. This is the sort of thing I’d love to see us tackle in the future.
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