In our always-connected world, we’re constantly being barraged with notifications. There are plenty of different types of notifications, but one term you’ve probably seen a lot is “Push Notifications.” We’ll explain what you need to know about them.

A Brief History of Push Notifications

There are several different types of “push technology,” but the push notifications that we see every day on smartphones can be traced back to 2009. This is when Apple released a push notification service for iPhone developers.

It may sound crazy today, but getting a notification from an app that wasn’t running in the background was kind of a big deal back then. Push notifications changed all that. Suddenly, iPhone users could get notifications about anything.

Push notifications on the iPhone were such a big deal that a whole ecosystem of apps cropped up around the feature. Boxcar was a very popular app that could get push notifications for apps that didn’t have it yet. People were more excited about notifications than ever before.

Android was not far behind. Google released its own service in 2010, which brought push notifications to Android developers. However, Google took push notifications even further. In 2013, it added “rich notifications,” which can contain images and action buttons.

Apple followed Google’s lead and added action buttons to notifications in 2014. That’s where we’re at today. Billions of notifications are being pushed to devices every day.

RELATED: Why Every App Pushes Notifications Now, and How to Stop It

But What Is a Push Notification?

iPhone notification types.

Now that we know where push notifications came from, let’s talk about what they are and how they work. Basically, any time you get a notification on your phone from an app, it’s a push notification.

When someone likes your photo on Facebook and your screen lights up and says “Friend liked your photo,” that’s a push notification. When you have a calendar event coming up and you get a notification that says “Even in 30 minutes,” that’s a push notification.

This all may sound pretty simple, but there’s a lot going on in the background. When you install an app, its unique identifier is registered with the operating system’s push notification service. The app publisher also stores the registration details.

These unique identifiers are what allows the app, your device, and the operating system to talk to each other securely. Someone likes your photo, which gets sent to a server, and then it’s sent to the app on your phone, and the OS displays it.

RELATED: How to Stop Notifications from Turning on Your iPhone Screen

Even Better Push Notifications

Android notification
Android Developers

There’s not just one type of push notification. As mentioned above, both Apple and Google support their own version of “rich notifications” for iOS and Android. This is the most common type of push notification you see today.

Early push notifications were extremely basic. They might just show the name of the app and then you would tap it to open the app. It might not even take you to what actually triggered the notification.

We now get a lot more information thanks to these “rich notifications.” You can see a preview of who’s at your front door from the Ring app. Entire text messages can be read and responded to from the notification. You can archive an email from Gmail without opening the app.

Rich notifications have taken push notifications from the basic “you might want to look at this” to “here’s everything you need to know without opening the app.” Makes life a lot easier.

Push Notifications: iPhone vs Android

Asking Permission to Use Notifications

There’s a pretty big difference in how the iPhone (iOS) and Android handle push notifications. iOS is an opt-in model, while Android is an opt-out model.

That means when you install an app on your iPhone, you will be asked if you want to allow it to send notifications to your device. On Android, the app can send notifications right from the start. It’s up to you to turn them off.

Android’s approach may be better for app developers as it’s much easier to get a notification in front of someone’s face. However, it can lead to a lot of frustration. Thankfully, Android does a lot for quite a lot of notification customization.

RELATED: What Are Android Notification Channels?

At the end of the day, a push notification is really exactly what it sounds like. Something happens that an app thinks you’ll want to know about and it “pushes” a notification to your device. A lot went into making that notification happen, but now it’s there for you to dismiss.

RELATED: How to Get Android Notifications on a Windows 10 PC

Profile Photo for Joe Fedewa Joe Fedewa
Joe Fedewa is a Staff Writer at How-To Geek. He has been covering consumer technology for over a decade and previously worked as Managing Editor at XDA-Developers. Joe loves all things technology and is also an avid DIYer at heart. He has written thousands of articles, hundreds of tutorials, and dozens of reviews.
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