How Does A Push Notification Work In Mobile Apps? - Copper Mobile

A mobile app uses “push notification” to send users a message that notifies them about something important, without the need to open the app. The user does not need to do anything, as the app itself decides to push an alert to them, which can be in the form of a text message or an image. A simple push notification is in the way of a white circle with a number on it. It appears on top of the app’s icon on the screen. It alerts users to the presence of events or messages that are waiting for them inside the app. Wouldn’t it be interesting to learn how these push notifications work?

Creating The Notifications:

Android and iOS have several classes for creating on-device notifications. However, some compelling notifications can be triggered externally. Imagine developing a mobile game notification that alerts the user by making them aware of a new theme or event that is about to begin! You can even notify them about their leaderboard standings and scores etc. to show them how they stack up against other competitors. 

Several system templates help you in designing the notifications based on different use cases. Your app will need to define the content that resides in every portion of those templates. The user can view the details of the notification upon opening the application.

Firebase Cloud Messaging is the most popular tool for developing notifications. It is a cross-platform messaging solution that enables you to send notifications to the users, without the hassle of mastering server code. You can create information specific to each person in your user base by using Firebase and its notification composer. The notifications can be customized to a great extent, based on the business requirements. Using Firebase Cloud Messaging, you can send three types of messages:

  1. Notification Message: Firebase SDK is equipped to handle the notification messages itself. You have to put in the notification message title, icon, and content. You can send these messages using the Firebase console UI. In this way, a notification will be shown when the app is running in the background.
  2. Data Message: The app should handle these messages. They are used when you need to send some additional data along with the notification. Since it is not possible to assign data through Firebase, you need to develop server-side logic to send the notification by using the data keys. 
  3. The notification “and” Data Message: When a message contains both notification and data, you need to consider two scenarios, i.e., whether the app is running in the background or the foreground. When the app is in the background, it receives the notification in the notification tray. Data is delivered only when the user taps on the notification alert. However, if the app is in the foreground, it receives a message with both notifications as well as data. 

Development Process of Notifications:

  1. Your app must be able to receive “push notifications,” and for that, it must be registered with a Push Notification Service Provider. The most popular service provider is Firebase Cloud Messaging (or Google Cloud Messaging), which is run by Google. Registration with FCM will provide you with an API key that is to be used for the next steps. Apple provides APNS for iOS devices. However, FCM can also be used in this case.
  2. Whenever a user downloads the application, Firebase issues a unique ID to the app-device combination. This is done to enable push notifications from Firebase. 
  3. After the app-device combination has been registered, an app server identification is also required. It enables the app server to send notifications to the user’s device on behalf of the app. A server ID is created using API keys provided by Firebase. In the case of iOS, it is done by using a certificate by APNS.
  4. Now, when both the registrations have been done, it is possible to send “push notifications.” Push notification is a data payload that is 4kb in size for Android and 2kb for iOS.

Driving Customer Engagement:

Push notifications are very useful in driving higher customer engagement. Research has shown that over 60% of users enable push notifications on their apps. They are also very helpful in retaining users and driving sales. For the notifications to work well, there are some industry-leading examples that you can refer to:

  • KAYAK: It is an online flight booking portal. When a user downloads the app, he can set up price notifications for a particular flight ticket. So, whenever the price of that flight ticket drops, the user gets a notification from the app. It is seen as a form of “flash sales” or “breaking news” that the user is more than happy to receive!
  • NETFLIX: It is an online video streaming service where users can select and view their favorite shows. When a user downloads its app, she receives messages about the shows that she has been watching. For example, if a new season of her favorite show is available, the app will send out a notification inviting her to the show! It is an excellent example of how personalization works through app notifications.
  • The Bump: It is a pregnancy tracking service for expectant mothers, which allows them to monitor their babies’ progress, week by week. When a user downloads the app, it sends them notifications about the size of their baby. The message goes something like this: “Hi Melissa, your baby is the size of a lemon today! At week 14, your baby is 3.2 inches and 1.5 ounces.” Users fall in love with the way these notifications are presented to them!
  • Google Now: Since you have stored all your information on Google, it can filter that information and send you notifications that help you organize your work. For example, if you have an appointment marked on your calendar and have to travel someplace for that, Google Now will send a notification telling you when you should leave for that appointment. Also, how long will it take you to reach it based on the traffic conditions, weather, etc.


Nowadays, whenever a user installs an app, it asks their permission to send notifications. Whether it is a news app or a game app, they all have notifications to send. But app developers need to learn the best practices for creating proper quality notifications to make them useful in driving customer engagement.

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