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What Are Push Notifications? The Ultimate Guide[2024]

Subharun Mukherjee 18+ years of experience leading product strategy, Go-To-Market (GTM), new market entry, value-based sales, analyst relations, and customer experience programs. Expertise in Financial Services, eCommerce, on-demand services, and the SaaS industry.
What Are Push Notifications? The Ultimate Guide[2024]

What are Push Notifications?

Push notifications are text or rich media messages sent to mobile devices from third-party applications. If you’re reading this on your phone, it’s likely that you’ve recently come across a push notification or two. Push notifications offer value in multiple ways for both mobile marketers and smartphone users. 

For such a popular channel, it would be easy to think that this technology has been around longer than just over a decade (they originated in June 2009). However, it was only 12 years ago that push notifications first appeared during an update announcement from Apple. This version of push notifications, called Apple Push Notification Service, offered a new experience for customers. And the rest is history. 

Case Study: See How Home Credit Indonesia Achieves 3.5x higher CTRs Using Push Notifications


Let’s look at how big the push notification pond is in 2021: 

  • The average smartphone in the U.S. receives 46 daily push notifications* 
  • 81% of Americans own a smartphone*
  • The average smartphone user checks their phone 63 times a day*
  • 44% of iOS users vs 91% of Android users opt in to push notifications*

These stats prove that push notifications are not only reaching people multiple times a day, but that Americans literally can’t put their phones down. This means that mobile marketers can and should utilize push notifications to encourage engagement and retention. 

In this in-depth guide, we cover everything you need to know about what is push notification, including the types of notifications, why opt-ins are essential, mistakes to avoid and steps to success, and industry-specific case studies to inspire your short- and long-term strategies. We also encourage you to head to our infographic featuring all our tips to increase engagement.

The Difference Between Push Notifications and SMS

Push notifications and SMS are both great ways to engage with customers, but they have different methods of delivery and communication objectives. One of the main differences is the delivery method. With push notifications, a customer must download your app before they can receive a notification compared to an SMS that they opt-in to. 

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Here are other ways to help you distinguish between push notifications vs SMS text messages

Push NotificationSMS 
Delivery MethodApp installedOpt-in
AudienceApp users onlyAnyone who has opted in to receiving SMS 
IntentPromotional, educational, and location-basedUrgent, time-sensitive or transactional 
ExampleA surprise sale on flights to sunny destinationsAn update on food delivery purchase

Now that you understand more about the differences between push notifications and SMS, let’s look at what you would use SMS notifications for versus push notifications. 

Send SMS Notifications For:

  • Banking alerts 
  • Weather warnings 
  • Flight delays 
  • Appointment reminders 
  • Event cancellations 
  • Billing reminders 
  • Delivery or tracking notices 

Send Push Notifications For:

  • Latest deals or discounts 
  • Content recommendations or suggestions 
  • Action reminders 
  • Announcements 
  • Educate users on a new feature

How Do Push Notifications Work?

As mentioned above, a push notification is a message sent by an app to a user’s phone. Push notifications can only reach users who have installed an app and opted-in to these messages. 
As you probably guessed, push notifications differ for iOS and Android users.

How iOS push notification works: An iOS push notification will first appear on the lock screen. Once a device is unlocked, the push notification moves to the Notification Center and a user can engage or delete the notification.

How Android push notification works: Android users have a little more control over their push notifications. You can set priorities, group push notifications into types, and determine how notifications appear on your device. The differences also extend to how users opt-in to these messages. 

The iOS platform is designed as an opt-in model that requires customers to agree to receive push notifications before they are sent. Android users are automatically signed up to push notifications and require a user to manually opt-out.

You might ask: “But how do push notifications work if a user hasn’t opted in?” Short answer: they don’t. But there are other ways to reach them with your marketing campaigns such as in-app notifications, SMS, and good old email. So don’t worry. A little omnichannel marketing should help. 

Push notifications are a great way to reach customers in real time due to the increase of mobile users and the amount of time that we spend on our phones. As our Inboxes become as busy as we are, it’s easy to understand why businesses prefer push notifications. However, app push notifications are not the only option. There are three other types of push notifications that businesses should consider and include in their strategies. 

4 Types of Push Notifications

Whether you are in a web browser or using your wearable device, there are push notifications designed for that device or platform. Here are four types of push notifications, including mobile, to test in your next campaign.

1. Mobile app push notifications: generated via an app downloaded on a user’s mobile device. Displayed in three locations: lock screen, banner and notification center. 

2. Web push notifications: delivered to users through desktop or mobile web that appear at the top or bottom right-hand side of the desktop or mobile screen. 

3. Desktop push notifications: appear only on a user’s desktop and are activated primarily by products installed on a computer.   

4. Push notifications on wearable devices: notifications that appear on a wearable device that are synced with the notifications on their mobile device. 

Opt-In: Not an Option

Looking at how Android vs. iPhone users differ when it comes to push notifications, there is a noticeable difference. Our recent push notification report found that 44% of iOS users and 91% of Android users opt in to push notifications. We know what you’re thinking: how does a user’s operating system affect their push notification experience? 

iOS: As you’ll see below, users must choose to accept notifications when first launching a new app. Whether a user finds your app from the App Store or through social media, if you’re hoping to increase your opt-in rate via iOS, you’ve got one shot so make it good

Push Notifications Infographic

Want to increase your push notifications render rates? Check out these other resources.

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Last updated on February 14, 2024