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Facebook 3.1 Highlights All That’s Wrong With Push Notifications

facebook app logo

In a tweet on Monday, Joe Hewitt, developer of the iPhone Facebook app, announced that the next major update (version 3.1 to be precise) will finally bring Push Notifications to the popular application.

Facebook is easily one of the most popular free apps available in the iTunes App Store. I think you’d be hard pressed to find an iPhone without it. Version 3.0 was a mammoth update to earlier, functionally limited releases, and was eagerly anticipated and reported widely in the tech press. And yet, the lack of support for Apple’s Push Notification Services was, and remains, conspicuous. Adding Push Notifications is the no-brainer icing on the cake function for end-users who don’t spend every second in the app but value being kept in-the-loop with timely updates. It’s also the last major hurdle to making the social networking app practically perfect. (Probably.)

joehewitt twitter facebook update

However, TechCrunch’s MG Siegler has suggested that the long-awaited introduction of Push Notifications in the Facebook app will also make it the unwitting poster child for illustrating all that is wrong with Push, and more directly, how Notifications are handled on the iPhone. Siegler writes:

The Push Notification management system beyond a certain threshold is basically useless. That is to say, when you’re getting a large number of Push Notifications on your iPhone, it’s almost laughable how bad the built-in system is for trying to figure out what you just got notified about beyond the most recent message.

If you’re an iPhone owner you probably already know exactly what this is about. Let’s say your iPhone is locked. You receive an important SMS. That familiar blue pop-up box appears on the screen. A moment later, you also receive a Push Notification from one of your apps. The blue box is replaced with another.

The next time you hit the Sleep/wake button and look at your screen (just look, don’t unlock) you’ll see only the latest notification. You’ll have no way of knowing that important SMS is lurking in the background, waiting for your attention, unless you unlock and check for that little red notification badge on the Messages icon. If you’re in a hurry (or in a meeting) and can’t spend more time on the phone than is absolutely necessary, you’re not going to see that important SMS until much later.

What Siegler is saying – and many iPhone owners are likely to agree – is that the iPhone needs a more sophisticated notification system. He adds,

The Push system is such a mess right now, that many of the most popular developers are letting others deal with it. Loren Brichter, the guy behind the excellent Twitter app Tweetie, tells us that he’s tabled Push Notifications for the time being, letting others like Boxcar handle it, because it’s a potential headache.

To date, applications are forbidden to run as background processes on the iPhone. It’s important to remember that Push was created to provide application developers with an elegant solution to the challenges they faced due to that functional limitation. Even so, I find agree with Siegler – the iPhone OS desperately needs a more sophisticated way to handle multiple unread notifications, because if nothing changes, the advent of Facebook 3.1 (not to mention the growing number of other push-enabled apps) brings with it a future filled with those little blue popup boxes.

13 Responses to “Facebook 3.1 Highlights All That’s Wrong With Push Notifications”

  1. Don’t worry guys.. Just heard from a credible source that a brand new notification engine will be out in 2013.. the same time a brand new Iphone with 5 megapixels will be out. Ahahahaha

  2. Actually, the push notification (based on the example you have provided) has done it’s job. It has alerted your phone. Now what isn’t working is the manner in which the notifications are displaying. So a simple solution is to have a sequential list or history of the notifications that have arrived on your phone. I’m sure something like that in the works. Now, would you suggest a redevelopment of the entire notification system or just expand the popups into something like a list? I think List complete with when the alert arrived etc etc. Now it would be even more ingenious if we can keep going back to that list. All the previous smartphones have had this type of app/process built in.

  3. There is an elegant solution to this in the jailbreak world that is called GriP, which is basically Growl notifications implimentation on the iPhone. I suggest you check it out.

    This is one of the reasons why bloggers should side with jailbreaking rather than fear it. Apple is clearly taking its glacial time fixing glaring mistakes on the iPhone (MMS? Landscape messaging?). The jailbreak community have consistently found functional and esthetically-pleasing solutions to Apple’s shortcomings that should make people rethink their position in waiting for Apple to hand them a feature that should have been there in the first place. I wouldn’t put it past them to implement it as an exclusive feature for the next generation iPhone. They’ve done it already with the battery percentage indicator with the 3GS…

  4. All I want with Facebook push notifications is the ability for the app to show a badge and make a sound, no box, when I receive a direct message. That means I can turn off the emails that get sent to me, so I will respond to the message when I read rather. I often forget to respond, having read the message in my emails. Same with Twitter and DM’s. That, to me at least, seems to be the most powerful reason to use push notifications in an app.

  5. What you described seems to me a UI presentation problem not an OS problem. If one is to receive many frequent updates (via Twitter or Facebook), I am not sure putting something that pops up on the locked screen is a solution. Notification should be used for a relatively infrequent event (maybe once an hour on average). It becomes an annoyance if the event is occurring every minute.

  6. zenwheel

    My theory was 3.0 was laying the foundation for notifications, forthcoming would be a better UI for notifications, handling them better when in a call or when the phone is unlocked, history, notifications of emails, etc. Okay, maybe not a theory, I was just hoping.

  7. Xairbusdriver

    Not only do I not need/want any “push” notifications other than what I have (see below), but I am one of those users you’d “be hard pressed to find an iPhone without it.” I suspect it may not be as hard as you might think, also.

    I absolutely never visit FB or Twitter UNTIL I get an email saying something there has happened that I MIGHT be interested in. In my humble opinion that email IS my ‘push’ notification. AND I don’t worry about losing that notification with a window that might disappear, the Mail icon on my iPhone very conveniently indicates there is something there that I haven’t read. Doh!

    BTW, don’t bother trying to text me, I have blocked that “service.” Best deal I’ve found from AT&T. ;-) Not widely enough known, IMHO. It is amazing to me that people try to “communicate” using tiny “real” keyboards or even the much easier to use iPhone method when they are holding in their hands a device that can provide nearly instantaneous TWO-WAY verbal communications (and without costing both parties extra)! Oh, I know, there are times when you can’t talk on the phone. OK, perhaps those are also time you should be composing/sending/reading a text message, also. Ever heard of email? It’s the original ‘text messaging’ and is really fast and you can use real words! What a concept! ;-P

    And now, back to the REGULAR whining…

  8. Totally agree.
    Right now, the lock screen is pretty much useless, no information on new mails, appointments and so on. This is a functionality I really miss.
    Something like Intelliscreen and the likes would be appropriate for a smartphone to come as a standard—without having to jailbreak one’s iPhone.

  9. I got the GPush app before Gmail came out with its own push capability. I’ve actually gone back to GPush and shut off push for Gmail. GPush plays a nice sound and gives me a text box on top of my screen showing the sender and subject line. With Gmail, badges just showed up, and if I was in an app that was full screen, I might miss it. Plus having push turned on for Gmail ran my battery down! With GPush, I know when to go and fetch my email myself. Push is pretty cool, but for those of us who aren’t power emailers or texters it’s not worth the battery life.