Last Updated on
May 23, 2024

Push Notifications on iOS vs Android: the Key Differences

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Key takeaways:

Push notifications on iOS vs Android is a different game.

The two mobile OS giants have different philosophies and attitudes when it comes to UX, software architecture, and many other things. 

After building thousands of apps for both platforms (with unlimited push notifications), we’ve become very familiar with the subtle differences and nuances. 

In this article we are going to explain them to you on a high level without diving too deep into the technical weeds. 

If you want, you can start off with a more basic overview of what a push notification is, or check out some push notification examples.

Push Notifications on iOS and Android

As you know, push notifications appear as alerts, banners, or badges on a user's screen, often containing updates, information, or CTAs of some kind. They’ve emerged as a powerful smartphone native channel to drive engagement and conversions effectively and at a low cost. 

We’ve built thousands of iOS and Android apps for eCommerce brands, startups, and every other type of business you can think of.

Every MobiLoud app comes with unlimited push notifications, which is one of the most key reasons why our customers decide to build apps in the first place! 

You can send both web notifications to users who visit your website or web app, or native push notifications from your app installed on their device.

Push Notifications on iOS

iPhone users are one of the most commercially valuable demographics on earth. Countless brands and businesses fight for their attention. If you can send notifications directly to their lockscreens - that’s a big win. 

iOS push notifications rely on the Apple Push Notification Service (APNs), a handy piece of cloud infrastructure that enables push notifications across Apple’s ecosystem. 

APNs acts as an intermediary between the application and the user, receiving notification requests, validating and processing them before managing a secure delivery to the user’s device.  

Features and Capabilities of iOS Push Notifications

Notifications on iOS have some cool capabilities that can help you as a business. Here are a few of the key ones:

1. Rich Media: iOS push notifications allow you to include rich media elements, such as images, videos, and interactive buttons to use for CTAs. 

2. Personalization: you can personalize your messages based on user preferences, behavior, or location to deliver relevant and targeted content. 

3. Silent Notifications: iOS supports silent push notifications, which don't display an alert or sound but can wake up your app in the background for important tasks and are viewable in the message center.

4. Deep Linking: deep links point to specific screens or sections within your app and are often a great way of prompting users to take a specific action.

5. Opt-In and Opt-Out: iOS gives users significant control over which notifications they see and how they see them. (More on this shortly). 

To execute a sophisticated push strategy, you need to understand the above features in depth, as well as the general best practices best practices for successful push notification campaigns. Some of this is specific to iOS and some is just general good UX practice. We’ll cover more in a later section. 

Push Notifications on Android

While iOS users may be the most economically valuable per capita, Android users represent the largest and most globally diverse smartphone market on earth. The sheer scale of the Android market along with the multitude of devices presents challenges and opportunities for businesses. 

Android push notifications rely on the Firebase Cloud Messaging (FCM) service, which replaced the old Google Cloud Messaging platform (deprecated in 2019).  FCM improved on the old platform with more features, a more streamlined API, and support for web and iOS notifications too. 

Features of Android Push Notifications

Android and iOS share some key features when it comes to push, but there are unique aspects on Android too:

  • Rich media support: like iOS, Android push notifications allow you to include images, videos, and other media elements in your notifications
  • Customization: you can flexibly tailor the notification layout, style, and actions 
  • Grouping and categorization: Android allows you to group related notifications together, making it easier for users to manage and interact with your messages.
  • Notification channels: Android introduced notification channels in Android 8.0 (Oreo) as a way to categorize and control the priority of notifications

We’re going to move on now to the key differences between notifications on iOS vs Android. 

Push Notifications on iOS vs Android: 4 Key Differences

We’ve looked at some of the key features and similarities, now let’s look at the key differences. 

Difference 1: Permissions

The biggest difference is probably permissions. Apple makes a big deal of “respecting the user” and prioritizing their experience and privacy. Android is a little more forgiving on developers and marketers in some ways. 

That’s why on Android users are automatically opted in to push notifications when they install the apps. iOS requires you to explicitly ask for permission from the user. 

Android also lets you ask again if the user initially declines. On iOS, this is not the case, the user must go to the settings and allow notifications from the app themselves. 

Difference 2: Delivery and Display 

On iOS, notifications show up on the lock screen, then the Notification Center if not immediately engaged with. They can also appear as banners when the device is unlocked.  

Android notifications pop up on the status bar, with detailed views available in the Notification Shade, as well as the lock screen. They stay until dismissed. 

This is a subtle difference but can affect user interaction patterns. 

iOS aims for a tiered approach, guiding users from high-level alerts to detailed views - but Android offers immediate at-a-glance information via the status bar. 

This difference in design philosophy can influence user engagement and response times to notifications.

Another difference is in grouping. On iOS, notifications are grouped by app by default, with options to customize by topic or remove grouping entirely. 

Android again has more flexibility, allowing for multiple notifications from a single app to be bundled together, and for users to expand the bundle to see each individual notification. A handy tool for businesses who want to send a lot of notifications. 

Difference 3: Customization and Personalization

Both Android and iOS push notifications offer customization options. But to different degrees. 

Android offers more flexibility in terms of customization, allowing you to add different kinds of images and media and longer messages.  You can customize the layout, colors, fonts, and even add custom actions to a greater degree.

Android allows you to use different sizes of images, custom views, and even dynamic content like progress bars!

iOS aims for a more uniformed look, giving you less flexibility while allowing you to set a title, subtitle, and body for the notification. 

iOS does offer rich media attachments, allowing you to include images, sounds, and videos in your notifications, but you don’t have quite the free reign you do on Android. 

Difference 4: User Interaction and Engagement

On iOS, users can interact with notifications by tapping on them to open the corresponding app or perform specific actions directly from the notification itself, thanks to interactive buttons. Users can also dismiss notifications individually or clear them all with a single action.

For Android, users have more control over their notifications. 

They can swipe away individual notifications or dismiss them all at once. Android also supports expanded notifications, allowing users to interact with the notification content without opening the app. This can include actions like replying to a message or completing a task.

Succeeding with Push Notifications on iOS and Android

As we’ve seen, there are subtle but important differences between push notifications on iOS vs Android. The overriding theme is that Apple is a little more strict, while Android (to an extent) gives you more free reign. 

It’s not like you need to choose one or the other though, and the differences are not critically important. Ultimately knowing the differences is helpful, because you need to work within the bounds of each platform, but you don’t need to choose one or the other. Of course you should have both iOS and Android apps and be sending push notifications to both platforms.

The best way to do this, by far, is to build apps with MobiLoud. 

MobiLoud takes your website, eCommerce store, or complex web app, and then converts it into native mobile apps for both iOS and Android. 

We save you months of work and tens (or hundreds) of thousands of dollars compared to an agency, while giving you top quality native apps. 

We also integrate with OneSignal - the best push notification provider on the market.

You can use OneSignal’s infrastructure on top of MobiLoud’s to send unlimited notifications on both platforms easily and effectively. We take all the complexity out of setting up and sending notifications, and give you powerful tools like abandoned cart notifications and other features.

There’s really no better way to leverage the power of native apps and push notifications. 

Check out some of our example apps, and case studies.

Even better - get a free preview of your app and book a demo to speak to one of our app experts and get the ball rolling. 

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