What Are Android Push Notifications?

Push Notifications Android Featured

We’re constantly bombarded with alerts on our Android phones, but one type reigns supreme: push notifications. Designed to grab our attention, they can be a powerful tool. But what are they, and how do they differ from other notifications? This guide dives deep into the world of push notifications on Android and explores their various uses.

Good to know: did you know that it’s possible to control your Android without touching the screen? Learn how in this tutorial.

What Are Android Push Notifications?

A push notification on Android is a small clickable message that pops up on your device. An app’s external server will typically send this to your smartphone, allowing you to view it, even when you’re not using the app. Note that the app must first ask for your permission to send push notifications. Websites can also send push notifications, and just as apps do, they will ask if they are allowed to send alerts.

Push notifications on Android offer a crucial communication channel. Without them, product and marketing teams can only interact with users through Android in-app notifications or resort to less effective methods, like SMS and email. Push notifications, on the other hand, effectively allow brands to stay connected to their audience.

Android in-app notifications are a separate type of notification, exclusively displayed inside the app. This can include notifications that highlight app updates, ask for user feedback, etc. While push notifications are aimed at disengaged users, in an attempt to attract them to return to the app, in-app notifications target users who are already actively using the app.

When a push notification arrives on your Android phone, you’ll hear the personalized notification tone and see a short message. Push notifications will also put a numbered/dot badge over the app’s icon (if you have those enabled), allowing you to complete an action without opening the app.

Tip: can’t establish a Bluetooth connection on your Android? Learn how to fix it.

Types of Android Push Notifications

There are primarily two types of Android push notifications:

  • Default –this is the most common type of push notification on Android. It typically includes an image (thumbnail) and a short message. Tapping will almost always open a relevant section within the app. For example, the BBC app sends me notifications featuring breaking news headlines, and tapping on one will redirect me to the full stories within the app.
  • Interactive – these notifications are usually actionable; they may include buttons within the notification that allow users to interact with the app without launching it. For instance, the VOS app sends me a daily mood check. The notification lets me input my state of mind via a tap from the notification shade.

Depending on the information included in the push notification, we can further classify them as utility notifications, update notifications, or promo notifications. The first type can alert you of things, such as a recent financial transaction or the status of a package delivery. They can even nudge you to complete a daily workout. The second type sends alerts related to recent updates in an app, such as when a new story gets added, or you’ve received a new email. Finally, promo notifications alert users to new discounts.

How Do Android Push Notifications Work?

Push notifications are sent by app creators to users’ devices. If a user interacts with the notification, the messages travel back to the source, bringing feedback with it.

As previously specified, when you download an app, it will ask your permission to send notifications in the first few seconds. If you agree, a unique code, called a token, is generated for your device.

Once the app developer has created a notification, it will send it along with the token to Google’s Firebase Cloud Messaging (FCM), which was formerly known as Google Cloud Messaging (GCM). As of 2023 is available for free. The service uses the token to identify your device and securely deliver the notification to Google Play Services running on your phone.

When Play Services recognizes the app, it will display the notification on your screen, even if the app is not open on your mobile device.

Some Disadvantages for Android users

While push notifications are extremely effective tools for marketers, one of their major drawbacks is that they can quickly annoy the user if they are too persistent. Fortunately, you can easily disable push notifications for an app and more from your phone’s Settings app.

Android allows you to disable select notifications for various apps. For instance, for Instagram, you have the option to disable notifications for things like Direct Messages, comments, or new followers (among many other options).

Viewing all types of different notifications for Instagram app.

Keep in mind that some apps can be very aggressive and send push notifications that wake your screen. This can be very annoying, especially if you’re trying to sleep, and the screen randomly lights up. In cases like this, disabling notifications from the app may not be enough. You might need to check whether the app has any notification settings of its own.

FYI: Android lets you share apps with your friends.

How to View Push Notifications on Android

Wondering how to view your latest batch of push notifications? Depending on your Android’s respective settings, you can access notifications by using one of these methods:

Via Status Bar and Notification Drawer

If your device’s screen is on, check your push notifications via the status bar. Icons at the top of the screen indicate that new notifications are available for your device.

Push notifications showing in Android status bar.

To view the specifics for each notification, swipe from the top of the display to reveal more details for each. As explained, some of these notifications are actionable, and you can interact with them beyond just tapping to open them in the app.

Notification drawer showing notification details on Android phone.

If you’re using your phone, and a notification comes in, you’ll see a small preview at the top. However, some apps, like WhatsApp, have the option to hide these previews from view.

Via Lock Screen

By default, push notifications will also show up in your Android lockscreen. That means they are visible even if you haven’t yet unlocked your device. A few details are also available, depending on the level of security implemented, so you can get an idea of what the notification is trying to convey.

Notifications view on Android lock screen.

If you’re worried about privacy, hide your push notifications from your Android lockscreen by going to Settings -> Notifications -> Notifications on lock screen.

Via Wear OS Device

If you have a Wear OS smartwatch connected to your Android phone, you can view your push notifications on your wearable as well.

A small dot on the left side of your watch face indicates a new alert on your phone. To access the notification, tap and hold the indicator and swipe right to view it. If there are multiple notifications, continue swiping right to view them all.

Checking notifications on Wear OS smartwatch.

Tip: can’t find your downloaded files on Android? Check out our post to see how to get to them.

Customize Your Notifications Experience

Android and its forks give you some controls on how you experience notifications. For instance, make your Samsung phone light up when receiving notifications. (A similar option for the Google Pixel is also available.) Since we’re on the topic, if you’re unsure whether your Samsung device runs Android, find the answer in this guide.

All images and screenshots by Alexandra.

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Alexandra Arici

Alexandra is passionate about mobile tech and can be often found fiddling with a smartphone from some obscure company. She kick-started her career in tech journalism in 2013, after working a few years as a middle-school teacher. Constantly driven by curiosity, Alexandra likes to know how things work and to share that knowledge with everyone.

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