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Push Comes to Chrome: Desktop + Android

Push Notifications for Chrome vs. Other Communication Channels

 

With the release of Chrome 42, Chrome supports push notifications for desktop and Android.

 Websites can now send push notifications to Android users running Chrome 42 or later without needing a standalone Android app. Chrome push notifications on Android show up the same way as push notifications from native apps, meaning that users get the same great notification experience they’ve come to expect from their Android devices.

 Notifications on Chrome for Android intentionally blur the line between mobile web and native apps, making it easier than ever for websites and companies to engage mobile audiences without prohibitive app development costs.

 

What does this mean for websites and developers? To answer this question, we will take a look at:

  1. Various channels for communicating with users;
  2. The potential audience (reach) of Chrome notifications as of June 2015;
  3. Who is using Chrome notifications so far (and how they work);
  4. And what it takes to get started with Chrome notifications for your website.

 

Part I – Channels for Sending Messages to Followers/ Customers

 

Chrome notifications are new and hip, but there are many ways of interacting with followers or customers. Let’s consider some options:

  1. Email
  2. Text message
  3. Twitter
  4. Facebook
  5. Instagram
  6. iOS push notifications
  7. Android push notifications
  8. Windows Phone push notifications
  9. Chrome push notifications
  10. Safari push notifications

 

Unfortunately, each of these options need to be implemented independently, with different development costs for each. Let’s compare the communication channels enumerated above:

Tables-03-comp

*According to Twitter company website: https://about.twitter.com/company
** According to Venture Beat: http://venturebeat.com/2015/04/22/facebook-passes-1-44b-monthly-active-users-1-25b-mobile-users-and-936-million-daily-users/
*** According to Instagram Press Page: https://instagram.com/press/

It’s clear that there are a great number of ways to connect with followers of your website – which is great, because news publications, blogs, online shops, and SaaS companies will have differing goals and strategies for communicating with their user base. While it is advisable to use multiple channels of communication, dominant strategies will vary. What’s important is understanding your users and communicating with them on the social networks and technologies that they’re actually using.

 

We would like to suggest that Chrome notifications have great potential among this mix of communication channels for two reasons:

1) they are relatively inexpensive to implement and maintain (especially compared to native mobile apps), and
2) the potential audience for Chrome notifications will continue to grow for the foreseeable future.

Let’s consider the potential audience for Chrome notifications today, and compare it with the potential audience for Safari desktop notifications.

 

Part II – Chrome Notifications and Browser Market Shares

 

To start, here is a breakdown of what Chrome notifications offer compared to what Safari notifications offer.

Tables-04-comp

Next, we need to consider how many people are actually using platforms that support browser push notifications:

  • Chrome 42 and up for desktop;
  • Chrome 42 and up for Android;
  • Safari 6 and up for desktop in OS X 10.9 and 10.10.

The graph below gives us a quick snapshot of the top 9 mobile browsers worldwide so far during the year 2015.

StatCounter-browser-ww-monthly-201501-201505-bar (1)

And this graph shows us the top 9 mobile browsers within the United States (also for 2015).

StatCounter-browser-US-monthly-201501-201505-bar (1)

Image source: http://gs.statcounter.com/#browser-ww-monthly-201405-201504

 As we can see from the charts above, Safari has been the most popular mobile browser in the US so far this year. Looking at worldwide statistics, however, Chrome takes the lead.

 In the US, approximately 36.6% of mobile users are on Chrome. According to W3counter, however, only around 15.5% of users are running Chrome 42 (and we can infer from their rankings that Chrome 43 represents less than 2% of current browser market share).

 Based on this data, let’s assume that the following percentages are a good ballpark estimate of mobile browser usage in the US for 2015:

 

Mobile Browser Estimated Adoption Rate, US (2015)
Chrome 42 15.5%
Chrome 43 < 2%
Safari (all versions) 49%

 

This means that approximately 15-18% of the mobile market in the US can be effectively engaged with Chrome push notifications right now. Since almost half of mobile internet users in the US are using Safari at the moment, it appears that iOS notifications through native apps for iPhone and iPad would have a much greater reach than Chrome notifications could within the United States.

 In defense of Chrome notifications, this technology is just starting, and adoption rates of Chrome versions for mobile that support notifications will climb steadily over the coming months. Additionally, the adoption rates of Chrome on a global scale suggest that Chrome notifications may have a greater potential audience globally, including in Europe.

 

Part III – Early Adopters: Who’s Actually Using Chrome Notifications?

 

It is still the early days for Chrome push notifications. As noted on the Chromium blog in April 2015, early adopters of this protocol include Beyond the Rack, eBay, Facebook, FanSided, Pinterest, Product Hunt, and VICE News.

 

A brief aside:

Russell (the author of this post) has been testing out Chrome push notifications from Vice News since April, and has found them to be unobtrusive, albeit not overly helpful. Flipping open the MacBook Air and connecting to WiFi often yields a string of notifications from Vice News that were missed over the past few hours. These notifications don’t ‘live’ anywhere convenient after they first appear, however. Neither do they integrate into OS X’s notification tray, nor do they get pinned to any notifications panel within Chrome (at least that’s how it appears). As such, they typically amount to a brief message that is never clicked on.

 

Activating Push Notifications for Chrome

 

When you browse to a website that offers push notifications, such as Go Roost, you will see this box pop up on the left-hand side of the browser window:

As soon as you click “Allow,” the website will be able to send you push notifications at any time, whether or not Chrome is open or you have the website loaded in a tab.

 It is also possible to allow notifications from all sites without having to “allow” on an individual basis, or to block all notifications and requests for permission (the dialogue box shown above). These settings can be changed in Chrome by click on the menu button at the top right of the Chrome window (the three horizontal lines) and going to Settings -> Show Advanced Settings -> “content settings…” (under Privacy section), and then scrolling down to Notifications.

 

Part IV – Implementing Chrome Push Notifications on Your Website

 

So you want to try out Chrome push notifications on your own website? Great! Here’s what you need to know before you dive in.

 While browser-based push notifications have been around for a few years already, Google has changed the rules by letting websites send notifications even when the site isn’t open and even when the browser is closed. That’s right – to receive Chrome notifications you don’t even need Chrome to be running! Google accomplishes this with the joint effort of the Push and Notifications APIs, as well as the assistance of Service Workers.

 Service workers, in the most basic sense, are background processes that are authorized to wake up and receive a message that is pushed by a website. In order for this to happen, though, the user first has to allow the website to create a service worker (just imagine the spam without permissions…). Once a service worker is created, it can run in the background and handle notifications without any help from the actual Chrome browser!

 As we just noted, Google’s push notifications for Chrome are powered by the Push API and the Notifications API. The Push API is currently being championed by Google as a new web standard (more information can be found here: http://www.w3.org/TR/push-api). Adding Chrome push notifications to your site is theoretically easy, but in practice does require a fair amount of work for your programmers (or yourself if that’s your role!).

 If you’re a developer, then you’ll want to start by checking out Google’s own guide to Implementing Push Messaging for Chrome, which goes through the nitty-gritty of implementation along with sample code and FAQs. Google also offers handy links to the specifications for Service Workers and the Push and Notifications APIs, copied here:

Service Workers: https://slightlyoff.github.io/ServiceWorker/spec/service_worker/
Push API: https://w3c.github.io/push-api/
Notifications API: https://notifications.spec.whatwg.org/

 

If you’re not a developer, then you’ll probably want to talk to your development team to figure out if it Chrome push notifications make sense for your site. We’ll consider the question of “To push or not to push?” in our final section:

 

So… SHOULD I Implement Chrome Push Notifications? What’s all the fuss?

 

There are some definite benefits to using Chrome notifications. They let you:

  • send push notifications without the cost of developing and maintaining a native Android app;
  • reach a wide audience spanning both mobile and desktop users;
  • and even let users add your website to their homescreen with just one click.

 

Benefits aside, push notifications for Chrome are still in their infancy. There’s a lot of potential, but at this point in the game whether or not you should implement them really depends on who your users are and how they prefer to interact with your website. Before you rush into implementing any new notification or communications channels, make sure to ask yourself:

  • What do I intend to communicate through this channel?
  • Does my audience overlap with users of this communication channel?
  • Will my notifications/ messages add value for my audience?
  • What are the costs of implementation?
  • What are the benefits of implementation?


Even if you decide that Chrome notifications aren’t right for you and your website at the moment, you should definitely keep an eye on their development over the coming months. Chrome has serious market penetration, and if websites and companies can convince users that they need more notifications flooding into their desktops, mobiles, and smart watches, then Chrome notifications could just be the next big thing in instant communication.

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