Whatever Happened to the iPhone's Push Notification Service?

TiPb has theorized before that Apple's promised-by-September-yet-still-undelivered Push Notification Service (their alternative to actually allowing 3rd party multi-tasking) hasn't shipped yet because MobileMe taught Apple -- very painfully and publicly -- that it's better to take their time and get push services right than rush them out broken and buggy.

Now it's almost February, iPhone OS 2.1 has become 2.2.1 with still no PNS in sight, and rumors around Macworld this year whispered that, if PNS wasn't dead, it was at least playing that way.

Macworld's Dan Moran is sharing his own thoughts and theories on the issue, that Apple might have tried for more than it could accomplish, that PNS doesn't really go far enough anyway, that too much notification can be a Bad Thing, that Apple will kill poor solutions, and most interestingly, that maybe regular users just don't care:

Maybe that’s the simple answer: that people—to wit, users—just don’t care. They’ve learned to adapt to the iPhone’s way of doing things, and that way doesn’t include notifications or multitasking...at the moment, anyway. At some point in the future it seems likely that Apple will introduce a new feature that takes care of the issues that notifications would have addressed, and it appears that most users are content to wait until then.

How about it, regular users? Would you rather have bad PNS than none at all? Or are you really content to wait, figuring Apple will figure it out eventually? Or do you really just not care about PNS at all?

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, ZEN and TECH, MacBreak Weekly. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter, App.net, Google+.

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There are 47 comments. Add yours.

russd456 says:

Im a student at rutgers and my school email does not work with the iPhone email service so to check my mail I have to go to the actual website. Honestly though I like it better this way. I can do much more on the web site then if there service worked with apples email app... I'm sure there are many iPhone users who have similar situations.. So I really don't care about pns

Scott says:

I would rather have bad than none. I have adapted to using my phone within the confines of the Apple ecosystem but would love to at least see something. Most everything that is released from phones to cars to computers has a glitch. These things can be addressed with updates. Apple has got to get away from waiting for "perfect" and release what they can. Otherwise people may start jumping ship in favor of other devises as opposed to waiting for Apple/Jobs to approval. Me being one of them....
I have noticed that the iPhone has opened a whole new world to me of things that I never used. Mainly social networking. Now that I am aware of them it pains me to see other phones that do it right out of the chute and do it well.
For now I will wait...but at some point the waiting will give in.

Pinny says:

PEOPLE DON'T CARE? At the very least evryone wants push for IM. Beejive is an amazing app, but it's expensive, and it's functionallity should be available for free (like it is on major competing platforms).

Guinness0514 says:

I would like to see something even if it was a little buggy. I can't stand to start streaming through Simplfy Media only then to get a text message. You have to back out and answer the message (close ended if possible) Then to go back to try to stream music again...only to have a reply to the text again...ugh...to me I need PNS!

Afrocane says:

The lack of push notifiction is the reason I still carry my trusty old blackerry around as well as the iPhone. I hear a facebook chime on the bb then open fb on the iPhone :-) I also use beejive on the bb even though I've paid for it on the iPhone
Go figure

rpv says:

what? nobody emailed Steve Jobs about it to get a personal reply? unbelievable nonsense, i think Apple is working on a new model which would simply have multi-tasking and will push everyone to upgrade.

JonoMacDono says:

I agree with rpv, I think PNS just fell to the way-side while Apple was developing the next gen. Third gen iPhone will most likely have multi-tasking built into it. And as a user who waited out some of the MobileMe crap and bought it a few months after it release, I view PNS the same way. I would rather have something reliable than something rushed to the market.

Tim says:

Even a premature release would better the situation, if only to draw attention to the feature and get Apple to refine it quickly. If the release sucked, all eyes would be trained on Apple to get it right.

Schwartz says:

This is why I keep my BB Curve in addition to the iPhone. On weekdays/business trips when I need to stay in touch with push mail and IM it can't be beat. I think an ideal combo would be a BB for phone/email/IM and a 32GB iPod Touch that could leverage Bluetooth dial-up profile to use the BB's 3G connection for net access. Maybe some jailbreak app will figure that out.

BenGillam says:

If they read forums and twitter they would see that people do care very much. At the very least it would save me having to delete 100s of palringo alerts

Paul says:

I think they need to slowly roll it out by first only allowing a few approved apps like AIM have access, and work from there

pandemicsoul says:

I agree with Paul. I HATE not being able to stream from Pandora when I have anything else (text messaging/emailing/etc.) going on. Really puts a dampener on any other service I use. Why not just roll it out with the most stable apps that have developers who can work with Apple to perfect it. Once they've got that down-pat, then they can roll it out to all apps.

The Reptile says:

Somehow, I don't think that Apple is content to do nothing on this because people have gotten used to the iPhone way of doing things. They know that others are more than willing to go to battle with them and even steal their IP if they simply stand around. My sense is that they're either trying to get it right or they're delaying it for something better in 3.0. Either way, it might be better to drop a hint in an updated SDK or OS release than to leave people hanging.

Peter says:

I think they do care, but the push-solution isnt perfect at all.
Push notification means, that every developer needs a server based application which handles customer's events and push outs a notification to Apple.
For a IM-App that means, that all connections of all customers must be handled on the server of the company that made that app. Then when somebody writes to a customer, they pass it to Apple's notification server. That's a really hard thing to deal with, you need many ressources.
Or imagine a simple birthday app, like there exist already on the app store. At the moment they cant notify users of an upcoming birthday. With PN they would have to copy all birthdays to their servers, to be able to send a PushNotification to their app-customers... Again: Many ressources, programming effort...
As you see, its a complicated and unefficient solution. Furthermore not every appstore developer, has enough client-server programming skills..
If I had to guess I would say that they will come up with a different solution. Maybe developers will be allowed to set cronjobs, but just with a minimum delay and not if a certain amount is reached. That would be a solution for the birthday app... And the IM App could also check every 5 minutes for new messages...
OR they really make it simple and allow at least one application multitask. For me that would be enough. If I want to listen to last.fm or be available in my favourite IM-app....
I think a combination of both (cronjob / 1 app multitask) would be the best solution!

tor-bjorn says:

PNS is the MINIMUM requirement, but I would much rather see multitasking in the next iPhone OS. I'm really beginning to lose patient, and it hurts me to see other manufactures catch up, and now leave Apple behind.

Peter says:

Multitasking IS possible with the underlying MacOS the iPhone is running. But Apple disabled it for third-party apps because it would be to battery intensive and could make the main functionalities fail (like Phone).
If you cant wait install "Backgrounder" with Cydia. It lets you use any app in multitasking..

Steve Jobs says:

amazing all these gripes and yet such high user satisfaction with iPhone. So maybe people dont think having the ability to stream and answer a text at same time is worth the risk.
Blackberry, for all its faults, accomplishes this flawlessly. And those of you saying you would rather have a bad service than nothing are full of it. Why would you ruin the overall experience by having to deal with bugs and poor performance.
The OS was designed this way for a reason and the hard truth is the current iPhone will never have this function. I repeat NEVER. It will invite way too much headache from a tech support standpoint.
I like my iPhone for what it is - a portable media / entertainment device but multitasking means productivity and i'm sorry fanbois but thats not what its original design was for. Dont muck it up with this wishlist. You cant have you iPhone and eat your BlackBerry too.

russd456 says:

orr you can just get a palm pre haha

yihdego says:

Or you could get windows mobile
Seriously, its available and proven and has a more than one form factor and can do everything you're complaining about your iPhone and then actually browse the real internet.
Oh that's right I forgot it isn't cool.

Manny says:

jailbreak and all use backrounder the new update of it actually works :-)

Steve says:

@yihdego: Windows Mobile... LMAO!! :lol:

jasonact says:

I definitely would prefer to have some kind of PNS, but I've adapted well to life without one. I want them to get it right, so I'm making do without fine, but I definitely want it.
@yihdego WinMo is not an option. With or without PNS, the iPhone fits me MUCH better than WinMo ever could.

Steve Jobs says:

Isnt WinMo the slow OS that crashes a lot? Maybe the Pre may have a competitive OS but my prior experience with WinMo hasnt been that great

WatersWest says:

I know there are a lot of people who want it, but I say no big deal. I wouldn't use it. SMS is fine for me. Just my 2 cents.

Sean Peters says:

Steve Jobs @18:

So maybe people dont think having the ability to stream and answer a text at same time is worth the risk.

Umm, sorry but some of us do think it's worth the "risk" (such as it is). To the point that if I wasn't locked into this damn contract with AT&T, I'd send back the phone.

I like my iPhone for what it is - a portable media / entertainment device but multitasking means productivity and i’m sorry fanbois but thats not what its original design was for. Dont muck it up with this wishlist. You cant have you iPhone and eat your BlackBerry too.

Dude, what is it with you? Why is it that you think that no one should be able to have any features that you're not personally interested in? It would be perfectly simple to have a settings switch that either allowed or disallowed multi-tasking, and let users decide whether they wanted to take the nail-biting risk of their battery running out. But no, SJ only wants the functionality that came with the damn thing, and therefore, no one else can have anything different. This yet another example of the NO TWO BUTTON MOUSE EVAR! theory of Apple fandom.

Tamer says:

I think we need the PNS. I came from the BB world and I miss the PNS of the AIM, FB and other services. It sucks to have to wait for apple to get their act together. I love my iPhone, but it is missing some vital features:
- Copy and paste (I still cannot believe they do not have this!!!!)
- VOIP - I dial a lot of international and I would love to get free VOIP on my wifi connections
- customize the ringtones and alerts for all apps and mail notifications

Mariano S. says:

You can do VoIP over wifi right now on the iPhone with fring and many other apps...

Steve Jobs says:

@Sean Peters
Obviously the designers of the iPhone clearly dont think its users want these features or that their inclusion would create issues elsewhere. A switch to enable multitasking? Is that a joke????
By risk, i dont mean battery life but that is an important issue - thanks for mentioning. I forgot there is no replaceable battery. I meant the issue that most idiots who use computers tend to be not smart enough to properly close apps running in the background. I see it all the time on blackberry and other forums. Over time, these create conflcits, memory leaks and other issues that would reduce the stability of the iPhone. So its makers decide that the device is better served as a more simpler media/app device.
I dont get the cries to use your cell phone as a friggin server.

ryrycalguy says:

Yes! PNS is needed! And, YES, I do care!
I agree with Paul, PNS for certain approved apps (at least in the beginning) should be how it goes. Start off with Facebook/Myspace, BeeJive/AIM, eBay, and Twitter apps.

nick says:

how hard is it apple? RIM can do it so can you. get it togehter apple.

fassy says:

It is not "using a cell phone as a friggen server" to ask that IM works without being the sole running task. This is a feature less powerful cel phones have had for quite some time. It is not "using a cell phone as a friggen server" to ask that RSS feeds be downloaded in the background on a schedule. Again, this is a feature other phones have had for quite some time.
Apple cited performance and battery life as reasons not to allow background processes. We all remember the WinMo task manager Scott Forstall used to mock that approach. Fine -- they promised PNS as their solution to satisfying these desires without impacting performance or battery life.
I might prefer true background processes, but I understand the trade-offs, as they outlined them, and bought my iPhone in part because their stated intentions would work well enough for my needs. The problem is that Apple delivered a phone with limitations, promised a solution on a specific date, and now, almost half a year after that promised date, they refuse even to acknowledge the issue. It most certainly is not "crying" to ask Apple to stand behind their public promises, or at least to give some answers as to why they have failed to do so.

Manuel R. Ciosici says:

Paul's ideea is a good one! PNS was supposed to give users more freedom. Picture this: I have to open AppStore, FaceBook, Fring, Twiteriffic and SaiSuke to get up to speed with everything. PNS would get me rid of all this checking. I'm sure there are other people whose lifes would become easier if some form of PNS would be released.
@Steve Jobs, if you really are Steve Jobs, I suggest you rest and deal with those health issues. You can throw yourself into flaming discussions starting june. You still have a few golden eggs to offer and I we don't want to lose you!

Mashono says:

I would really like PNS for apps such as Facebook and Palringo. I don't want to have to pop in and out of the app 30 times. I'd rather have them bring it out functionable and not broken so I don't mind seeing it maybe in 3.0.
I do agree with Steve Jobs on the Multi-tasking on off button not being a good feature because it would slow down the phone with apps running in the background.. I do agree with Sean Peters on having whatever your interested in on your phone like using prouductivity apps for buisness and thoughs would work wonders with Multi-tasking but with the slower phone. PNS is really needed by me.

lordzod01 says:

I think apple just put things like this on the backburner. I mean apple know people jailbreak their phones, they don't like it but it solves some of there problems. While the people who do jb their phones will wait because third party apps make do. This stops some of those complaining. This now leaves apple with the people who don't jb. Now a percentage of these will complain, but to apple this is a small percentage compared to the whole.
To sum up:
Everyone who is tied to a contract has to wait, people who jb are less likely to moan. When you look at it like this, they are just using treaje to pick their battles. They know in the end it will all be there, it's just what order it all comes out in.

Jellotime91 says:

This only pisses me off because apple promised it to us without really knowing if they could deliver..
If the iPhone is to do all of this multi-tasking stuff, it needs a faster processor because it already has problems running one application without occasional random crashes. Also the next gen iPhone is likely to have a bigger screen resolution.... More ARM power please Apple?
Let's demand the third gen iPhone be the first mobile phone with a 1Ghz ARM processor :O

jeh says:

There just isn't eonugh RAM on the iphone for background processes.

Paul says:

In regards to developers possibly having to put up the notifications on their own servers (and do the extra coding etc), I'm sure the heavy hitters like AIM, Myspace and Facebook would jump at this opportunity.

JNsince1985 says:

I've had pretty much every type of multi tasking device you can have. From a hip top sk, to a windows mobile mogul. The iPhone is good but terrible compared to those devices for IM. The only reason I care about PNS is because I'm so use to it and apple PROMISESD it. The best thing I could have done was jailbreak my phone. With backgrounder & status notifer, I get the ILLUSION that it's as good as my previous devices. It's just a shame that one of the hottest phones out lacks such simple things. Plus, apple doesn't even mention Push at all smh. Like people will just forget about it. That's bad business.

2XS says:

I do care! Actually so much that I ´ll have the PalmPre on day one. (anyway I like this blog here ;-)) Since leaving the PalmOS hardware and having fun with the iPhone my way of getting things done is completely ruined... just because memos and tasks do not synch with outlook and do not remember me of being overdue in office related stuff.
And btw, is everyone already aware that you have to sign mobileMe for quite some bucks just for three to five extra notifications a day ??? Put you PNS where the sun´s not shining, Apple!

Amon says:

I want PNS and very badly at that (not bad PNS mind you!).
Many might not agree but I have a used a few phones before I got myself an iPhone, symbian, winmo or BB. I was never short on functionality/ productivity with any of those phones, agreed that the user experience wasnt at its best (before I experienced the iPhone i.e.), with iPhone, I must say the UI is great as is the cool factor but when it comes to function ist far lacking:(
I think the winmo crash is stretched far too much, I didnt face it muvh more than I do on my iPhone, maybe because I was lucky or maybe because HTC Touch I used was really good.
Based on my experience I think winmo should improve its touchability, iphone its functionality.
I am seriously considering carrying a second phone as a primary phone!
I think Apple began with ipod-phone and somewhere down the line wanted it to become a smartphone, a lot to be desired still on that front unfortunately.
As a consumer with not much of an allegiance to any brand, I want better phones!

patrick says:

I will not be keeping my iPhone if PNS doesn't show by the time my contract is up...I'll be jumping all over the Pre (if it's all they claim it is). Frankly, I might not have bought it at all had I known that it wasn't going to show up.
It's an embarrassment that in 2009, the best phone on the market can't get an instant message from AOL or Google, except via some kludgey third party server that forwards it to text messages or email. My weather app can't get alerts when there's a severe storm in my area. Why can't I get an rss feed on my home screen? Etc.
Background processes would be nice, but all you really need these days is a way for the cloud to talk to you. Always-on (or periodically refreshed) GPS would be pretty nice, too, but for now just GIVE ME MY FRICKIN' PUSH NOTIFICATIONS.

Seth says:

It makes sense to allow some iPhone apps to continue in the background, like Apple does for the Phone and iPod apps. The same should be for apps like Slacker or instant messaging.
One solution I would like to see is having both background applications and PNS. PNS would be available to supporting apps by default, and would be helpful for update-style information such as RSS and instant messaging. However, the user should be able to specify apps in Settings that are allowed to persist but be hidden when the home key is pressed, such as streaming music apps like Slacker; others would be closed. A novice user would get push updates without concerns of overloading the memory, because PNS would just work automatically. A more advanced user could select that an app like Slacker could continue to play in the background. Further, Apple could require that developers make their apps close even if allowed to persist, if they are not serving a function for the user in the background, like if Slacker is on Pause and the home key is pressed.

Ari says:

We need PNS badly. I actually feel there are too few things that push properly to the phone. Imagine if the phone notified you of various things in new ways. The calendar should display a number for every item you have scheduled that day, so you can remember to check it. IM and social networking services (like Twitter, Facebook and MySpace) should push directly to the phone. These things are highly necessary, and quick. I have been waiting for the PNS update since they announced it.

Лев says:

А это Вы написали на основе личного опыта?

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