My colleague Irina Doliov and I were fortunate to attend a seminar on push notifications earlier this month put on by Urban Airship, one of the leading providers of push notification / messaging services for mobile app developers. It was a highly informative look into the world of mobile app developers, and the central role that automated messaging is playing in the smartphone / tablet revolution.

Urban Airship CMO Brent Hieggelke discussed the most important practices for earning your way onto a consumer’s screen, and how to keep engaging once you’re there. We also heard from Chris Sweis of JunoWallet, who recounted how his company courted disaster when it had to disable push notifications for a short period of time due to server issues. And finally we heard from Scott Michaels from Atimi, which is a leading app development shop for leading consumer brands and sports franchises.

Coming from the world of email and mobile text messaging, it was fascinating to hear firsthand of the challenges companies face in mobile app development and push notifications. Some key takeaways:

  • Push is growing faster than any other messaging channel – by a lot. [Tweet This!]
  • The smartphone/tablet screen is now seen by major consumer brands as the most valuable real estate in the world. Not TV. [Tweet This!]
  • If it hasn’t happened already, it will soon become the case that consumers spend more time interacting with mobile apps than they do watching TV.
  • Push is essential to mobile app engagement. [Tweet This!]
  • Apps without push have only half the retention rate of those with push. [Tweet This!]
  • Apps with push have four times the engagement rate of those without. [Tweet This!] Chris from Juno related that when they had to turn off their push capability for a few months (they were running an in-house server that couldn’t scale) and the outage drove engagement rates into steep decline. Essentially, an app without notification capabilities just will not drive the kind of engagement rates you need to establish a successful app business.
  • The key engagement metrics for app developers are:
    • App downloads
    • Push opt in
    • Location opt in
    • When app developers get all three, it pretty much opens the Pandora’s box of marketing possibilities – location is a whole new world.
    • Apps have an average lifespan of 1 month. [Tweet This!]
    • Apple leads the way in the app business and everyone has to play by their rules: eg, no sales pitches in your notifications!
    • Google/Android tends to follow Apple’s lead within a 3 – 4 month lag time.
    • Apple Passbook is seen as the next evolution in the app / push world.

Maybe the most important point that I walked away with came from Scott from Atimi who said (paraphrasing): anyone who claims to know what’s going to happen with the apps/mobile business beyond 12 months is blowing smoke. Everything is just moving too fast to know with any certainty what’s coming down the pike.

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