iPhone users have longed for what computer users have enjoyed for years – using multiple applications concurrently. At present, the iPhone only allows Apple applications to run in the background. That means that all third-party apps cannot run in the background and only run when you are using them. Great for memory management (i.e.) your phone does not slow down, bad for users who want to listen to Pandora while they are reading an email.
Apple’s solution will be a new feature called push notifications, packaged in the iPhone 3.0 software update. Instead of having the application run in the background and occupy memory, a server will instead “push” notifications to the iPhone without any user intervention, similar to how emails get pushed to the device. For example, an instant messaging application can push new instant messages, a Twitter app could push new @replies, or a news application could push breaking stories.
What’s interesting about this from a communications perspective is completely unrelated to the dilemma of having multiple apps open simultaneously. What push notifications allows for is a direct connection from organization to user (if the user so chooses). A grassroots organization could send out notifications to their users of potential rallies. A campaign can notify volunteers of a corner to canvas. Updates of fundraising totals, or new phone numbers to call. All through direct, unobtrusive messages that arrive without the user having to hit refresh or load.
And what’s REALLY neat about the whole thing is what happens after the notification comes. Those examples I mentioned above? That can pretty much happen now with a text message. But unlike a text message, a push notification can directly link into an iPhone application, creating a seamless transition that can make it easier for users to actually do what the notification suggests. It removes a barrier than can exist from a SMS or email – instead, sending the user DIRECTLY into the application where that valuable piece of instructions or messages are waiting. It opens up worlds of possibilities of organizations who are always searching for the fastest and easiest ways to get information out there.