Apple is on the verge of releasing iOS 10, and rich push notifications have been one of the most buzzed-about features from beta versions.

These enhanced notifications enable app marketers to communicate in a more creative and interactive way, using photos, audio and video. For Apple it’s a move to bring their push capabilities to parity with Android. For marketers, it’s a tremendous opportunity to engage app users to increase engagement.

But with Apple overhauling its notification system on multiple fronts, from the way these notifications are presented to the way users interact with them, marketers looking to be early adopters must be aware of the impact to messaging capabilities and the resulting impact to their strategic planning and workflows.

Our prediction is that rich push will be highly adopted by mobile-focused retailers, publishers, travel companies and gaming apps. Given Apple carries a disproportionate influence in the mobile ecosystem, we expect to see early adopters prove value and then widespread adoption by the second quarter of 2017. Android will benefit from the adoption as brands that have previously held out on using rich push via Android will leverage their work with iOS 10 to offer rich push across both platforms.

To help app marketers and agencies take advantage of rich push and update their notification strategies in time for iOS 10’s public launch we created a step-by-step guide, answering five key questions about the technical aspects of rich push, providing specific recommendations for each, and also introducing a new push notification funnel:

We have also summarized our findings in one chart:

Note: Our guide is based on the beta versions of iOS 10. Some functionality described here may change before Apple releases the Gold Master build of iOS 10

1. What types of content can be included in rich push notifications?

Rich push notification on the lock screen


There are two new types of content that can be viewed in rich push notifications:

  • Rich media. Apple now allows apps to append images, audio files and video files to push notifications. Notifications also support animated GIFs, a reflection of Apple’s shift into more expressive ways of communicating. This new functionality is described in the company’s service extensions framework.
  • Custom app interfaces. Apple also allows apps to create custom interfacesor widgets with app-specific content–within notifications, via its content extensions framework. The benefit to marketers is a very high level of customization for what is displayed in the notification view, but use of this feature requires custom development time. Our friends at Willowtree explain this in more detail.

All push notifications can now be edited, deleted or collapsed into new ones via message retraction, which adds a new dynamic to the way push is managed. Use of this feature will also require engineering support.


Adding new types of content to push significantly changes the end-user experience. For marketers, it means the following:

  • Merchandize your notifications in a more thoughtful way. You now have a visual arsenal in your retention toolkit, and you should find creative ways to use it. Think everything from funny GIFs and explanatory videos to product pictureswhatever grabs attention, establishes context and is tested and proven to drive engagement. Retailers should consider showing new products in multiple states, like a close up shot and then the product on a model. Publishers should work within their brand voice, using media that highlights key points of a breaking news story or leveraging humor to support a feature.
  • Find creative resources to support your rich messaging efforts. Marketers need to build a library of rich media, and have a process for sourcing and developing new media. Leverage your internal creative team, and if you do not have this in-house resource, work with your agency partners or identify freelancers through third-party websites like Upwork. As with any tactic, you’ll need to test and measure what types of creative drive short-term engagement and lead to long-term gains.
  • Add advanced push functionality to your engineering roadmap. Custom interfaces will require a substantial amount of development work, while various aspects of message retraction need to be thought through before deployment. Planning ahead with engineering will get your company aligned on these needs early and prevent delays in implementation. Start these conversations now!


2. How do rich push notifications look when they first arrive?

Screen Shot 2016-09-06 at 11.17.49 AM
Anatomy of a rich push notification card


In iOS 10, push notifications appear as independent cardsa visual departure from iOS 9 which was list-oriented. They have the following components:

  • Small app icon with app name (top left)
  • Time of arrival (top right)
  • Message title (middle left)
  • Message copy (middle left)
  • “Slide for more” action copy (bottom left)

Rich push notifications add a new element to this new format:

  • Thumbnail image (middle right)

The thumbnail image shows a static preview of the appended rich media file. This preview becomes only becomes interactive once it is expanded into a larger view..


While the thumbnail preview seems like a small piece of real estate. it goes a long way in capturing attention–especially when compared against plain text push. We’ve been testing rich notifications against plain text and this new version delivers meaningful lift in message engagement and conversion. To make the most of the new look and feel, marketers should:

  • Evaluate rich media push by thumbnail appearance. All things equal, some images may look much better in a tiny format than others and result in an improvement in push open rates. It’s worth the extra step in testing.
  • Create thumbnail-first rich media for push. You can also try creating rich media files that are made specifically for thumbnails. Consider using simple shapes, symbols (eg bullseye, checkmark), or close-up images (eg product views)whatever can be instantly recognized in a tiny square. To generate more ideas, consult your creative resources. Think beyond your logo and ensure that you are creating a common visual language that your customers or readers can easily understand and connect with specific types of content.
  • Leverage personalization. With your expanded real estate, engage with your readers and customers with their name and based on their specific interests. Retailers should test messaging that speaks directly to their individual customers: “Rachel, you will love our new fall cardigans”. Publishers should do the same for their readers: “Chris, today’s top tech story: iOS 10”. It’s critical for marketers to get personalization right on mobile; missteps can lead to disengagement and app deletion. Make sure you’re connecting email, web and mobile data to offer a truly relevant experience.  

3. Where do rich push notifications appear on a device?

Rich push notification on 1) lock screen, 2) unlocked device, 3) Notification Center (locked + unlocked)


Just like in iOS 9, push notifications in iOS 10 can appear in three states on a mobile device, but subtle changes for end-users have the potential to deliver strong increases in engagement for mobile marketers.

  • On the lock screen. This is where push notifications appear when someone is not using their device. While a single tap will make lock screen notifications disappear, Apple is making a few changes to make lock screen notifications more prominent:
    • New unlocking interaction. For phones with touch ID (iPhone 6s / 6s Plus and newer), the unlocking mechanism in iOS 9–which required authentication only–was so quick that users would often bypass the lock screen and go directly to their Home screen. In iOS 10, users must press the Home button *and* authenticate via Touch ID (or a manual code), which adds an extra pause and puts the lock screen into view, giving your lock screen notifications a fighting chance for engagement.
    • Raise to wake functionality. For newer phone models with the M9 motion sensor, Apple will introduce a feature that wakes the phone the moment it is raised (something it already does with the Apple Watch). This will also make lock screen notifications more prominent.
  • As a banner at the top of the screen. This is where the push notifications appears when the phone is unlocked and/or in use. They remain for a few seconds before being auto-dismissed.
  • In the Notification Center. This is where push notifications live if they are missed on the lock screen or banner. They are only dismissed when activated. In iOS 10, Apple simplifies the Notification Center by removing widgets completely (they can be activated by swiping right on the lock screen and Home screens), which means less noise and more emphasis on notifications.


The changes in push notification real estate affects all app messagesincluding rich push–and makes it more likely  that push notifications to be viewed. Take advantage of this opportunity by testing the following:

  • Use the bigger spotlight on notifications to your advantage. Apple thinks user first, not marketer first. This update is one of the rare times when what’s good for user experience is also good for marketers.  ake advantage of this opportunity by becoming an early adopter, and prevent user fatigue by enhancing push copy with rich media.
  • Set a visual language for rich push. Consider adding visual identifiers such as colors to rich media to delineate different categories of push. For retailers, add a specific color or headline that is applied across sale, discount and promotional messages; use a different approach to new product announcements. Publishers should take a specific approach to breaking news and alter that approach to creative for interest stories and other activities.
  • Make time-sensitive push as eye-catching as possible. The short pause between unlocking your device and seeing the Home screen–when the lock screen is in viewis a golden opportunity for engagement. If your push notifications are particularly time-sensitive, make sure that they really stand out, through bold colors, branding or otherwise. But do this sparingly, as too much of it will cause push fatigue.

4. How can rich push notifications be expanded?

Rich push notification expanded to its enhanced detail view (step 2 not necessary with 3D Touch)


There are a few ways for users to expand rich push notifications once they appear on their mobile devices. While this applies to text-based push as well, we believe that rich media will greatly increase the likelihood of interaction given the payoff: a ‘detail view’ that features a full-size, interactive version of the media file.

  • Press firmly on the notification to activate 3D Touch. This is Apple’s flagship way to preview rich notifications. It’s currently only available on iPhones 6s / 6s Plus, but will become much more prevalent with the launch of iPhone 7. 3D Touch interactions can be used on notifications in the lock screen or the Notification Center. Note: For users of older iPhones, Apple may eventually introduce a “long press” (press and hold for 1-2 seconds).
  • Swipe left on the notification and tap “View”. This interaction is slower to execute, so will likely be used less frequently. This method can also be used on the lock screen or in the Notification Center.
  • Swipe down on the bottom of the notification. This interaction applies specifically to messages that appear at the top of the screen in an unlocked device. Some users are already familiar with this from their interactions with the Message app in iOS 9.


By introducing a detail view for push notifications, Apple is giving consumers the option to not open the app while still getting value from rich push. Over time, this behavior will become more natural. Marketers should embrace this change and move away from the single CTA of opening the app to a more diversified set of intermediate conversions. We recommend the following:

  • Consider an intermediate CTA for rich push. Given that only 10-40% of push notifications are opened (with metrics declining each year), consider the detail view as your opportunity to communicate your primary message and drive meaningful conversion (over just getting into the app). Focus on having your users view and engage with your rich media as app opens require both time for the app to load and time to consumer the in-app content. Given the decreased user commitment required to view rich media, we expect intermediate (non-app open) CTAs to generate higher open rates.
  • Educate users on opening a notification’s detail view. Add phrases like “3D touch or swipe left to preview” to your message. This will help to achieve the intermediate conversions and build a new behavior for interacting with your app, especially during early days of implementation and with new app users.

5. What actions can be taken on rich push notifications in detail view?

Enhanced detail view of rich push notification with 1) action buttons and 2) text input


Within the detail view of rich push, users can now take two types of actions which make notifications much more interactive and independent of the app. Afterwards, they can either end the interaction with the rich push, or continue onwards to the app:

  • Action buttons. Up to four action buttons can be included in each rich push notification. These button should be used to perform “common, time-saving tasks,” and can be grouped as:
    • Generic actions. Used to confirm, decline or snooze a notification.
    • App-specific actions. Used to send app-specific events back to the app (without actually opening it). This could include making a purchase, applying a coupon or sending store directions to maps.
  • Text input. A notification detail view can also display an onscreen keyboard for collecting text-based information. This is a unique feature that has direct utility for messaging apps, but also introduces opportunities to any app which can extract value from user content.


Actions inside push notifications provide a lightweight, commitment-free way to interact with an app. While they will never replace its fully functionality, they can abstract many of its repetitive functions. Marketers should think about the core value proposition of their in-app experience and separate it from actions that can live outside of it. We recommend the following:

  • Move all common tasks into notifications. Actions that require a simple yes/no should not live inside your app. Move all of those directly into notifications, and only provide the option to open the app after the action has taken place. While you’ll see a dip in open rates on a campaign level, at the cohort level we expect that marketers will experience meaningful lift in engagement and decreases in app deletions. Retention and loyalty are long-term plays. If you’re measuring your success simply by considering app opens from messages, it’s time to rethink your measurement plan.
  • Use actions to set time-based-reminders. You can enhance the standard snooze function by introducing a few time-based options, such as 1 day, 1 week or 1 month. Experimenting here will help you to better contextualize a near-term “no” and eventually convert it into a long-term “yes.”
  • Use actions to learn about user preferences. Data is one of the most valuable sources of value for app marketers, especially pertaining to users who have not converted to a desired behavior (eg consume content, create content, make purchase). Consider rich push as a way to learn about user preferences and intent.   
  • Get feedback from users via text input. Text input in actions provide an easy mechanism for collecting feedback. Use it to understand the reason people stop using your app, collect feedback on a recent order or even conduct  brief satisfaction surveys. For messaging apps, text input also replaces the core interaction.

The new push notification funnel

The launch of rich push notifications requires the introduction of a new funnel for app marketers. This funnel has grown from two steps in iOS 9 to four steps in iOS 10:

  1. Receive rich push
  2. Open expanded detail view (new)
  3. Take action on detail view (new)
  4. Open app 

Note: each step is optional for the end user, while the app marketer controls which steps are available for every push that is sent.

From a practical perspective, marketers will need to A/B test different push funnel combinations to understand which which ones work and which ones do not based on the specific desired outcome. For example, they may try 1 > 2 > 3 > 4 versus 1 > 4 to start, and then make the tests progressively more complicated to identify the most efficient and effective path to conversion.

Apple’s new analytics feature in iOS 10 allows app marketers to see data on dismissed notifications. This will help optimize efforts and phase out messaging strategies and messaging funnels that don’t lead to long-term increases in conversion and revenue.

Operationalizing the findings

With the introduction of rich push notifications in iOS 10, Apple is bringing a powerful new set of features to app marketers. They include:

  • A  new set of visual extensions for notifications (images, audio, video, animated GIFs)
  • A thumbnail preview of rich content that is more eye-catching than plain text
  • The ability to consume rich content without opening the app
  • The ability to take quick actions on notifications via action buttons and text input
  • A new push notification funnel that can include up to four steps instead of two

It may seem like a lot to digest, so here is a short action plan for marketers ready to use rich push to drive deeper engagement:

  1. Meet with your engineering and creative teams to establish priorities and discuss your strategy.
  2. Try the basic functionality of rich push. Start by appending images to notifications that otherwise would have been plain text, in order to see how they perform.
  3. Test different rich media types. Animated GIFs seem like an easiest option after images, followed by video and audio files.
  4. Test various thumbnail types, both those that optimize well for thumbnail preview, as well as those created specifically for it.
  5. Experiment with different push actions, focusing on the easy yes/no-style actions (which have little value inside your app), and then moving into more complicated ones like text input.

From here, you can move to more sophisticated tests, such as exploring different push notification funnels, building custom app interfaces and taking advantage of message retraction. At the same time, you can transition ongoing, triggered push notifications to include a new visual component and action buttons (where it makes sense).

For further strategic guidance on how to leverage rich push and develop your mobile messaging strategy, contact us any time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *