Push notifications on the BBC News app

Tuesday 2 July 2013, 12:35

Alex Perry Alex Perry Product Manager

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I'm Alex Perry and I'm the product manager in charge of apps for BBC News. Today we are releasing updates to our iOS and Android apps that will allow users to opt in to receive breaking news push notifications.

Push notifications allow users to be alerted to breaking news stories on their smartphone or tablet in a form similar to a text message, even when they aren’t using their BBC News app. It's one of the most commonly requested features for our apps so it's great to be able to roll it out.

push_notification_1024.jpg Push notifications on iOS and Android

One of the other features we get a huge amount of requests for is landscape support in our Android app for smartphones and mid-size tablets and I'm pleased to say we are including that in our latest release as well.

These features will be available for Android users on version 2.3 or higher of the operating system and to iOS users on version 5.0 or higher.

The release of push notifications has been tied in to some changes we have made to the content management system used by BBC News journalists.

Sharing breaking news alerts and other information across a number of different platforms was becoming a time-consuming task for our journalists and news gatherers.

So we developed a Breaking News Tool which means that journalists can write a news flash once and publish to all relevant platforms in one fell swoop including Twitter, SMS, e-mail and push notifications.

If you sign up for push notifications you will hear about only the biggest breaking news of the day, typically just one or two stories in 24 hours.

For the real news junkies in our audience our @BBCBreaking account on Twitter is the place to hear all the significant stories of the day.

So how does it all work?

For a device to receive a push notification the owner of the device first needs to subscribe to receive them.

So when you update your BBC News app you'll get a message asking whether you want to receive notifications from us.

If you say 'yes', a unique device token is generated and stored in our Push Notification Service.

The unique device token also needs to be registered with the messaging service run by the provider of your device’s operating system - in this case Android has Google Cloud Messaging and iOS has Apple Push Notifications System.

When we store the token in our system we also associate it with a particular 'tag' which is used to identify the types of messages that device should receive.

For now that's just breaking news, but in future we could allow our users to sign up based on their particular interests i.e. someone could choose just business or entertainment.

When a big story breaks a journalist will use the Breaking News Tool to send a message to the Push Notification Service and indicate whether this should be sent to users of our app inside the UK, outside the UK or both.

The service then finds the appropriate device tokens and sends them on to Apple and Google along with the message for delivery.

Even while the notification is being sent, our editorial team will be updating the appropriate article or creating a new one if it's a brand new story.

If you receive a notification and tap to find out more your device will open up your BBC News app on the appropriate article, if it's available by then, with all the latest details.

So now you can keep right up to date with the most important news as it happens.

I hope you find it a useful feature, please do let me know what you think.

Alex Perry is the executive product manager for BBC News apps.

You can download the BBC News app on iOS at the iTunes Stone and on Android at the Google Play store.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Love the new iOS push alerts sound (BBC News Theme Tune Riff). Any chance the audio file/clip is available online to listen to? @MattNavarraUK

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Another thumbs-up for the push alerts sound (this time on Android). One question though (or really a feature request) -- is it possible to set a time period for the alerts to be muted? I'm not looking forward to a breaking news alert coming through at 3 o'clock one morning if my phone's sitting on the bedside table ...

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Just came here via the Steve Hermann 'Editors' link.

    On his previous one (latest not comment enabled) he says 'we'd welcome your feedback on the new pages.'

    Here I see 'do let me know what you think'.

    May I suggest that when soliciting comment, closing after two in two days maybe not be optimal?

    'When a big story breaks a journalist will use the Breaking News Tool'

    Any mechanism for when the entire BBC decides a story isn't big... or to be mentioned at all?

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    @MattNavarraUK, glad you like the sound. It's not available anywhere as far as I'm aware but you'll hear it regularly across the BBC's News bulletins.

    @Iain At the moment it's not possible on our Android app to set a time for alerts to be muted but we'll certainly consider it for the future.

    For anyone out there on IOS 6, your phone has a 'Do Not Disturb' feature which can be accessed by going into Settings > Notifications. There you can schedule a time where your phone won't play any sounds for alerts or phone calls.

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    Comment number 5.

    Interesting that these comments are so positive. Since I updated the app at lunchtime I've had about 4 "breaking news" alerts, none of which have been breaking news and 1 of which was repeated.

    It would be far preferable to hand users control, I might be interested in breaking news in sport or tech but not in politics, for example.

    Is there even an option in the app or its settings to turn off the push notifications (if there is, I can't find it).


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