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?

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    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).

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    @Iain - check out the 'Silence' app in the Google Play store. Very similar functionality to the iOS Do Not Disturb feature. For example, I have my Nexus tablet set to auto mute between 11pm - 7am - works a treat.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Given the large number of very negative comments on the Play Store I for one am not prepared to download a new version of the Android app until I can see that the reported issues have been resolved. I like the app, and I think push notifications are a useful addition, but only when they work as they are supposed to and without the release messing up other functionality. Please let us know when you've got it all sorted out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Will you please use part of my licence fee to create a BBC News App for Windows Phone 8. Especially as the BBC force Lawrence Gripper to remove his excellent free app. I do not care that WP8 is a tiny part of the smart phone market, if the BBC are not going to allow a third party developer to create and manage an app at no cost to the public then then they need to get off they're high horse and develop the app for the users that you decided shouldn't be allowed to see BBC news on the go.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    @Primus84 Control over notifications on IOS devices is handled in the device's settings. So you need to tap your phone's Settings icon and then select Notifications. From there you can find the BBC News app and edit the how you want to receive notifications or turn off all the options if you wish.

    On Android devices the control for notifications is handled in the app's settings screen.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    @Alex Perry most apps that support notifications come with their own settings for controlling them. The app allows you to subscribe to notifications but not to unsubscribe - an odd situation. In addition you haven't addressed my concerns about the frequency of updates you are pushing out, including 2 very similar "breaking news" updates that were neither breaking news nor spelt correctly, at least in the first instance.

    Push notifications should be checked for spelling and meaning before they are sent and they should not then be resent if a minor error is later detected.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Oh and you've got to fix what you consider "pushable" - i had 2 breaking news alerts within 6 minutes tonight relating to the developing situation in Egypt. Interesting it is, breaking news I have to know about to the point of being interrupted, it aint!

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    I like the alert sound too; it will take some time to get a feel for the frequency and relevance of these notifications.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    I have switched off notifications in my settings (IOS 6.1.3), yet I still get a top screen banner when BBC decides something is "breaking news". I have not found a way in the app to turn this off, therefore I am deleting the app altogether. I prefer to decide which news is important to me, and I don't need you to alert me to news unless there is another Lehman Bankruptcy or WW3 has started.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    How do I turn off push notifications? Absolute pain.

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    Comment number 15.

    Agree that not including the option to switch the notifications off is a mistake. In Settings the only option I have is to switch 'Share Statistics' off or on.

    Deleting then reinstalling the app seems like a pretty clumsy way to have to deal with this, if you decide accepting the notifications was the wrong move.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Need to be able to turn this feature off!
    Deleting and reinstalling doesn't give you the choice again.
    I'll be deleting the app until this is fixed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    @Wanderer01 @CB @Phil Sisson @ats28 Can I refer to you my previous answer (number 9) - in IOS, the default way for handling notification settings is via the settings for the device and not the app itself.

    So you need to tap the Settings icon on your home screen and then go to Notifications and find the BBC News app.

    Note that if you don't want notifications to appear you have to turn off ALL of the options in that settings screen. It's not enough just to turn off Notification Centre and Alert Style, you also have to turn Badge App Icon, Sounds and View in Lock Screen to 'Off'.

    That's how Apple have implemented control over notifications.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    It's dreadful. I too have received pointless messages every few hours today. Indeed I have deleted the app as there seems no way to rescind the push permission. There should be at least a switch under settings general. It's typical that journos think we hang onto their every trivial output.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    @Peter Holttum As Alex has previously mentioned, you can turn the push notifications off in Settings > Notification Center.

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    Comment number 20.

    @Alex Perry: I turned everything off. Notification centre, Alert style none, Badge App Icon off, Sounds off. I still received a highlight bar at the top of the screen mid-day today telling me that Vatican is to make John Paul II a saint. For me this was the final straw after a couple of days of patronising updates. If you guys think this is breaking news, good for you. I am not interested. The app is now deleted and I will not reinstall until I see a story on the front page of the BBC News website where someone says how you fixed your app. I expect to receive notification from a news app perhaps a few times a year. E.g. when US president is elected, if there is a tsunami in SE asia or similar. I don't need to be alerted about trivial news about the pope or about Venables being freed.... Unbelievable levels of self-importance at the BBC mobile....


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