The Emerging War Over Desktop Push Notifications

| Editorial

Push notifications may have grown up on mobile apps. But now the Web is making a comeback because of a push notification innovation introduced by Apple through Safari Mavericks.

Perhaps no other brand understands the power of push notifications as well as Apple, thanks to privileged place of push within the iOS ecosystem. Push notifications are the most critical engagement tool for mobile apps. They serve as a necessary conduit in the flourishing app economy, where iOS remains the prettiest girl in the room.

Push on the desktop, however, is once again making the desktop and the desktop Web browser more relevant to people's lives and their workflows. Because of that, warring standards are already beginning to emerge, though Apple holds the early lead.

How Web Push Works on Desktop

Apple's implementation of push for the Web offers a remarkable user experience. When a visitor lands on a website enabled with Safari’s push technology, they are greeted with a simple dialog that closely mirrors the mobile push experience. The visitor can then opt-in to receive notifications from that site.

As with mobile app push, the user simply declares "Don’t Allow" or "Allow." For those choose "Allow," a direct channel of communication is established between the site and the visitor. Here's what that looks like:

Allow or Do Not

Allow or do not allow—that is the question

When the site sends a notification to its push audience, it will appear in the upper right side of the monitor, as shown in the image below. If the user clicks the notification, a Safari tab opens to the URL associated with the notification.

Push, push it well.


For instance, The Mac Observer's push notifications let you know when new articles have been published. When you click on a notification, you get taken straight to that article.

The notifications themselves have an ephemeral quality, appearing in the monitor for only a few seconds. Messages that are not clicked are archived in the Notification Center for later viewing. Apple’s current implementation archives the most recent six unread messages.

The Developing Standard

There is a developing W3C standard for Web push, but Apple, true to form, is not following it.  Safari push is built atop APNS, the same technology stack used for mobile app push. The W3C standard, when implemented on other browsers, will use a javascript call for registrations. Whether Apple's implementation is 'standard' or not, it creates an incredibly pleasant user experience.

Chrome, Firefox and IE, by contrast, are building to the W3C standard. While there is some wisdom in this, there is also some risk. With Apple’s keen focus on integration, their solution is a seamless presentation. This may be more of a challenge for Google and Mozilla, where separate teams control distinct moving parts of the push system.

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I never allow this as Notifications bothers me with enough trivia now.

Burton Miller

Some people love web push notifications, and others not as much.  It’s an opt-in technology, so no one is forced to participate.  The key to publishers is that the users who do opt-in to share really love it - and are far more active on social channels.


Then Apple should allow me to disable the “feature” totally.  It’s bloody annoying and more websites are getting into the act.

Lee Dronick

ftolar59, I too find most of them annoying and intrusive. I suppose that a work-around would be to turn on Do Not Disturb. Or perhaps go into the Notification Preferences and turn off individual items.


Unfortunately they can only be disabled individually in Safari Preferences.  And only after accepting them first.  If you click do not except when loading a site, they do not appear in Preferences.  And the dialog returns every time you revisit the site.  Apple obviously never considered that anyone would find this “feature” an annoyance.  And with more and more sites adding this, I may eventually end up using another browser to avoid it. 

Burton Miller

It’s early days with this technology - the user experience will evolve quite a bit over the next 18 months.


I wish I could believe it will be for the better but from I’ve observed so far, I’m not hopeful.  Nobody takes the time to consider all the angles.  Slap it together and shove it out the door.  Then blame the user if it doesn’t do what it was meant to.  “You’re not holding it right.”

Mike Sattler

If getting prompted bothers you it can be turned off easily. Just open the notification section of Safari preferences and uncheck “Allow websites to ask for permission to send push notifications”.


It would be nice if Apple’s were triggered by a Javascript call so that it only presents when the website has shown a friendly message describing what kinds of notifications the site wants to send. With TMO’s I had no idea so just denied it. I wouldn’t want a push on every article anyway, but I might want notifications for certain columns, topics, or authors.

Then if I say No I could go into my TMO account settings and click a button which would call the Javascript API to have Safari offer it to me again.

Mobile browser push would help reduce the need for a separate app for every content provider. The first iPhone wanted 3rd parties to use web apps with app icons created on the home screen to jump to that website. This could help bring us around full circle.


Oh the perils of aging eyes. I never noticed this!  Thank you!!

Lee Dronick

Good tip Mike!


I guess I’m the odd man out - I have an RSS program running in the background so I get a ton of notifications from that but I only get handful of Safari Push notifications during that same time period (most are from TMO, which I don’t mind).

Running the FF beta I have yet to see any notifications, even for here. Any notice when they’ll migrate over?

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