Last update: August 2021

3 mins to read - 2021/08/09

What Is a Push Token? (And How Has OpenBack Made Them Obsolete?)

In many of our previous blog posts exploring push notification reliability, deliverability, data privacy, and OpenBack’s innovative solution to pain points in all of these areas, we have used the term “push token.” Push tokens are effectively the fuel powering the push notification industry. They are also what make mobile apps using traditional mobile engagement SDKs vulnerable to data privacy violations, such as COPPA, HIPAA, and GDRP. So what is a push token? Why is it behind every problematic aspect of the mobile engagement, and why hasn’t anybody thought to address that? And, most importantly, how has OpenBack changed the very nature of push technology to do away with the need for push tokens?

Download our NEW Metrics & Measurement Playbook to learn how to optimize your push campaign!

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What Is a Push Token? The Basics

A push token is a unique identifier generated for a device by push service providers. (APNS for iOS devices, and Firebase Cloud Messenger for Android devices.) They are generated on a one token per app per device basis. Meaning push notification content assigned to a particular push token will deliver that that device, and that device alone. However, tokens can change if they expire, or if the device updates. Android devices register the push token automatically upon installation of the app, just as users are automatically opted-in to receive push notifications. For iOS devices, push tokens are registered only when the user gives their consent to receive push notifications.

Push tokens are integral to the traditional structure of push notification technology. The process of sending a notification involves transporting the push token from the device to the app’s backend server. The backend server (or push provider) then sends a push payload on to the cloud server (APNS or FCM). According to Apple:

“The payload contains any custom data that you want to send to your app and includes information about how the system should notify the user.”

This consists of the both the push token, the notification content, as well as information about how and when the notification should deliver to the device. Notifications are processed in the cloud, and then blasted out on a last one in, first one out basis.

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Push Tokens: Where They Fall Short

The shortcomings of such a system are clear. For one thing, notifications deliver on a best-effort send basis only. This means that delays and even delivery failures are common. The push token is liable to change if the app updates on the device end, meaning the whole process needs to start from the beginning. Ultimately, the app backend has no control over when notifications deliver to the user’s device. This has meant that in the past sending important or time-sensitive material via push notification was a risky business. There was always the possibility that the notification wouldn’t reach the user’s device at the time it was meant to.

This system also falls foul of global data privacy regulations, since it involves transporting user data in the form of the push token to a 3rd-party cloud server for processing. What’s more, it can cause considerable battery drain when the cloud server is continually waking up the device radio signal to send notifications.

OpenBack’s Patented Hybrid Platform Does Away With the Need for Push Tokens

This outdated system of sending push notifications is clearly broken. However, OpenBack has been the first platform to rebuild it from the ground up, removing the cloud server from the delivery process. OpenBack’s hybrid platform combines mobile edge computing with machine learning to process all user data completely on the device. This means there is no need to register the push token, or remove it (or any other data) from the device.

As a result, this solves the reliability problem endemic to push notifications. It also removes liability for, e.g. COPPA or GDPR violations from the mobile app’s side, at least with regards to how they handle push notifications.

For more information on how OpenBack’s hybrid SDK can help you send fully reliable, highly personalized, and regulation-compliant notifications – and how our extensive metrics can provide you with complete insights for you to optimize your push notification campaign for better results – get in touch with one of our experts to learn more.

Or, download our Reliability in Push Notification Delivery Whitepaper to learn more about OpenBack’s guaranteed notification delivery: 

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