Last update: June 2021

5 mins to read - 2021/06/15

WWDC 2021: iOS 15 Push Notification Changes and Updates

Last week saw the conclusion of Apple’s highly anticipated Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) 2021. During this week-long conference, Apple released a preview of the newest version of iOS, as well as intensive keynote speeches and sessions exploring its changes and new features. In addition to the more flashy updates to memojis, widgets, and app clips, the iOS 15 also brings many changes to the push notification experience.

As we have seen in previous updates, Apple’s ethos when it comes to updating notifications takes two approaches:

  • Making them less intrusive and more helpful
  • Giving users more control over how they receive notifications

Since 2015, one of OpenBack’s driving goals has been to communicate with the mobile engagement industry the importance of perfect-moment notifications. And Apple looks like they’re spreading the awareness with the iOS 15. They are emphasizing the importance of sending notifications at a time that’s convenient to the app user. Read on below to see our highlights of WWDC’s presentation Communication and Time Sensitive Notifications on Wednesday.

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notification summary ios 15

Visual Updates

iOS 15’s new evolution of push notifications will see greater focus on content and rich media, one of the strengths of push notifications that has long been downplayed. Notifications can now come imprinted with an icon from the app or contact which is messaging you. (For example, for a contact, the icon will be their profile picture.)

The accompanying actions the user can click on to respond to your notification (like or comment) will come accompanied by icons (a thumbs up or a message icon). This provides a visual context to user responses, while giving them a wider range of possible actions they can take as a result of your notification. Developers can then see user reactions in the custom notification category.

ios 15 wwdc push notifications

Notification Management

iOS 15 gives users the option to receive notification summaries at scheduled daily times. This means that, rather than being pinged 15 different times by notifications from 15 different apps, users will receive a notification summary at, say, 3 pm that will let them skim through a list of them in one go, and click on whichever ones they find relevant.

Users can access all notifications listed in the summary by navigating to the Notification Centre on the lockscreen. What’s more, the order in which they see notifications in the summary depends on how often they interact with that app, as determined by Apple’s AI. To give your app’s notifications a higher chance at reaching the top of the summary, Apple advises attaching media to your notification content, and app developers can also add a relevancy score to help iOS better summarize.

ios 15 notification summary

iOS 15 Notification Focus Mode

The Focus Mode may be Apple’s most intriguing innovation for how users engage with push notifications yet. It is very much in the spirit of OpenBack’s prioritizing the “perfect moment” for sending notifications. However, while OpenBack uses machine learning to determine this moment by assigning data signals to contextual device-side information, Apple puts the power to block out “send” and “no-send” windows in the user’s hands. It essentially lets users configure something of a notification firewall, to stop notifications below a certain tier of priority from alerting them.

In previous Apple operating systems, users could toggle between a “Do Not Disturb” mode and a “Send Notifications” mode. Now, Apple is giving them even more options for customizing their notification preferences, with 3 different modes:

  • Work
  • Sleep
  • Personal

Users can then select which apps and contacts they want to receive notifications from for each of the modes. They can also select apps and app features to block temporarily or permanently. What’s more, users can even revamp their device home screen to reflect their app preferences for whichever mode they’re on. For example, Work mode might show the apps for Slack, LinkedIn, and Zoom. While Personal might show WhatsApp, Facebook, and Instagram, etc. And then these settings will sync up between all of a user’s different Apple devices.

Users can also set up auto-configuration of different profiles by AI, which will leverage device data such as time, geolocation, calendar events, etc. to trigger different modes automatically. The new Status API will then let your app know where the user has put their device into Focus mode. And the Time Sensitive API will enable developers to label notifications “time-sensitive” (as we will explore further below) to break through lower-tier Focus mode controls.

passive interruptions ios 15

Passive Notifications

This level is for notifications of low priority: your suggestions of new content to stream, or alerts that someone liked your Facebook post, etc. Passive notifications don’t result in an alert or vibration on your phone. Nor do they light up your screen or break through system controls. They deliver directly to your Notification Center.

Active Notifications

This is the default interruption level, and notifications designated as “active” will create a sound, vibration, and light up the user’s screen. However, these still won’t break through system controls if delivered at a window of time the user has blocked off. These are for notifications of medium importance, such as sports updates or live-stream video alerts. Basically, if the user considers these relevant, they will assign notifications from your app a “pass”. Otherwise, notifications will deliver silently to the Notification Center, to be read at a more convenient time.

ios 15 interruptions


These notifications alert the user’s device similar to those of the Active tier. And if configured to do so by the user, they can break through system controls such as Summary & Focus. However, developers should only apply this label to notifications that need immediate attention (e.g. to alert users of a possible account security breach, or package delivery). They will be posted immediately and will deliver at the top of the screen, accompanied by the tagline “Urgent.”

Critical interruptions

These are high-priority notifications that can bypass all system controls to actively alert users of breaking situations, such as severe weather and local safety alerts. Apple points out that it’s important to maintain trust with your users when assigning different tiers to your notifications. If you set the interruption level as Critical Interruption for a notification that says “play the next level in my game,” users will get fed up with you very quickly and switch off notifications entirely.

iOS 15 Focus Mode and OpenBack

While the Apple Focus Mode is ultimately a good thing for app users, developers and mobile marketers may be starting to panic. Especially after the iOS 14’s hobbling of IDFA, mobile marketers may feel like Apple is trying to undercut their app monetization strategies. However, it’s really only the empty noise Apple are hoping to cut out… if you up your push notification game so that you’re sending relevant, personalized notifications at the perfect moment, your interaction rates should be improving.

With OpenBack’s custom device-side signals, you will shortly be able to work your user’s selection of Work/Sleep/Personal profiles into your contextual information that informs you of the best moment for notification delivery. The default approach of the OpenBack platform uses mobile edge computing to leverage data directly on the device. Once iOS 15 is rolled out, OpenBack will be able offer a custom signal that lets you factor in whether the user has Work, Sleep, or Personal mode engaged on their device. You can then signal a notification for delivery at the moment that pathway is cleared for your message to deliver to their device screen, prominently and with an alert to catch their attention.

To learn more about how OpenBack’s signals can massively boost your notification click-through rate, get in touch with our team to schedule a call or free demo.

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