Pushing my Browser Around

July 23, 2012

Push notifications aren’t new. Apple has done great use of it in their iPhone, but RIM had it in their Blackberry even before that. Now this technology is coming to a web browser near you.

If you have multiple applications on a device, having each one of them connect to the internet and poll for updates – or even just listen for incoming updates – is going to be wasteful. It reduces battery life rapidly and eats up valuable system resources.

Push notifications is a simple solution to that problem – have the operating system vendor solve this problem once and have all applications who require such updates/notifications to register on that service and use it instead of implementing their own.

The novelty is Mozilla’s plans on adding this as a browser feature: let websites push notifications to its users when the site isn’t even being browsed by them. Taken from Mozilla’s Wiki page Push API:

Push notifications are a way for websites to send small messages to users when the user is not on the site. iOS and Android devices already support their own push notification services, but we want to make notifications available to the whole web.

Why does this matter?

Push notification in a web browser isn’t that novel. Chrome has that already, but it only supports scenarios where the website involved is already opened in the browser – maybe on a different tab. It is also enabled when you install extensions on the browser.

Having this functionality as an integral part of the “web” itself, and without having to need to open the website has its uses.

Competition between web and apps

There’s a competition going on these days between the web and the app store: they are both vehicles for consuming services, but they are different.

The app store is governed by the OS vendor (or another entity) while the web is ungoverned and open.

Apps are winning today because they offer slightly better experience (by being native to the platform), but mainly because they offer monetization capabilities for developers and other functions such as … push notification.

By offering web based push notification, the web is brought closer to a replacement of the app store. One small step for the web…

Mozilla’s Firefox OS

Take it a step further and you have the Firefox Mobile OS:

Industry support is growing behind Mozilla’s plans to launch a new fully open mobile ecosystem based on HTML5. The operating system, which Mozilla today confirmed will use its Firefox brand, will power the launch of smartphones built entirely to open Web standards, where all of the device’s capabilities can be developed as HTML5 applications.

Carriers are warming up to the idea of having low cost phones that aren’t controlled by Apple or Google. They are adopting and advocating the use of HTML5 to build applications, and now, they can have a native web OS of their own. You can find backing this initiative carriers such as Deutsche Telekom, Etisalat, Smart, Sprint, Telecom Italia, Telefónica and Telenor.

Mobile operating systems today are defined not only by the basic features they offer, but also by the types of cloud services they bring. Push notification is a standard requirement these days from an operating system. By offering it direct on the web, Mozilla has a solution for that problem for its mobile OS.

Desktop and a better ecosystem

Desktops will be mimicking features in mobile devices, be it smartphones or tablets. The simple reason is that this is where innovation comes from today.

Things that made it back? App Store on Mac laptops. Retina display. Touch interfaces. More will follow.

Push notification is quite useful on mobile, so why not offer it on desktops and laptops as well? The simplest way is to offer it in the browser and sidestep the need to upgrade/replace the operating system itself.


I love to babble about WebRTC, so here’s another opportunity.

Tim Panton commented on one of my WebRTC posts where he referred to consolidating WebrTC’s signaling:

Based on our experience adding webRTC support to Phono.com, I’m leaning towards the, less fragmentation case, we’ve already prototyped the ‘just send a URL’ to initiate a call.

However that requires that the callee is ‘listening’ for incoming notices on the correct channel.

As WebRTC is a native web resident, having incoming calls handled as native push notifications on the web can solve this problem and sidestep the question altogether.

Will push notification in the web browser become standardized or even widely used? Who knows?

I think it has merit and will be useful moving forward.

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