Easy, instant push notifications are a phenomenon of modern mobile technology. They deliver news, app updates, requests and prompts to users to complete an action. Mobile developers, marketers and advertisers all see push notifications as a key way to reach an audience at the most personal level: straight into their pockets.

This level of personal interaction is precisely what makes consumers not entirely trust push notifications. It is a mixed bag: They love notifications when they are useful, hate them when they become a vehicle of spam. For developers, this is a fine line. There is a fundamental disconnect between technologists and consumers when it comes to push notifications. Many developers think push is a wonderful, useful tool. Most consumers would prefer to be left alone. Developers: what do you think consumers think of push notifications? That is the subject of this week's ReadWriteMobile poll.

Not All Push Created Equal

There are many subtleties to the push notification conversation. How, when and why to deploy push notifications depends on the type of app (a news app, social app or game, for instance) but also on the type of platform they are being pushed from. Android, iOS and Windows Phone all handle push differently and that can be a source of frustration for developers.

The consensus among many developers that I have talked to is that the way push works on Android is the most preferable in terms of user experience. For instance, if an app sends 20 push notifications to an Android smartphone, only the most recent notification will show in the users' message tray. That is when Android push notifications work; between the three operating systems, it is also the most unreliable. Notifications sometimes get lost or take a long time to show up.

In terms of a purely technical distribution, iOS has the most stable push notification system. Notifications almost always arrive in real time and are gathered in a drop-down notification tray that was released with iOS 5.0. iOS notifications are also the most intrusive. Unlike Android, all notifications are shown in the tray, and they tend to build on top of each other. Many an iOS user knows what it is like to have that little red number hover over an app that constantly sends push notifications. When the notifications never stop, that can be a frustrating experience.

Windows Phone has the oddest push system: Only the most recent applications will be allowed to send push to a user. This is governed by how many "Live Tiles" a user has one their phone. With Windows Phone Mango, only 30 Live Tiles are permitted (up from 15), creating a bottleneck of endpoints for developers sending push notifications. Users with highly customized Live Tiles may not receive push from apps they do not create a tile for. Windows Phone also has several different kinds of push displays, including "Deep Toast" and multi-tile notifications. Android and iOS also have gradations of the types of notifications that can be sent.

Chart: Push Notifications Overview from Microsoft

Different Use Cases, Different Reactions

Some push notifications are exemplary uses of the technology. Others are borderline and can be annoying, depending on the user. Others are outright spam.

In the industry, the best use of push notifications are often cited to come from apps like The Weather Channel and Words With Friends. If there is severe weather, like a large tornado coming my way, you best believe I want a timely push notification. The Weather Channel is parsimonious about how it sends notifications, usually only pushing news when something dramatic is about to happen. Words With Friends is the best example of a game using push to tell a player when it is their turn. It is one of the features that makes the game so addictive.

On the other hand, we have games like Urban Crime from Gameloft that sends constant, intrusive push notifications that are highly annoying. This is where the line gets tricky. To a certain extent, Urban Crime is just trying to pull you back into the game through game mechanics. On the other hand, Gameloft sends too many, and it is hard to make them stop. Other entities, such as the new Color app, send push notifications whenever a user "visits." The only good thing about Color's use of push is that nobody actually uses the app, so you will not be bombarded with a constant flood of notifications.

"From a gaming, social content, news methodology, if they are tailored to be pushed when I have said they want to be pushed, it is fine. If you are hitting me up with ads, if you are hitting me up with information that is not useful to the core experience, consumers really hate that," said Bill Gianoukos, VP engineering and product management at Boston-based HeyWire.

Developers believe that there are distinct uses for push notifications and put trust in users to know how to turn them off, if wanted. This may be putting too much trust in the casual user that is more likely to delete an app that sends too many notifications.

"I think that Apple's intended purpose with them has kind of been shaded. Right now, predominantly, most games I see them being used as spam," said Adam Telfer, VP of game development for Toronto-based XMG Studio. "In our own games, we try to only use them for game mechanic reasons. So, you think about a game like Words With Friends, they are only using those push notifications for pulling the user back into the game because they have a new move. Not because there is some sale on an item or [other instances]."

Image: Powder Monkey game logo from XMG

Gianoukos offers great advice on the ideal scenario to use push notifications:

"Ideally, push notifications are meant to enable the users to get the content or the event that occurred that they want to know about sent to their phones so they can be prompted to go into the application. So, it is a prompting mechanism, ideally based on user preferences of when they want to be interrupted and notified of event, data, content or something occurring that is important to them, and they need to go into the app to interact with that piece of information," Gianoukos said.

Developers: What say you? Do consumers want push notifications? Where is the line between trying to re-engage users and spamming them? Vote in the poll and let us know in the comments.

Images: Kids pushing and sale courtesy Shutterstock