Mobile Push V.S. Pull – Experts Chime In

The first part of a Wired Magazine’s article on the subject push v.s. pull in mobile app design, written by IBM WebSphere Chief Technology Officer Jerry Cuomo and Program Director Robert Vila, compels us to consider carefully their arguments for favoring a push strategy for mobile engagement. In part one the authors focus on why, unlike a traditional desktop web approach that tends to be driven by the user (pull), the nature of mobile makes it more efficient to push essential updates and messaging to the device.

In the case they present they use a financial transaction application to make their argument and to provide an example of why, in this case anyway, it is better to just deliver the action rather than waiting for users to request it. Although they acknowledge that in many cases “it depends” on the client, desired outcomes and target users yet when you compare the traditional “pull” oriented three-tier web model to one that “pushes” to mobile you can see why pushing makes a lot of sense.

“The familiar three-tier web design pattern, which is driven by user-initiated requests for content, does not always fit the mobile world. The sheer volume of mobile users and increasing ubiquity of mobile devices can lead to exponentially higher numbers of requests that can strain network and server resources to the limit,” write Cuomo and Vila.

Graphic: IBM

 However, they look at the mobile push model as overcoming extra load that the three-tier model creates in the mobile space, “The mobile push pattern, in contrast, sends content to devices automatically, eliminating the dependency on web app servers for pulling content updates. Instead of users continuously pulling or querying information on the odd chance that it has changed, updates are sent proactively using lightweight,integrated messaging services that can be scaled to meet rapidly increasing mobile demand.”

 Graphic: IBM

 To these authors it is about balancing the load created by less important transactions, like checking your bank balance on your mobile, that users tend to overuse simply because they can. When you push such updates out to the device and allow it to sit in a queue then it is available to the user without placing more strain on the entire system. Think of it like “load balancing” in a data center environment and you will understand how it can be more efficient.

The graphic from IBM below illustrates very well the difference taking this approach made on one bank’s online workload just by eliminating the user pull of their account balance to pushing the information out on a regular basis to mobile devices.

 Graphic: IBM

 The concept of pushing for mobile is something that a number of industries should consider when developing applications that could drive up your system load, and because of that your costs. It does depend on your business yet many still are struggling with both online and mobile in banking, retail and even healthcare. With more and more customers adopting mobile devices and using them to do what they used to do only on a desktop, most businesses can benefit for developing useful mobile applications to better serve customers.

It doesn’t need to cost an arm and a leg but it does take careful consideration and outside expertise is often the best way to be sure you are selecting the right strategy. Mobile development and environments like IBM’s own WebSphere aren’t new but are evolving rapidly, sometimes faster than an in-house team can keep up with. Seeking out firms that have solid track records in developing both push and pull solutions, have a strong understanding of the platforms necessary to deliver these solutions and methodologies in place to discover your unique business needs are your opportunity to avoid costly mistakes.

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