Background notifications and Delivery Status: An Update

Push Notifications

I talked about Push Notifications in Delivery Status a while back, but I thought I’d post an update. As you may know already, if you have a Mac with our free Delivery Status widget, you can set it up to send push notifications to your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. We understand this isn’t a perfect solution, but many people were interested in it, and it was something we could add relatively easily.

Adding proper push notifications to Delivery Status isn’t as easy and could be very expensive for us. We’re a very small company. To support push notifications properly, our server would have to keep track of thousands of deliveries every day, and manually check their status every hour. Since we don’t run any of these shipping companies ourselves, there’s no way for us to know if the status of your package has changed without checking over and over. To check on all of our customer’s packages we would have to do millions of these checks every day.

Even if we added an extra charge to cover the expense, it’s still a lot of work to set all of this up in an efficient and scalable way. There are also some security issues with services like Amazon and Google. It wouldn’t be possible to provide proper notifications for these services without storing your passwords on our server. No matter how many steps we take to make this secure, it will always be safer to not do it at all. Amazon is one of our most popular services, so this is a very big downside.

I do have some creative ideas for how to deal with all of this, but I can’t promise anything yet. We understand it’s important to many of you and we appreciate your patience.

Multitasking

With the release of iOS 4.0, Apple added some multitasking features to the iPhone and iPod touch. Naturally some people have wondered if this will allow Delivery Status to update in the background. As Marco Arment and Craig Hockenberry point out, the limited multitasking features they’ve added fall short of what many apps need. There’s no way for an app to just periodically update in the background.

Apple’s response has been that apps should use push notifications for periodic background updates. But as I’ve said this doesn’t really work for Delivery Status. The Iconfactory has faced a similar issue with Twitterrific, because they don’t control the Twitter service. There are a lot of other types of apps that could benefit from running periodically in the background:

  • Magazines, Comics, and Newspapers. With notifications, these apps can let you know when a new issue is available. But if you open the app to read it, you have to wait for it to download first. With an app like Wired where issues can be half a gigabyte, that’s pretty painful. The iPhone now has something called “task completion” that can help with this, but you still have to open the app, then leave, wait, and come back again when it’s done. Wouldn’t it be nice to just get a notification after the new issue is downloaded and ready to read?
  • RSS Readers and other aggregators like Instapaper. With notifications these apps can let you know if new content is available, though most apps like this face the same issues that we do with Delivery Status. They’re pulling information from various third-party sources, and it’s a lot of work to keep polling those sources manually. Even if they do use notifications, they still can’t download new content until you open the app.
  • Apps that sync over the air. Take Dropbox and Air Sharing for example. Wouldn’t it be nice to always have your important files, without having to worry about finding an internet connection and manually downloading each file?

We’re hopeful Apple will continue to expand the multitasking capabilities in the future. If you agree, make sure you let them know.

On a side note…

We have some great updates coming for Delivery Status. Stay tuned!

Comments

This entry has 3 comments.

tabacco

tabacco

Is there any chance of an option to submit tracking numbers via email? It seems like most common shipping companies have a regex-friendly tracking number format that should be pretty easy to parse out of a message.

The ideal would be if I could just forward a shipping confirmation to a mailbox from my registered email address to have it synced to the widget/iphone app.

Love the service either way! :)

George Coghill

George Coghill

My solution: using Delivery Status on the Mac, enable Growl notifications and then install either Howl or Prowl on the iPhone. Set DS Growl alerts to the Howl/Prowl notification, and you have a pretty decent workaround.

CEO

CEO

I found the App “TrackThis” with Push Notifications more work around for me. All though I love the GUI for the app DeliveryStatus way better, TrackThis helps with knowing the status of my packages every instance.

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