feature

Introducing V-Play’s Alternatives to the Parse Push Service

By Michael

Since the announcement concerning the retirement of Parse’s Push notification service, we’ve been looking at a long list of alternatives.

For mobile developers and publishers, push notifications are now considered an essential tool for engaging and retaining users.

It was important for us to find a replacement that could match the feature set of Parse’s Push Notifications and make migration to the new service as easy as possible.

The choice of replacement will also affect the release of our new Multiplayer feature, which is coming soon.

Find out more about the criteria we used to make our choice and which services you can look forward to using as you engage your users with Push Notifications.

Requirements

We had four main goals in mind, when looking into alternative parse services:

Free Usage Plan

The new service should provide a free usage plan so developers can try it out for themselves and see how to get started. Signing up for a service without the ability to test their push notification service in a real world scenario is a serious road block for most developers.

Similar Feature Set

The new plugin should provide the same feature set we already offer with our Parse plugin. We still want the ability to send push notifications on a transactional basis to single devices, all devices of a user or a group of users. This is an essential feature that must be supported. The concept of channels, used within the Parse plugin, is an optimal design pattern that we want in any potential replacement.

Easy Migration

The API changes for our customers must be as minimal as possible. We were looking for a scenario where transitioning from one push provider to another would only take a few seconds. The best case would see you as a Parse Plugin user making only one change to your code, simply changing your item’s name to see the new service properly set up.

Cross-Platform Performance

As Parse did, a new plugin should handle the platform-specific differences between iOS and Android transparently, both in the app or game code, and from the back end side.

Sending pushes from your server shouldn’t get out of control when sending different requests for iOS and Android, and dealing with sockets or customized payloads. We wanted to stick with a simple HTTP request, sending a JSON body, and the rest being handled by the push plugin.

We also kept in mind that we’d probably want to have the option of supporting push notifications on new platforms in the future. So services that already provided push notification support for Windows Phone 10, Ubuntu Phone or desktop notifications earned extra points.

Available Services

Based on these requirements, we had a closer look into most of the popular push providers. These were the services that made it onto our final shortlist:

  • Batch
  • Urban Airship
  • Amazon SNS
  • Google Cloud Messaging (GCM)
  • OneSignal

Batch

While there are many great services out there, a lot of them missed our basic requirements for app and game push notifications. Some of the services lack a free plan for transactional push notifications, although they are reasonably priced for their rich feature set, such as Batch.

parse_alternatives_batch
Unfortunately, Batch doesn’t provide a concept like channels for transactional pushes. It’s only possible to assign a single value for identifying users across devices. At the moment, we don’t want to compromise on the channel concept so we won’t be using Batch as a Parse alternative. They have a great feature set though so we will be keeping an eye on any developments regarding the Batch service.

Urban Airship

Urban Airship does a great job at handling marketing and campaigns. They automatically segment users based on events triggered from within your app, something it has in common with Batch.

parse_alternatives_Urban Airship
These features are quite nice for advanced use cases, but they’re not suitable as a replacement for Parse. Their initial set up for a new push service is much harder than the current method. Also transactional pushes with Urban Airship aren’t that feature-rich, as is the case with others.

Amazon SNS

Amazon SNS looked great when we first considered it. There’s a free plan, transactional push notifications and Amazon provides a similar concept to Parse’s channels, called topics. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to create new topics on-the-fly. You have to create topics from your server-side code first, making things a lot more complicated for your back end.

For example, sending pushes to all devices of a user, identified by a userId, is easy with Parse:


Parse {

channels: [ "userId" ]

}

When trying to do this with Amazon SNS, you first have to explicitly create this channel/topic (“userId”) from the back end. It’s not possible to create topics on-the-fly.

And there’s another restriction on Amazon SNS: You can only create up to 10.000 topics per app. While this might seem like more than enough, if you create a sports news app that sends out push notifications for a range sports, it’s not possible for all of your users to get a unique channel. Instead, you would have to manage tokens and users in your own database back end.

Google Cloud Messaging (GCM)

Google Cloud Messaging (GCM) soon became our favourite for a feature-complete Parse substitution. Google provides an abstracted push service for both iOS and Android, using push only is free, and Google’s topics can be created from your app without any additional server-side code.

parse_alternatives_GCM
Furthermore, as Parse is already using GCM service as a foundation for sending pushes, push performance is identical to using Parse.

OneSignal

As we started implementing GCM, we also had another look at alternatives for our V-Play Game Network. With the upcoming release of our multiplayer feature, we also needed a way of sending and receiving push notifications for game invites, user chats or friend requests. Based on this simple feature set, we had a look into OneSignal.

parse_alternatives_OneSignal
OneSignal supports a wide range of platforms, including iOS and Android and also supports a similar feature to Parse channels, called tags. You can set a collection of tags on a device and target your push notifications based on those tags. This looked promising!

OneSignal also provides server-side localization of push notifications, maintaining the different device languages in their own database and allowing you to update your push texts without releasing a new app update. You can send a localized push notification for three languages from your back end, just like this curl request demo:

curl --include \
--request POST \
--header "Content-Type: application/json" \
--header "Authorization: Basic <API-Key>" \
--data-binary '{
"app_id": "<App-ID>",
"contents": {
"en": "New friend request",
"de": "Neue Freundschaftsanfrage",
"es": "Solicitud de nuevo amigo",
"fr": "Demande d’ajout"
}
}' \
https://onesignal.com/api/v1/notifications

Depending on the device language, only the set language will be sent to the device and shown in the push.

Tags can be aggregated and it’s also possible to use different operators. So if you tag your users with a region identifier and their current user level in your RPG game, you can send a push to users who are currently checked in at middle-earth and have a level greater than 10, with a tag combination of:


[

{"key": "region", "relation": "=", "value": "middle-earth"},

{"key": "level", "relation": ">","value": "10"}

]

OneSignal service is free for all push notifications and provides a lot of features. These are covered in our documentation.

Future of Parse

What about Parse? You can use the Parse plugin for push notifications until January 31st 2017. Unfortunately, it’s no longer possible to create new accounts but you can still make use of your existing accounts.

For a couple of months now, the Parse open-source server has been supporting the sending of push notifications. However, there are important features missing like sending queues, so it’s not really production-ready as of now. If there are updates on that, we’ll probably update our Parse plugin to allow custom Parse servers to be used.

Until then we recommend the switch to one of our new plugins, either OneSignal or Google Cloud Messaging.

Firebase

Finally, an announcement came after we implemented all of our current push plugins about the introduction of new features to Google’s Firebase. Firebase now includes push notifications and advertising.

parse_alternatives_Firebase

These sound like cool new features, but Google basically just added GCM as a push back end and AdMob for advertising and renamed them “Firebase”. As we currently support both features with our GCM and AdMob plugins , there’s no short-term requirement to switch to Firebase. We are however looking into other features of Firebase and will keep you updated on this one!

Parse Alternatives for V-Play

To summarize, we decided to go with two plugins for now: Our new OneSignal plugin, which features an easy setup and simple, targeted push notifications. And the new Google Cloud Messaging plugin that supports advanced use cases like client-side localized push notifications and invisible background downloads, as already provided by our Parse plugin.

You can access V-Play Plugins for monetization, analytics and more with the V-Play Indie License. To test the plugins for yourself, download our Qt Plugin Demo App from the App Store and Google Play.

App Store Google Play

For the full source code of this sample app, including all V-Play Plugins, you can check out this GitHub sample.

Get Source Code!

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import QtQuick 2.0
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App {
  Page {
    
    AppButton {
      anchors.centerIn: parent
      text: "Press Me"
      onClicked: {
        console.debug("Wow you pressed me!")
      }
    }
  }
}

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<Path to V-PlaySDK>/Examples/V-Play/appdemos/messaging/Messaging.pro

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The V-Play SDK includes an open-source demo for this app type. You can use its source code and build your app in record time. After installing V-Play, you can simply open the .pro file with Qt Creator, the development environment used for V-Play.

<Path to V-PlaySDK>/Examples/V-Play/appdemos/waether/Weather.pro

Any other Idea? let us know how we can help you

You are looking for another app demo?

The V-Play SDK includes many open-source demos for different app types. You can use their source code and build your app in record time. After installing V-Play, you can simply open the .pro file with Qt Creator, the development environment used for V-Play..

If you do not find your app type in this list and wonder if V-Play is the right choice, just contact us, we are happy to help!

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