Article

David Shackleton
David Shackleton 4 March 2020
Categories Mobile, Technology

Take It To the Edge: How Edge Computing Will Transform Mobile Engagement

Edge computing is fast establishing itself as the next generation of computing, leaving cloud servers behind in favor of processing data at its source. What are the benefits of this decentralisation of the computing process, and how can they be applied to mobile engagement?

In our digital-saturated world, mobile devices have fast become our go-to mouthpieces. This holds true both for people interacting with each other as well as brands communicating with their users. Mobile engagement has revolutionised the way brands talk with their users, and push notifications in particular allow them to connect with users in an immediate, personalised way.

Push notifications came into play in 2009, and the underlying architecture of push technology has not changed since. However, our relationships with our mobile devices – and the digital world at large – have radically changed in the past decade. People are looking to declutter their digital space, and thinkpieces about why you should turn off your phone notifications proliferate. Even more poignant is the cultural shift in our understanding of what happens to our personal data. Following the disastrous Cambridge Analytica data scandal, digital users and companies are more aware than ever of how our data is being used.

All of this points to the need for a drastic overhaul in the structure beneath mobile engagement platforms. First, mobile marketers need to send notifications that are streamlined, personalised, and meaningful to users. And second, they need to be able to promise airtight data privacy from the app's end. The answer to both of these pain points is edge computing.

Edge Computing Versus Cloud Computing

First of all, what is edge computing? It is, essentially, the distribution of computing. Rather than having all computing take place on one centralised server – say, Google Drive or Dropbox – edge computing takes place at the source of the data. In the context of mobile engagement, that would mean directly on the  mobile phones and mobile devices themselves.

To understand how radical of a concept this is, it's first important to understand the conventional structure of sending push notifications. Simply put, it is a three-tiered framework, balanced between the cloud server (APNS on iOS devices or Android's Firebase), the app backend servers, and the downloaded mobile app itself. Every mobile engagement SDK has designed their platform along the lines of this traditional structure, despite its shortcomings.

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For one thing, any structure that goes through a third party is by default not operating at peak efficiency. In this case, the third party is the cloud server, which serves as a conduit through which push tokens are gathered, stored, and ultimately sent back to the device. A push token is a key unique to a particular app install on a particular device, assigned by either APNS or Firebase. This token is what ensures the push notification is sent to the user it is meant for.

Push tokens originate in the mobile app, informed by data triggers generated by the user's digital presence. The tokens are uploaded to the app's backend server, then sent to APNS/Firebase where they are stored until a data trigger prompts the cloud server to push the notification on to the app. This final leg of the triangle is completed on a best-effort attempt only, and this can result in delays, notifications arriving in the wrong order, or even delivery failures. There are other dangers along the way: if the push token changes in the process of being bounced between different servers, the notification can go missing.

How Can Edge Computing Improve on This System?

Bringing edge computing into the mix means cutting out the need for cloud servers. With all data processing and commputing taking place on the device itself, the focus of mobile engagement shifts from a third-party server back to the users themselves.

Notification delivery occurs instantaneously, and local data triggers can be used to assess the optimal moment for a user to receive a particular notification. (For example, mobile markerters can block out windows when a user may be most receptive to engaging with a notification, such as during a lunch break, or once they're home from work and finished eating dinner.)

Leveraging data directly on the device means developers can forge a highly personalized, non-invasive relationship with app users to an extent that simply isn't possible with the traditional method. A push notification framework built on edge computing includes other benefits as well, including the ability to amend or even delete sent notifications that have delivered to the device, and the ability to provide developers feedback on how the user engaged with the message.

Below we will look at the three key benefits to edge computing that stand to revolutionise the mobile engagement industry:

  1. Ability to deliver at the exact moment that the notification will be most useful for the user. 
  2. Data privacy and regulation compliance.
  3. Reliability of delivery.

Edge Computing and Finding the Right Moment

Studies performed on adaptive scheduling of push notifications have found sending notifications at the right moment can increase click-through rate (CTR) by as much as 60.7%. And this means sending notifications at the moment that's right for the app user... NOT the marketer. Push notifications often get a bad rap for being invasive and distracting, so it's crucial to block out hours of the day when a push notification will be most beneficial to your user. Edge computing's more precise, real-time access to a device's data gives mobile marketers access to this "right moment" in a way that has not existed previously.

Edge computing not only lets you access your user's calendar to gauge their work versus commute versus relaxing hours, but it lets you determine when a user would most likely have the attention to spare for your notification. For example, a user who has their device unlocked, with the headphone jack engaged, and with a full battery is more likely to engage with a notification than a user not paying attention to their phone and trying to preserve their battery.

What it comes down to is creating a respectful, mutually beneficial rapport with your user. That way you're sending a fraction of the notifications you would otherwise, but through a combination of the right moment and targeted personalization of content, the user will be not less but more likely to engage.

Edge Computing and Data Security

While edge computing brings its own unique challenges with regard to data security, it's actually good news when it comes to notifications. Since the implementation of the EU's GDPR, major push notification platforms have updated their privacy policies to clarify that the onus is on the mobile app itself to make sure it is compliant. This means mobile apps need to ask users for their consent to have their data processed in third-party servers.

With edge computing, data processing takes place on the device rather than in the cloud. Thus, the user retains full ownership of all their personal data and the risk of data being illegally or unethically accessed by unknown third parties is neutralized. This makes edge computing friendly to recent data privacy regulations, such as Europe's GDPR and California's CCPA, as well as more niche regulations like HIPAA and COPPA.

Reliability of Push Notifications

Reliability of push notifications is particularly problematic for mobile engagement platforms. And the time lag resulting from a notification's unnecessary stint in the cloud server is a liability in a world where mobile users expect their updates to be in real-time. (Plus, when the mobile app checks in with the cloud for queued notifications, it has to wake up its radio system, resulting in battery drain.) 

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And while at first glance reliability may not seem like an important factor of marketing, it's not a good look for an app when its notifications arrive in a scrambled order, or the user gets blasted with 10 notifications that should have been spaced out over the past two days. If you're a media app that's alerting your users of old news, or an ecommerce app that's only getting word out of important sales 50% of the time, what incentive will users have to continue using you?

Edge computing will enable a leaner, more agile, and more user-friendly means of mobile engagement. Instead of cloud servers blasting out notifications to app users, marketers will favor a quality over quantity approach. Apps will select the right moment to engage using precise data triggers that never leave the device. This will boost engagement with the app as well as save the user a load of mental clutter – a win-win situation in this cutthroat attention economy!

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