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Why users should be scared of Apple's new notification system

The company's new workaround to notifications from third-party apps in the latest iPhone is worth a closer look.

Push notification services

What caveats will the new push-notification service come with?

(Credit: James Martin/CNET

One of the finer points worth digging deeper into from Monday morning's Apple news out of the WWDC is the company's new workaround to notifications from third-party apps in the latest iPhone system software.

Traditionally, when an application is running on a mobile device it will alert the user in real time when there's been a change or something needs their attention. With Apple's SDK (past, present, and immediate future), developer-made apps cannot run in the background, and therefore cannot ping for data unless you're running them explicitly.

The solution Apple announced Monday is a bit of a compromise, ferrying notifications through Apple's servers instead of locally on the user's hardware. Any messages from developer apps get piped into user's phones in one of three different types of notifications--counters badges (for something like a new e-mail message), audio cues, and pop-up messages that look similar to text alerts.

For the better part of a year, users with jailbroken iPhones have been enjoying apps that run the traditional way (in the background), even when the device is in sleep mode. Jailbroken apps like Mobile Chat and Intelliborn's Intelliscreen (hands-on) run quietly, pulling in data every few minutes and popping up with a message the way Apple's own apps behave. The problem is that this model doesn't scale. When you've got dozens of apps pinging for data every few minutes your battery runs out of juice fast. Worse yet, it puts nearly all of the control to three other parties: the users, developers, and carriers.

While Apple's big sell Monday was "better battery life" (see picture above), my guess is that the company realized this would be a great time to get a handle on all the potentially great marketing data that leaves the second an app is downloaded from the new App Store.

Why not find out which apps are getting the most use and offering the developers special licensing deals? Better yet, why not sell that information to third parties like advertisers to help them work with highly used apps to sell ad units or sponsorships while getting an additional cut? This new tunnel for data is a veritable gold mine that's not just metrics--it's attached to user IDs and billing information too.

Apple must be anticipating that users will be adding in excess of 10 or more apps. In fact, I'm sure it's banking on users doing so if only to get the revenue stream flowing. The real question is whether or not that data will be used just to provide the advertised 300 hours of standby or to sell to third parties and vet new developer talent without doing all the legwork.