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Tech Talk: Cross-Platform Messaging using Google Cloud Messaging

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Back in 2010, Google introduced C2DM (Cloud to Device Messaging) as a way to push messages from cloud to Android powered devices. This service was eventually replaced by GCM (Google Cloud Messaging). C2DM is now deprecated & the service will be shut down completely on 20 Oct 2015.

Screen shot 2015-09-25 at 4.11.38 PM

The GCM focuses on addressing some of the problems in C2DM as mentioned below:

  • Developers had to sign-up for C2DM using a form & the access would be provided through e-mail after a few days. GCM just requires that you enable it from Google Developer Console & the access is immediately granted.
  • GCM doesn’t have a quota based system.
  • GCM is built keeping in mind device’s battery efficiency.
  • GCM provides rich set of APIs. API libraries are available for each platform.

GCM has progressively added features over the years. The latest version as of this writing supports the following features.


Supports Android, iOS & Chrome platforms. The advantage here is that app server needs to communicate with one server viz, GCM rather than multiple servers e.g., APNS. iOS apps can communicate via APNs bridge or independently. Chrome apps & extensions can leverage messaging services.

Group messaging

Groups of up to 20 devices can be created. It is easy to add/remove devices from the group. This is useful to message/sync connected devices belonging to the same user.

Topic messaging

Allows to send messages only to devices that have opted-in to a particular topic. This uses a PubSub model. Receivers subscribe to a topic. Producers publish to a topic. For example, users of a sports app could opt-in to receive messages regarding 20-20 format Cricket matches only.

Upstream messaging

In addition to using HTTP for downstream messaging, XMPP can be used for duplex (downstream & upstream) communication. On the server, the asynchronous nature of XMPP allows you to send more messages with fewer resources. On the device, since the connection is reused for sending/receiving,this improves battery life.


There are several aspects that can be used to control the lifespan of the message. Message priority can be changed. The TTL option decides how long the message is saved on the GCM server before it is discarded (message is stored until it is delivered to the device). The GCM server will wait until the device wakes up, before delivering the message, if delay-while-idle option is set.


A collapsible message is a message that may be replaced by a new message containing the same collapse key if it has yet to be delivered to the device. Ping messages which request the device to sync/refresh its data or breaking news message in a news app are such candidates.

Batch requests

GCM supports sending multicast messages for up to 1000 devices using a single request. This can conserve app server resources.

Multiple app servers

Multiple app servers can send messages to the same app on a device by sharing the registration id. For example, content aggregation apps can receive messages from multiple content sources.


Google’s cloud messaging has come a long way from simplistic downstream messaging to the sophisticated messaging system it is today. It would be nice if the limits applicable on the number of topic subscriptions & group size are removed.


Tech Talk: Increasing product confidence via Continuous Integration pipeline

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A best practice in any given successful agile development project is the use of continuous integration (CI). CI ensures automatic execution of various test harnesses when developers commit their work (source code) to version control systems.

However, in order to ensure high quality product and to incorporate more complex and realistic scenarios, Build and Deploy pipeline was envisaged (Refer Figure 1).

continuous-integration-pipeline 2

The CI pipeline consists of Build Phase and Deploy Phase. It encompasses the entire life cycle of the product from configuring infrastructure- web servers, databases, application servers, messaging brokers, cloud instances, mobile devices; deploying package binaries into different staged infrastructures; and other aspects in addition to the product itself. We have some noted benefits gained from incorporating CI pipeline.


The rise of content blocker apps and implications for advertising

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For months now, marketing, advertising and app-development industries have debated the implications of content blockers built into iOS 9. Now that iOS 9 has been released, ad blocker apps have appeared on the iTunes store and gained popularity in no time. Peace app, created by Marco Arment, former CTO of Tumblr and founder of Instapaper, is one such app. There are others too, like Crystal which have gained popularity. Peace which sells at $2.99 has topped the paid charts of iTunes within hours literally -even ahead of games like Kim Kardashian: Hollywood in some stores. There are content blockers which block analytics too.

For the uninitiated, content blocker apps block ads only in the Safari browser on iOS 9. Users have to enable these content blockers in Settings. What’s more, apps like Peace offer options to hide comments, block external fonts and block social widgets. Peace also allows a user to specify an unrestricted site.

Needless to say, this has stirred a hornet’s next in the marketing world. Website owners too will have to worry about potential loss of revenues through advertising. Marco Arment says in his introductory post:

And we shouldn’t feel guilty about this. The “implied contract” theory that we’ve agreed to view ads in exchange for free content is void because we can’t review the terms first — as soon as we follow a link, our browsers load, execute, transfer, and track everything embedded by the publisher. Our data, battery life, time, and privacy are taken by a blank check with no recourse. It’s like ordering from a restaurant menu with no prices, then being forced to pay whatever the restaurant demands at the end of the meal.

From what we see in social media, consumers clearly seem to love the experience of browsing a site without ads as it loads web pages faster and provides a relatively better user experience. App developers are likely to invest more time & money behind this phenomenon as such apps clearly address a pain point and provide utility. It remains to be seen how Google and online publishers react to this. The commonly held view is that native ads will get a boost and the advertising industry has to re-think ways of engaging users through means other than intrusive ads. Interesting times ahead for end users, publishers, advertisers and app developers.

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