Push Notifications vs. Text Messages: What Are the Key Differences?

Push notifications and text messages compared side by side.

Push Notifications vs. Text Messages: What Are the Key Differences?

Key Points

  • Push notifications and text messages are not the same, although they both appear in the device’s notification center.
  • Push notifications are delivered by apps, websites, or software, while text messages are delivered via SMS or MMS.
  • Push notifications can contain various types of content, such as images, videos, and interactive buttons, while text messages mostly consist of text.

When setting up your smartphone or scrolling through your device’s advanced settings, you may wonder what the difference is between push notifications vs. text messages. While both fall under the very broad umbrella of electronic messages — and both show up in your device’s notification center — the two are not exactly the same. Let’s take a closer look at the two at length below. By the end, you’ll know how to tell push notifications vs. text messages apart.

Push Notifications vs. Text Messages: Side-by-Side Comparison

Push NotificationsText Messages
Also Known AsAlerts, NotificationsTexts, iMessages
Delivery MethodAlerts sent from apps, websites, and operating systemsCommunication sent from other cell phone users
CustomizationsCan be customized based on user behavior or preferencesFewer customizations available
Associated CostsNo charge, as they are included in apps, websites, and operating systemsFees associated with your cell provider or plan
Location on DeviceAppears on the device’s notification centerFound in the device’s messaging app

Push Notifications vs. Text Messages: Key Differences

Push notifications and text messages on an iPhone screen.
While similar, push notifications and text messages are not the same.

The above chart does a nice job outlining some of the key differences that exist between push notifications and texts. For a deeper understanding of what distinguishes push notifications vs. text messages, let’s examine the key differences between the two at length. These are the three biggest factors that set push notifications vs. text messages apart: method of delivery, content type, and permissions required for you to receive them. Let’s dive deeper into each of these three below.

Delivery Method

Push notifications are delivered by an app or service, while text messages are delivered via SMS or MMS. What’s more, push notifications show up on your screen from an app, website, or software installed on your device. You can find them on smartphones, tablets, laptops, and any other sort of device that supports apps, texts, or web browsing. While a text message can also show up as a push notification, the two are not the same. Texts travel from one mobile number to another over cellular networks — push notifications don’t.

Type of Content

Push notifications can contain all sorts of information. Their content ranges from images to videos to links to interactive buttons and beyond. They’re highly customizable from app to app or service to service. You can also customize them based on your behavior or preferences. In contrast, text messages almost always consist of text and text alone. As such, they offer much more limited types of content. They’ve only recently started to include photos, videos, and audio.

Permissions Required

In the push notifications vs. text messages debate, it’s also worth considering the sorts of permissions required for each type of electronic message. Push notifications typically require users to opt-in to receive them. (This choice usually comes when you first install the app or software, but can also be adjusted in the settings.) Alternatively, text messages do not always require explicit opt-ins. Just about every smartphone will have text message notifications enabled by default — no permissions required.

5 Must-Know Facts About Push Notifications vs. Text Messages

  • Push notifications come primarily from apps, while text messages come from other mobile numbers.
  • Push notifications can include images, videos, and other interactive elements. Text messages mostly consist of words.
  • Users typically have to opt-in for push notifications. The same usually isn’t true for text messages. These send you notifications by default.
  • On most smartphones, push notifications allow for more customizations than text message notifications.
  • Push notifications often rely on an Internet connection, while text messages come over your cell network.

Are Push Notifications the Same as Text Messages?

A text message on an iPhone screen.
Text messages can be push notifications, but not all push notifications are text alerts.

Despite the way they both pop up in your phone’s notification center, push notifications and text messages are not the same. We can see this clearly outlined in the side-by-side comparison and key differences listed above. Push notifications come from apps, websites, or software and show up temporarily on your device’s screen before going to the notification center. Text messages live on your device’s designated messaging app, while push notifications can come from any app on your device (not to mention from your device’s operating system itself).

Text messages show up on the screen before heading to the notification center, too. But, the purpose of a text message is not the same as a push notification’s. Think of it like the difference between a square and a rectangle. A square is always a rectangle, but a rectangle isn’t always a square. Likewise, a text message can come with a push notification, but not every push notification results from a text message. Text messages fall under the umbrella of push notifications, but push notifications are not limited exclusively to texts. 

Push Notifications vs. Text Messages: Which Is Which?

A push notification on an iPhone screen.
Push notifications mainly come from apps and other services.

I know what you’re thinking: If push notifications vs. text messages are so different, then why do they present so similarly on smartphones? To tell the difference between the two, look at where they’re coming from. Most push notifications will come with an icon that clues you in on its origins. If the push notification is for a text message, you’ll see your messaging app’s icon in the corner of the pop-up. If it’s from a different app or service, you’ll see the corresponding icon instead.

Take the example above, captured from the notification center on an iPhone. This is a push notification from the Amazon app. It’s not a text message — It’s an ad for activewear on Amazon’s site. Beyond this, you also get the option to customize your push notification settings right underneath it. Text messages simply show up as push notifications with the message’s contents displayed on the screen. If you can’t tell which is which, you can always just open the notification.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are push notifications?

Push notifications are messages sent from apps or websites straight to your device’s screen. The point of push notifications is to update or inform you about some time-sensitive information you need to know about as soon as possible. They’re delivered in real-time and often come with a link to a promotion or reminder included.

What are text messages?

Text messages are SMS (Short Message Service) or MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service) communications sent over a cell network from one mobile device to another. They traditionally contained text, but have since evolved to include images, videos, audio, and more.

How do push notifications differ from text messages?

Push notifications are app or software-based alerts that let you know time-sensitive information and reminders. They offer personalized, interactive messages for you to tap. Text messages, on the other hand, are forms of communication sent from one person to another. They can come with push notifications, but they don’t always work this way.

Do push notifications require opt-in from users?

Yes, users usually need to opt-in to receive push notifications when they install an app (or later within the app’s settings menu). You will need to consent to receive these updates and alerts, unlike text messages which appear on the screen when the device is not in Do Not Disturb mode.

Does Do Not Disturb filter out push notifications and text messages?

Yes, Do Not Disturb silences almost every push notification and text message that otherwise would have popped up on your device’s screen. You can customize your Do Not Disturb settings to allow certain notifications and texts to get through, but the rest will be silenced by default.

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