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Push Notifications vs. SMS Text Messages: What's the Difference?

Angela Stringfellow

Last updated on

Businesses have different communication media to reach their consumers. Push notifications and SMS text messages are the cheapest among them, but what’s the difference between push notifications and SMS text messages, and which one is right for your needs? In this post, we’ll briefly define the two types of notifications and discuss the various ways they differ.

What are Push Notifications?

Modern smartphones have push notification capabilities. These short informational messages can be sent from the backend service of any application. They appear in the notification area of the phone, and the user can open the notification to view the complete message.

What are SMS Text Messages?

SMS stands for Short Message Service. It is the texting component of a modern mobile device. Any mobile phone connected to a mobile network technology can send and receive SMS text messages.

Push Notifications vs. SMS

Though both push notifications and SMS land in the notification section of a smartphone, there are significant differences between them. Here’s a look at the primary ways SMS differs from push notifications.


SMS is a common messaging protocol used around the world. It can contain only text characters in the message (messages that include rich media such as images, videos, and audio are sent through the Multimedia Message Service, or MMS). It also has a character count limit of 160 characters. If more content has to be sent, it is delivered as multiple SMS messages. Most modern mobile devices support something called concatenation, which rebuilds messages up to 1600 characters on the recipient’s device so they appear as a single message.

Push notifications in general do not have any restrictions on content. These notifications can have text and images. They can also be programmed to change dynamically with user interaction. Developers have to adhere to the APNS while delivering push notifications to Apple devices. Similarly, they must comply with Android guidelines to deliver push notifications to Android devices.

Compatible Devices

SMS text messages can be received by any mobile phone or smartphone, including feature phones and older phones that only work on GSM or CDMA networks. Devices that are not connected to a cellular network, on the other hand, cannot receive SMS text messages – even if they have the capability to connect to a network but are not currently connected.

Push notifications work on all modern smartphones. In addition to smartphones, desktop applications and web applications also have the ability to receive push notifications. Feature phones, however, do not have such capabilities. Push notifications are available only for modern devices.

Delivery Medium

SMS texts are sent and received over mobile networks. GSM, CDMA, HSPA, LTE, 5G technologies can be used to send and receive SMS. They do not work without a connection to a cellular network and cannot be delivered over the internet. Landlines can be used to send and receive SMS texts, but it requires special software and isn’t something that’s widely used.

Push notifications are delivered over the internet. Applications connect to the internet and receive such notifications with the help of the operating system’s notification systems. Push notifications cannot be delivered without an active internet connection.


SMS needs two smartphones or SMS-capable devices: one to send the message and one to receive it. SMS messages are also used for marketing purposes, such as delivering bulk SMS messages to a group of customers to notify them of an upcoming sale. However, this requires a separate integration with a bulk texting service provider.

Push notifications can be managed through the same platform as your applications and websites. For example, Google Cloud offers tools for each of these capabilities, allowing you to manage your website, applications, and push notifications from a central dashboard. There is no need to connect to multiple services to send push notifications.

Message Direction

SMS can be sent and received. Any kind of device that’s connected to a cellular network can be used for sending and receiving SMS text messages.

Push notifications can only be sent by the application developers, while users only have the ability to view the messages. Push notifications are one-way in nature, while SMS text messages are typically two-way interactions.


When businesses rely on SMS as a marketing medium, users must be segmented in advance. The different messages can then be sent to distinct segments, but there is no way to dynamically modify the segmentation based on the response from or interaction with users.

Operating systems provide unique identification for all users who have downloaded an application. The user data and interactions can be tracked, and developers can program the dynamic movement of users to different segments according to their behavior. This allows developers to target users with a better messaging strategy, which in turn helps to prevent alert fatigue.

Apps Required

SMS messages are displayed in the device’s messaging application. It is commonly a separate application on the phone. As mentioned earlier, SMS content can only include characters, but it can be used to send web links. Devices’ messaging applications cannot open such links and have to switch to a browser to connect to the website.

For push notifications, when a user clicks on a notification, it opens up the respective application. There is no need to switch between applications. This is also the reason why there are fewer restrictions on the content of push notifications. The content will be displayed inside the app, and the only limitations are the application’s technical limitations.

Apps can send many push notifications, and users may not interact with every one of them. However, some of these notifications might be of use to them at a later time. Having a separate inbox to enable users to view new and old push messages increases the application’s usability and can increase customer engagement. You can add inbox functionality to your application in a few minutes with the help of MagicBell.