iOS background syncing with push still slacking

The best mobile experiences often involve someone getting something done quickly. Waiting sucks.

Refresh plz

As iOS has matured it has brought us better background processing functionality; something that Android has always been pretty good at, even if the battery cost was high back in the day.

But a day doesn’t go by when I am not frustrated with an experience that should have the data to display, but has to refetch it.

A great example is (my current go to!): Slack.

How I use Slack

In a world where the dominant thinking is that “small simple apps rule!” we see a slew of messaging apps: iMessage, Skype, SnapChat, WhatsApp, you name it. The niches keep growing!

There are benefits to the silos for some users, but I have personally found that I would prefer to have a shared infrastructure. For example, I enjoy using Slack for 1:1 messaging as I get power in the unification of:

  • All of the files that I upload are in one place
  • I can search across all of my chats (1:1, private groups, and public)
  • I can paste in a URL and get the smart UI (vs. text messaging for example that just shows the darn URL)
  • Once you get used to hitting the up arrow and editing your typos, it drives you nuts not to be able to do the same elsewhere.
  • /giphy! 😉

In theory then I want to use Slack to talk to folks 1:1. In practice however it is lacking. If I want to talk to a friend I can fairly quickly get to the text message chat with them and start communicating. Past messages are cached and available, and if my connection is going in and out, it will kinda take care of it regardless.

Loading…

With Slack though, it can take an age to get from “I want to say something to Stefan” and being able to start typing. First of all there isn’t an easy way to go directly to the person, so you first have to load Slack. If the connection isn’t great you end up watching everything load. The channels aren’t cached, so you wait. God forbid you were last looking at another instance of Slack (I have multiple instances that I participate in) as now I have to swipe to the right hand side to “Switch Teams” and then load that world too.

If the person that you want to talk to isn’t right there in the list I end up searching for them and then your conversion with them loads up. This can be a LOT of loading icon flashing and waiting. All of the benefits and goodness of Slack that I mention above? This is why I often end up back to iMessage (unless I am already in Slack) ☹

Now you see it, now you don’t

The most frustrating situation that I run into is when I get a push notification with a message from my friend. I see what they said, and now I want to jump in to chat.

You would think that you could tap on the notification and Slack would quickly open up at that point and the data would be ready and waiting for you!

But no. You are waiting on the loading once again.

This happens to me in far too many apps out there and is the one area where Android versions beat iOS hands down.

What’s in your Pocket!

Now, you have many more tools on iOS these days, and you can turn on background app refreshes and handle getting launches from messages. It is beautiful when an app does a good job here. Pocket is an example that always feels totally up to date whenever I go into it. Why is Pocket so good? It is an app that I integrate with via the shared extensions. From Safari, Nuzzel, and Twitter I “Add to Pocket” and it is launching the app to give it the data right there. Then, when I go into Pocket itself the data is of course ready and waiting!

The problems come in when a remote notification is involved. Although in theory you can handle this via:

application:didReceiveRemoteNotification:fetchCompletionHandler

it doesn’t always work. Why? I think it is due to the detail of:

“However, the system does not automatically launch your app if the user has force-quit it. In that situation, the user must relaunch your app or restart the device before the system attempts to launch your app automatically again.”

Most users probably don’t understand that side effect. It isn’t an insane notion to think that “if the user force quit the app, lets have it use less resources!

What doesn’t add up to me though, is that this seems to happen to me in cases where I definitely haven’t force quit the app.

Is something else going wrong?

I hope that iOS 9 will give me the ability to bless apps such as Slack that I use all day long to keep themselves up to date. I want more of the magic where whenever I launch them they are ready for me. I want to start typing and not see a disabled input box while it reconnects.

Assume offline and work for me.

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