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Mobile tech

A news alert appears on your phone: Will you open it?

The short answer: It depends. A new report, News Alerts and the Battle for the Lockscreen, explores how smartphone users around the world view alerts on smartphones and other digital devices, such as the Apple Watch. It was produced through the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford.

Not surprisingly, the most popular alerts are used for personal communication, social media and productivity, such as a calendar app. Then comes news.

“The research shows that the majority of smartphone users (69%) have downloaded at least one news app, but only 20% are using news apps on a weekly basis,” explains journalist, digital strategist and researcher Nik Newman, who authored the report. “This mismatch essentially shows the problem of visibility faced by news organizations but also the potential for this functionality to close the gap. Carefully targeted alerts may be able to bring audiences back more regularly, and help build a deeper relationship with loyal users that may eventually translate into advertising or subscription revenue.”

How do consumers feel about the rising tide of alerts on smartphones? Are they engaged or annoyed? What makes a good or bad alert? How important is news as a notification category, and how might these alerts develop in the years ahead?

Some of the key findings of the research include:

  • It’s good to not overwhelm. The average number of alerts is around 10 per day, but this can go up to more than 40 for heavy smartphone users. Most people say they are wary of irrelevant content being pushed to them on this personal device. 46% say smartphone alerts feel more intrusive than those received on other devices.
  • Breaking news alerts are perceived as valuable. Around a quarter of smartphone users have uninstalled an app because of the volume of alerts (23%), but many of these are around gaming or shopping rather than news. Over two-thirds of those receiving news alerts (72%) say they value the notifications they received and many see alerts as a critical part of the news app proposition.
  • Content needs to be relevant. The data indicates a significant frustration with current apps and notifications in terms of lack of personalized options. Beyond breaking news, there are significant unmet needs for more relevant alerts around passions and work niches.

“This research has only scratched the surface on the subject that is likely to gain more attention in the years to come,” Newman said. “But with the smartphone fast becoming the main device for digital access, the battle for the lockscreen is set to intensify in the years to come.”

Learn more:

View the report: News Alerts and the Battle for the Lockscreen

Explore more research from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism

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