In-app messages are becoming increasingly popular as a method for products to communicate with their users. The tools for sending those messages are maturing and certain standards are becoming expected for specific types of messaging. One such standard is the toast message, a short-lived note that gives the user some feedback or direction.
Where did the name “toast” come from? You may have already heard the term “toast message” and thought of a piece of cooked bread popping out of the machine. However, although it isn’t entirely clear, most commentators seem to agree that the term “toast” stems from the practice of raising a glass for a short congratulation or speech during meals. This doesn’t mean the bread theory is out of the window either – many people remark that toast messages do burst onto the screen suddenly, just as bread from a toaster oven appears suddenly in your kitchen.
Whatever the source of the name, toast messages are an established part of modern technology – both a form of messaging and a protocol for delivering information. If you want an effective marketing strategy, an easy-to-use product, or a way to redirect traffic to new features, you would benefit from understanding toast messages and how they compare to other messaging formats.
Read on to learn more about the toast message and how it lines up with other communication formats, and for advice on when the toast message is most appropriate for your users.
The author of this piece sacrificed greatly to bring you examples.
Toast messages, as seen here in Lichess’ Android app, are discreet but noticeable messages that give instant feedback to the user of some software program. They are most often found in mobile apps, which benefit from the low amount of screen space they consume, but toast messages are also found in web browsers, video games, and other applications.
Historically, toast messages originated on Android devices. However, the term is now widely used, and is supported in iOS libraries with the same “toast” moniker. Neither are toast messages limited to mobile – web apps and even desktop OSes may employ toast messages as well.
The purpose of toast messages is to deliver feedback to users, or to direct the user’s attention to a specific part of the app. Toasts might be used for something as simple as confirming a user's action, but they can also be components of a more complex system – for example, when toasts direct a new user through an onboarding process. They are also suited to functions like upselling freemium users in a non-disruptive but repetitive way, or for introducing new features of your app at the times when those features would be most useful to the user.
Although specific implementations may vary with the system you are developing in, toast messages will generally be:
But in some ways toast messages are also defined by what they are not – so let’s dive into other types of messaging to get a better grasp on where toasts end and alternatives begin, as well as which messaging format is most useful for your case.
The medium is the message, as they say, and in modern software this is certainly true. When you’re working on a given application you can choose between different messaging formats both to deliver a message correctly and to provide additional context to the recipient.
Most of the various categories of message differ significantly from toast messages, which are distinguished by being brief, non-disruptive, and temporary. When considering a toast message for your project, it is important to first understand the alternatives, which may better suit your needs.
Everyone is familiar with traditional persistent messages. These might take the form of email, SMS, or automated voicemail, and have the distinction of being preserved on the recipient’s side and under the recipient's control. This is useful for delivering information that needs to be preserved, such as appointment times, discount offer codes, or legal confirmation of transactions. The nature of these messages make them clearly different from toasts, which should not be used to convey information that needs to be remembered.
Push notifications are relatively newer technology, only appearing after smartphones achieved prominence. Push notifications are single-use messages, which can enable a background process to deliver a message that will be available when the user next returns to the device. Once the user has dealt with the message they can swipe to dismiss it from their screen forever.
Unlike toast messages, a push notification appears outside your application, and the user does not have to be using the app in order for the message to appear. However, push notifications do share the brevity of a toast. Specific information about the usage of an app (for example, demonstrating new features) might not be helpful in a push notification, which occurs outside the context of the app itself. Instead, the main utility of a push notification is funneling users back towards an app after an event or state change, at which point in-app notifications such as snack bars or toast messages are better for direction.
Snackbar messages are the closest relative of a toast message. A snackbar is an interactable toast message, which might allow a user to quickly reverse a decision, move to a recommended part of the app, or repeat a failed action. Snackbars typically have more interactivity than a toast, but can be a risk when their interaction requires commitment for the user: snackbars are small messages, and clumsy fingers might activate their functionality by mistake.
Finally, messages like toasts and snackbars can be collected into an in-app notification center. This is a record of any messages relating to your app that your user has received, including toasts, push notifications, or even emails. With an in-app notification center, a user can return to information they may have missed. Some in-app notification centers can also synchronize messages across different mediums: for example, Courier’s in-app inbox will automatically detect that an email has been read and mark the corresponding in-app inbox version of the same message as read.
Given the wide number of possible modes of communication, it can be tricky to determine which channel you want to use to deliver a given message. Does your new software update merit a push notification, or should you highlight its best new feature in a toast? Is a user action significant enough to require sending an email confirmation, or would a snackbar do?
In general, toast messages are best deployed to give immediate feedback to the user. Animations and new page designs are expensive, but it's often important for user decisions to give visual feedback for clarity and ease of use. Some user requests also take a good deal of time to complete, and a toast message is a cheap and easy alternative to a graphical indicator that a background process is running.
That doesn’t mean a user needs to see a toast message after every interaction with the app. Simple, easily reversible changes like updating settings don’t need to be broadcast to the user, and doing so might overwhelm attention or screen space.
In the opposite direction, a toast is not always enough of a response to certain user actions. In the classic example of an email sent prematurely, it is excellent UX to provide a reverse option with a snackbar. Other cases where a snackbar is convenient include when you want to direct a user to a different part of the app, or when the user moves or deletes system files and you want to offer them an undo option. On a similar line, consider if a message makes sense when presented outside of your app – in those cases, it might be helpful to include that information in a push message.
Courier’s notification platform allows you to maximize the impact and ease the implementation of your toast messages. When using Courier, you can integrate your toast messages into a multi-channel control system – no matter if you want to standardize the color and shape of all your messages (push, email, toast, and more) or if you want to implement a shared inbox that collects all your company’s communication, Courier can deliver.
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