Teams Badge Count Service Makes App Pill Counts More Reliable

Changes Don’t Always Show Up

It’s the nature of software engineering that small and incremental changes happen all the time to improve the stability and reliability of applications. Inside Office 365, most of the changes in this category don’t merit mention in the Microsoft 365 message center nor do they show up as a roadmap item. Microsoft makes the changes in the background, deploys the new code across the Office 365 datacenters, and users pick up the updates the next time they connect to the service or through a client refresh. It’s part of the ongoing unheralded work necessary to keep moving software forward.

Interestingly, Microsoft didn’t publicize the change made last week to introduce the New conversation button in the Teams desktop and browser clients in an Office 365 notification. Many considered this an important change to the UI which should lead to fewer “dangling replies.” I guess the change didn’t meet the bar for widespread publicity.

Keeping Notification Counts Updated

The introduction of the Teams Badge Count Service is another example. This is a component that serves an important purpose but known to few outside Teams engineering. A badge count, otherwise known as a pill count, is the count of new items shown to users in the home screen and inside apps on mobile devices. The purpose of the badge count is to let users know when new items are available inside an app. Operating systems like iOS and Android provide notification services to allow applications to push notifications to mobile devices and it’s then up to the app to decide how to deal with the notification through actions like displaying a message, playing a sound, or updating the badge count.

In Figure 1 we see badge counts visible for Teams, Outlook, and Yammer. The count shown here for Teams covers unread items in all tenants and you must open the Teams app to see separate unread counts for each tenant.

App Badge Counts show for Teams, Yammer, and Outlook
Figure 1: App Badge Counts show for Teams, Yammer, and Outlook

In the past, the ability of Teams clients (both mobile and desktop) to display accurate new item counts hasn’t been good. Given that people can have guest accounts in multiple tenants outside their home Office 365 tenant (eight tenants in my case), the problem of fetching accurate unread counts isn’t as simple as it is when people are constrained to a single domain. Add in the factor that someone can connect to Teams with multiple clients at the same time, and there’s a few things to consider when updating unread counts.

That being said, the issues involved in retrieving and displaying the count of new items in applications is not a new technical challenge. Email and other applications have solved the problem in countless iterations going back over forty years.

Accurate Pill Counts

The Teams development group is aware that sometimes badge counts haven’t been accurate or updated as quickly as they should have been. The Teams Badge Count Service is designed to solve the problem by delivering fast and consistent updates to badge counts. The new service filters notifications in the cloud before sending updates to clients to make sure that they’re accurate and necessary (for instance, multiple notifications might be combined into one) to reduce the number of notifications, messages, and sounds handle. According to Microsoft, this has a significant effect on battery usage for Teams mobile apps.

The Teams Badge Count Service is now in use by 100% of Teams for iOS users connected to Office 365 commercial tenants and Teams for Live users on iOS and Android. Roll-out continues this week for iOS users connected to government clouds followed by deployment to Teams for Android users. The BCS won’t solve everything that can cause incorrect badge counts (one of my tenants persists with 3 notifications where no new items exist), but it’s a good update to have.

Diving into the details of a new badge service isn’t really something that will help us develop the Office 365 for IT Pros eBook, but it’s interesting so we thought you should know about it!

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