Work Smarter Using iPhone Push Notifications

iPhone OS 3.0 brings a lot of new features to the table, but I could’ve easily gone on living without all of them, copy and paste included, except for push notifications. Push is the killer feature that elevates the iPhone platform to a whole new level of usability, both as a standalone device, and as a piece of companion hardware to your existing workstation setup.

The iPhone has taken the place of an entire screen in my current home office configuration, freeing up a whole display for more productive use. Here’s a breakdown of the apps that make this possible, and how I use them.

Prowl: Get Any Growl Notifications Via Push On Your iPhone


Remember when you had to click on an application to make it active, and hit refresh in order to find out if anything new had happened? It’s been a long while now, since most desktop programs can run in the background and notify you when something requires your attention. The iPhone approximates that same functionality via the newly introduced push notification features, though apps aren’t actually running in the background, so special support is required from app developers to enable it.

As far as I’m concerned, push has already been a game-changer. My iPhone is now my dedicated IM client, lets me monitor any and all Blue Jays games no matter where I am, and keeps me on-task with my to-do list. But that’s not all. Thanks to a new app called Prowl ($2.99, iTunes link), my iPhone can keep me abreast of pretty much anything, via my Mac and a useful app many will already be familiar with, Growl. Read More about Prowl: Get Any Growl Notifications Via Push On Your iPhone

Five Background Apps for Your MacBook

Throughout the course of the workday, I open and close dozens of apps on my MacBook. There are five tools, however, that I keep running continuously in the background on my laptop. They’ve got small enough footprints that I don’t have to worry about using up precious CPU and they’re so handy that they’ve found a place on my must-have list of MacBook apps.


jiggler-1Sometimes I use my MacBook as a secondary computer while working on larger projects on my iMac. When I’m using the laptop to play DVDs, stream music through iTunes, or monitor emails and IMs, it drives me crazy when it suddenly goes to sleep. I used to reset the energy saver options, but I would always forget to change them back. Now I use Jiggler, a tiny freeware app that keeps your screen saver from activating or your computer from going to sleep.
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Best Kept Secrets: Hardware Growler

My enthusiastic use and promotion of Growl should come as no surprise to regular readers of The Apple Blog. While some dismiss it as an annoyance reminiscent of the Windows notification popups, others — like myself – view it as a way be informed without stopping what I am currently doing (and that is definitely not the case with its Windows pseudo-counterpart).

Even though many of the applications and utilities that help me with my daily workflows have embedded Growl support in some fashion, there is one use of Growl that may help convert even the most stalwart Growl skeptic: Hardware Growler.
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Mail Unread Menu Provides E-Mail Count in Mac Menu Bar

Recently, I installed Mac OS X Leopard on my MSI Wind netbook to get a feel for a 10-inch Apple notebook. The device came with Windows XP pre-installed and I have it running Vista for the moment. Yes, I’m generally OS-agnostic. One of the challenges I had to address with a small display using only 1024×600 resolution was screen real estate, so I did something I don’t often do: I set the Mac OS X Dock to auto-hide. It provided me more room for my tasks but it also took away one of my most important bits of visual information: the unread count from my two Gmail Inboxes in Mail.
I’m generally not a huge fan of plug-ins due to performance challenges, but I’m making an exception for Mail Unread Menu. This 2.2MB free application for Mac OS X 10.4 or better does one thing, but does it well. It places a configurable icon in the Mac menu bar that shows the total number of unread e-mails waiting for me. You can pick and choose which mailboxes it monitors, modify the menu bar icon and even show the subject lines of unread e-mails to give you a preview before moving your attention to the Mail application.
I also use Growl for e-mail notifications, but that’s more of a real-time information updater. Sometimes, I don’t want to see every single e-mail coming in and just want to check the count every so often. With Mail Unread Menu, I can ignore the Growl and the Dock on my smaller-screened device but still keep my finger on the pulse of my information lifeblood. Now if I could just convince Apple to make a netbook similar in size to my MSI Wind, I wouldn’t have to cobble together my own.

OS X : Unplugged(.prefpane)

I came across a comment about a small but useful utility I had not heard of before called Unplugged. This utility (in the form of a System Preferences panel) from Briksoftware watches for events related to your power cord being plugged or unplugged and notifies you via Growl (if Growl is not installed, the application will use an alert window).

You can choose whether it starts on login, whether you are given an extra notification when battery resources are at a level you define and can restrict display if designated applications are currently running:

You also have complete control over the information presented in the alerts:

With my Growl configuration, the notifications look like this:


It’s a very simple application that does not require a substantial amount of system resources (as shown below). There have been times when I have had the MacBook Pro become unplugged and not noticed the screen dim only to discover much later that I’m on 50% battery left. This utility would have definitely come in handy then and is now a part of my “must have” applications.

I had a bit of trouble trying to send a PayPal donation to the author via the link on the page, but managed to do so via the standard PayPal “Send Money” option. As always, I highly encourage folks to support independent development on the Mac.

If you use Unplugged or have suggestions for other small-but-useful utilities, drop a note in the comments.

Weekend Vid Picks: Highlights of Internet Week

The unplanned concurrence of NewTeeVee Station‘s launch and the first-ever New York Internet Week made for a pretty hectic few days, but I was still able to partake in some of the week’s festivities. Consider this Vid Picks a travel document of what you missed.

The big fun on Saturday was at NewTeeVee correspondent Steve Bryant’s Wiimbledon, a fast-paced Wii Tennis challenge held at the uber-cool Barcade in Brooklyn, and a perfect way to dive into 4 straight days of geekery. Lots of cameras circulated at the event, but the best round-up was definitely by the gentlemen at Bush, who interviewed the finalists and did a great job of capturing the furious action:

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Snapter winners announced!

The contest to win a free license of Snapter was a very successful one and we are happy to announce the 4 winners of a full license of the digital camera scanning software.  Here are the winners who need to email me and provide the email address where they’d like to receive the license.  Thanks for participating everyone and stay tuned, we will be having more frequent and bigger contests kicking off in the next few days.  Congratulations to the following winners:

Jon Dee
Tax Man
Robert Burdock
Big Wes

Don’t forget to send that email address and you’ll be Snaptering in no time.  🙂  Thanks to the folks behind Snapter for providing the free licenses for the contest.