Boxcar: Get Creative With Push Notifications

Apple certainly took their time to activate push notification for the iPhone, but the truth is that it has been worth the wait. As one of the most requested features, it proves to be very useful when used appropriately and with measure.

Boxcar takes advantage of this feature by providing an entry point for all your notifications: Twitter, Facebook, email and even RSS or Growl, and then firing the appropriate app to handle them. This review will take a look at how the app works, and explain where to start.

Setting Up the Service

Boxcar needs you to set up an account with them so they can keep track of your settings and services. It comes in pretty handy too if you have to re-install the application or are using more than one device. The process is really straight forward:

The Set Up Process

The Set Up Process

Boxcar will eventually (it didn’t a couple of times during the tests) ask you to turn on Push Notifications on your iPhone. This is both a global and per-application setting, so make sure you have everything ready to receive them:

Notification Settings

Notification Settings

Each service has its own invidual settings, configurable within Boxcar.

Adding Services

Boxcar comes with free push notifications for one of the available services, whichever one you prefer: Twitter, Twitter search, Twitter trends, an email account, Facebook, an RSS feed or even Growl notifications.

Additional services come at a one-off fee of €0.79 which is paid through an “in-app purchase”. Let’s see how to get up and running with the first service:

Notice

Notice

We’ve gone with a popular option that many of you are likely to choose – Twitter:

Twitter Setup

Twitter Setup

As you can see, the process is fairly simple: select the service, authorize and configure. Kudos to the Boxcar crew for authorizing directly with Twitter instead of storing our username and password.

Adding a payed service is almost just as easy. Here we set up Facebook which, once authorized through Facebook Connect, offers a purchase option:

In App Purchase

In App Purchase

Don’t be afraid to experiment with setting up different services, since no real purchase is done until you save settings and enter your AppStore credentials.

How it Works

Boxcar acts as a global entry point for push notifications; once an account has been set up you can choose which other app on your iPhone should handle each notification. In the example above, we set up a Twitter account which sure is able to handle the opening of direct messages:

Push Notification

Push Notification

We have set up Tweetie to handle Twitter notifications, so once we click on the “View” button, Boxcar will open to immediately close and open Tweetie. It’s slightly “hacky”, but a small price to pay for the functionality on offer.

Fine Tuning

Notice the available options for Twitter: you can select from a wide range of notification events and settings, including the sound made, and the option for displaying the number of unread notifications in the app’s icon.

Settings

Settings

The “Private Alerts” setting will display a generic message like “You have one mention” instead of the actual message.

Quiet Time

A very interesting global setting is “Quiet Time”. This allows you to select a range of hours during which no sounds are made or messages shown, only updating the application icon. Particularly useful for during the night!

Quiet Time

Quiet Time

Go Wild

Now, the real interesting possibilities come with Growl and RSS notifications. Imagine being notified when a download is completed at home, or using a Basecamp RSS feed to be notified when clients leave a message. Why not get exceptionally creative and build an Arduino gadget that notifies you via Twitter, RSS or Growl when the laundry is done! Possible not all that exhilarating, but you get my drift!

Conclusion

All in all, Boxcar is a wonderful service that pushes the limits of what is achievable through iPhone Push Notifications bearing in mind the platform’s own limitations. It’s a pity that when launching an external application it doesn’t automatically show the right tab or sections (such as the DMs tab on Tweetie), but this would require a far more advanced setup.

Other than that, Boxcar offers a truly useful, deeply customizable and flexible set-and-forget solution for push notifications. It’s certainly worth trying out, and is completely free to get started with.


Summary

Boxcar adds "push notifications" to a number of different popular social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook - or you can customise your own using RSS and Growl. It works well, and removes the need to regularly check each site individually.

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