A few days ago, I wrote about the frustration over the delay in approving the new Facebook app for the iPhone. That should launch any day now, and it’s a good thing because as soon as it does, the anticipation can start for another must-have app: Boxcar 2.0.
For those unfamiliar with Boxcar, you’ve been missing out. I’ve been using the original version since it launched as my go-to push notification app for Twitter updates, and it has worked beautifully. But with 2.0, it get even better. Like, an insane amount better.
Previously, Boxcar allowed you to get Twitter @replies and direct messages pushed for your iPhone. Version 2.0 expands that to include all of the tweets for people you follow, if you want them. And it supports multiple Twitter accounts now. And it also allows you to push any new trending topic on Twitter right to your phone. Best of all, it allows you to push results from any Twitter search query directly to your phone. Yes, track is back, and it’s better than ever.
But that’s just what it can do with Twitter.
Boxcar 2.0 also works with Facebook Connect to allow you to get push notifications for all new Facebook alerts. One of my two complaints about the Facebook 3.0 app is that it doesn’t include push alerts (that should be coming in the next version). Boxcar solves that problem right there.
But wait, there’s more. The Twitter and Facebook elements alone would make this app a must-have, but the addition of email notifications may shove Boxcar into the realm of best apps on the iPhone. Now, before everyone gets all excited and points out the problems that services like Gpush have had getting push notification for email right on the iPhone, Boxcar does it differently. It requires a tiny bit of work on your end, but once you do it, it works very well.
Basically, you have to tell your current email service to forward your mail to an address that Boxcar sets up for you. With Gmail, this works great, because it’s a simple thing to do right in the settings, and you can make sure that you keep a version of your email going to your Gmail inbox (important since Boxcar doesn’t store your email, just notifies you of it, with who it’s from and the subject). And the fact that it doesn’t store your email should put some peoples’ minds at ease. As should the fact that you never give the app your email address and password (which you had to do with Gpush).
When I asked Boxcar developer Jonathan George how he could be sure that Boxcar wouldn’t suffer from the same problems as Gpush, he told me, “Maintaining tens of thousands of IMAP connections 24/7 is a huge issue, whereas I’m sitting back and *waiting* for the action to happen.” George went on to explain that he had been previously working on an email push notification app that used the IMAP approach as well, and realized this forwarding mechanism was a much better solution.
On top of all of the features of Boxcar 2.0, it also adds the ability to select from a range of different sounds for the push notifications. And yes, you can set different sounds for different notifications, something which will greatly help me recognize if I should pull my phone out to check on one or not.
You can set the application or web site (if any) that each of these notifications should open by default. Or you can choose to view them in the Boxcar notification inbox, which keeps track of your most recent ones that have come in through the app. And you can also set for each of the notifications to be private, meaning that rather than display something like a full tweet, Boxcar will just pop up a notification alerting you that you have a new message.
Now, a few words of caution. First, the application has been submitted to the App Store for approval, but has not been looked at yet. George expects it to be accepted (never a given) and thinks it should be available sometime between September 3 and September 7.
Second, the developer build I’m using did crash a couple of times when attempting to modify a Twitter search result I put in. Other times it worked fine. I alerted George about this, and he is looking into it, and if it is really a problem he promises to fix it soon.
Third, if you use Boxcar to receive your entire Twitter timeline you are likely to get a lot of push notifications. Now, these don’t cost anything, but they will get annoying depending on how many people you follow. Boxcar alleviates this a bit by displaying the most recent tweets with a message at the bottom like “+2 more” indicating there are two other messages like that one that came in at the same time.
The final word of caution is about the price. Boxcar is a paid app, at $2.99. And these new features come at a price as well. George is using the new in-app purchases to charge $0.99 for each service you wish to add (the base $2.99 app comes with one service for free). So, for example, if you choose Twitter as your free service and want to add Facebook notifications, that will cost you $0.99 more (a one-time fee). But even at a few dollars, this app is easily worth the price. I would probably pay as much as $10 for such an app if it is able to scale, which George assures me it will. And with the $2.99 base cost, you can switch the notifications you wish to use as your included one at any point.
Boxcar 2.0 is simply an amazing application, and a must-have if you are addicted to Twttier, Facebook or simply receiving emails. If you’re addicted to all three like I am, this may be your new favorite app. And for a few dollars, to get all of these notifications, it’s well worth the price of admission. While you wait for the new version, check out the old version of the app here in the App Store.
I suspect this app will be very popular, and hopefully it will push (yes, I went there) Apple into making a better push notification management system for the iPhone. We need to be able to see multiple messages on the locked screen, and keep track of what came in recently from various apps upon unlock. Plus, there should be a universal “quiet hours” option.
Update: And finally, a month later, Boxcar 2.0 is available in the App Store. Find it here.