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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

Quick Tip: Push notifications from Mac to Apple Watch

Note: This story has not been updated for several years.

Last month, reader Patrick M. wrote in with an interesting question:

I was wondering if you knew of a way to easily push Mac notifications to an Apple Watch? I’ve been doing a lot of FCPX exports and typically leave my iMac while it completes. I’d love to be notified while I’m out when it’s done. The same goes for any number of time intensive apps or jobs I have my Mac do. Just thought you might have ran into something that might be a good solution.

There was a time that I pushed notifications to my iPhone from my Mac, using Growl and the first iteration of the Boxcar app for iOS. After trying a few things, though, I don’t think the current implementation of Boxcar for iOS is reliable enough to use here.

A Mac notification, right on my Apple Watch.

Instead, I found success with a combination of Growl ($4 from the Mac App Store and Prowl ($3 from the iOS App Store).

Growl is a Mac utility that lets you send custom notifications from your Mac. In many ways it’s been subsumed by Notification Center, but it’s still got some skills—like the ability to trigger actions other than displaying an alert bubble—that OS X doesn’t offer by itself. The Prowl app comes with a Growl plug-in that allows you to set Growl to trigger a Prowl notification on your iPhone (and, yes, Apple Watch).

Is this pretty? No. In fact, both apps are not particularly attractive, but they do the job. Once you sign up for a Prowl account, you can get an API key and paste that into the Prowl action within Growl, which connects your Mac to the Prowl app on your iPhone. Once that’s done, you can alert yourself on your watch whenever your Mac needs you.

And since this is all done via the Internet, you don’t need to be near your Mac to be alerted about what it’s doing. I once got a Growl alert on my phone that a video encode had completed when I was at one of my daughter’s softball games. I like the idea that my Mac can reach out and find me if it needs me.

Now, the app you want to notify you needs to support Growl for this to work. (I had to open HandBrake’s preferences and change its notification setting to Growl before it would work, for instance.) But once I did that, I was receiving notifications that my video encoding job had finished, right on my Apple Watch.1

So, Patrick M.: Growl plus Prowl may be just what you’re looking for.

  1. If you’re wanting to script other notifications, you could also consider Pushover, which—for the cost of a $5 in-app purchase—lets you send push notifications to your phone via web service. Thanks to TJ Luoma for the tip. 

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