Pushcut, an iOS app from developer Simon Leeb introduced earlier this year, has recently received an update that adds in support for our favorite smart home platform, HomeKit. The premise of the app is rather simple, providing actionable notifications that trigger automations, shortcuts, HomeKit scenes and more, but there is no doubt that making it all happen behind the curtains is no small feat. On the surface this may seem somewhat redundant when it comes to HomeKit, as we have already had the ability to automate tasks based on time, location, and other conditions for years now, but the hope is that notification based actions can ultimately lead to more timely, more appropriate, and more importantly, more meaningful interactions. Does the app truly accomplish its goals? Let’s take a look.
Pushcut, which is available for free on the App Store, uses a free to try model, which is becoming increasingly more common due to the changing dynamics of app usage and purchasing habits. More robust features and the removal of certain limitations are available through a few different subscription options, which are reasonably priced, starting at $0.99 a month for the “basic” tier leading up to $19.99 a year for the “pro” level. While this may turn away some, we are more than willing to shell out a few dollars on a reoccurring basis if it means keeping the app in a state of development, and not one that is never updated again.
Upon launching the app for the first time, we were greeted by a splash screen that provides a brief summary of its potential, as well as a link to an online guide that can help get users started on setting up their notifications. At the bottom of the splash screen is a standard “Try For Free” option coming in the form of a button, which sits atop the option to try the limited version of the app. Next it is on to permission prompts, and in this case, notifications are absolutely necessary to get any kind of functionality at all. Users are then greeted with a blank canvas of sorts, essentially letting them know that they must create something to get it all started.
Before getting into our first notification, I will touch on the privacy side of things, since the app does involve the use of the cloud in order to function. While all of the information regarding how it all works is available in the Privacy portion of the apps website, it essentially boils down to an account (not user facing) being automatically created for your device, with a unique identifier. This account works with another identifier or “token” that is used to for notification delivery. According to the developer, they do not collect or store your name, email address, or location data, with emphasis that location data is completely, well, local, on device. With that being said though, we always suggest taking a look at privacy policies to better understand where your data is going and what it could be used for.
Setting up your first notification can seem a little daunting at first, especially with the way that it displays a Webhook URL directly under the section for naming as well as the sheer amount of options and text, but in reality it is rather simple to use. For those that are not used to working with apps and services like Shortcuts and IFTTT, there are several handy links positioned at the bottom, which are worded in the form of questions, such as “What is all of this?”, which is a really nice touch.
For our first notification, we took the easy route and went with one that was based on time, and would merely prompt us to turn on or off lighting. To set this up, we provided a name and the message that we wanted our notification to say, and then followed it up with selecting 2 scenes in the actions portion that would most likely be appropriate for the time. Finally, we set the desired time under the “Local triggers” section and then hit “Save” in the top right corner.
So what does our newly created notification look like? Well as you may have guessed, it looked exactly like a standard iOS notification that had the custom message that we typed in which fired at the exact moment our time was condition was met. Tapping on the notification brought us straight to the Pushcut app, which then displayed the notification again with large buttons to set the scenes that we assigned, along with an option to dismiss it. Haptic touching (that is hard to get used to saying) the notification brought up the scene selection options right underneath the notification itself without going into the app, which is the route that we assume most people will go.
As you may have guessed, our example notification was basic to say the least, and there are of course a lot more options that can be set to create even more personalized and more powerful actions. These options include setting things such as default actions, which is the action that will take place if you simply tap on the notification, and sounds, which is comprised of 5 selections as well as off and vibration only. Power user settings include adding conditionals to the mix which starts by using the “Copy URL” button located in the bottom left hand corner of the set up screen, and then hopping into the Home app. In the Home app, you would utilize the create automation process, where you would assign conditions such as location before using the new iOS 13 option to convert it into a Shortcut.
To finish it all off, you would simply use the URL option, paste in your Webhook URL from Pushcut, and then add in the “Get Contents of URL” option. This process would allow for the creation of notifications such as one that could be sent at sunset, only if you are home, which would ask what evening scene that you would like to run. To take things even further, you can incorporate other services like IFTTT, as well as stuff like JSON and Zapier which we are not going to pretend to act like we know what those mean. Finally, things can ramp up even more when the convert to Shortcut option is used, essentially putting these steps as just a minor part within a intricate Shortcuts routine or action set as they are simply commands that are readily available.
While we are still wrapping our heads around all of the potential options to use notification actions for, we can say that we can certainly see some as being more meaningful than normal HomeKit automations. Instead of turning off our bedroom lights every day at a set time with the assumption that it is time to hang things up and go to sleep, we now have the ability to be prompted via a notification at the end of the day asking if it is truly the time to turn things off. To make things even more convenient and timely, the developer also has an Apple Watch companion in the works, which is currently in testing and nearing release. The companion watch app will allow for launching the actions assigned through the app with just a tap, just like a notification on your iOS device, which makes them even more convenient.
Want some more examples of what the app can do? According to the aforementioned guides provided by the developer, notifications can be sent based on the status of other accessories. This allows for a notification such as one that is sent at a certain time a day if the heater is still running, or only sending a notification to turn the lights off if they are still on at a certain time. It is also important to keep in mind that these examples are only related to HomeKit, which is just a portion of the app, again one that was just added to the already available app earlier this month.
To sum it all up, the Pushcut app works exactly as advertised, but its usefulness is ultimately up to the user. Yes, there are examples to follow which help to get things established, but meaningful notifications require creating the scenarios that are unique to the individual. This is certainly nothing new for HomeKi aficionados, with automations requiring the same level of thought and attention to detail to make them perfect for specific situations, which makes Pushcut an easy app to recommend, and one that I have no problem labeling as an essential tool for HomeKit power users. While I am excited to continue digging into the apps potential, I am even more excited for the possibilities that the HomeKit community comes up with.