One of the best things about owning an iPhone and a Mac is how well the two devices work together. The websites you open with Safari on your desktop can easily be opened on your iPhone, you can carry on iMessage conversations from your iPhone or from your Mac, and Continuity — one of the many features that Apple introduced with iOS 9 — even enables you to pick up an incoming phone call on a Mac or iPad. But if you have an Android smartphone instead of an iPhone, things aren’t quite as convenient right out of the box. Google doesn’t have a way of pushing your calls and messages, or any kind of notification, from your phone to your desktop unless you’re using Project Fi or a Google Voice number.
Fortunately, though, there are other ways of getting notifications from your Android smartphone to show up on your computer. One of those is an app called Pushbullet, which will recreate the notifications that pop up on your phone, on your desktop. In addition to showing you your phone’s notifications, the app also enables you to send text messages, share links between your devices, or send files between them. You can use Pushbullet via a desktop app or even a Chrome extension, and it’s also available for Firefox and Opera.
There are plenty of other options that offer similar functionality, including Pushline, which is available as an app on Google Play and an extension in the Chrome Web Store. Pushline mirrors your phone’s notifications to your PC or Mac, and also enables you to check and answer incoming calls from your computer, read and reply to text messages, or send links and notes between your devices. You can even mute or unmute your smartphone remotely, or find a misplaced phone easily from your computer.
Another choice is AirDroid, which mirrors the calls, SMS, and app notifications you’ve allowed to your computer screen (you can cut down on distractions and procrastination by only allowing specific notifications). AirDroid’s Android app, in concert with its desktop client for Windows or Mac OS X and its Chrome extension, not only enable you to send SMS messages and view app notifications from your computer, but also to transfer files and fully control your phone via your computer.
Desktop Notifications, an app created by the Human Computer Interaction Group at the University of Stuttgart, enables you to receive Android notifications in the browser on your desktop, and even on your Android tablet. To use Desktop Notifications, you install the Android app and a browser extension for either Chrome or Firefox. The system should be an appealing option for users who are concerned about their privacy. Using any of these apps involves giving a third party permission to see every message that pops up on your phone. But the group behind Desktop Notifications notes that neither the content of your notifications nor any information about you is stored, and any collected data is used only for research purposes.
When you’re setting up one of these apps, it’s important to bear in mind that you probably don’t want all of the notifications that you get on your phone to show up on your computer. The apps will let you enable or disable any app notifications, ensure that apps aren’t sending you duplicate notifications, or even have the notifications sent only when your phone is connected to Wi-Fi, so that you won’t be using data to send notifications from your phone to your computer.
Jacob Kastrenakes reports for The Verge that while Pushbullet isn’t a perfect solution — and most of the other apps that serve the same purpose have their own sets of limitations — something better could be on its way. Google could match, or even beat, Apple’s Continuity feature, even though it doesn’t have a widely-used desktop operating system, because it has Chrome, a widely-used web browser. Chrome is available on OS X, Windows, and Linux, and is used on just over a third of desktop computers, which puts it in second place behind Internet Explorer.
Google could give Android smartphone owners the same experience that iPhone and Mac owners get with Continuity by building out the syncing functionality it’s already integrated into Chrome, like the backend notification service that can send alerts to Android and Chrome, or its ability to sync open tabs, history, bookmarks, and passwords. By adding syncing of information from Android, Google could build a unified notifications system for alerts from its own apps.