These pretty little gadgets we tote around in our pockets are supposed to be smart -- but when it comes to certain simple-seeming tasks, man, they sure can seem stupid.
Take the common chore of package tracking, for instance: Maybe you find it useful to know when a new delivery is en route to you or waiting at your doorstep. I do -- but getting my phone to monitor that intelligently and provide reliable alerts proved to be anything but easy.
I know, I know: There are tons of apps in the Play Store that promise to track packages and do just what I described. The problem, though, is that most of them leave something to be desired. Either they require you to manually input the tracking number of every package you want to monitor, or they rely on scanning your inbox for online purchase receipts in order to find and import tracking info.
If you ask me, neither scenario is ideal. The former puts the onus on you to track down and paste in every tracking number that enters your life, while the latter doesn't account for packages shipped outside of your own personal online purchases (like, you know, boxes sent from someone else or stuff ordered by other people in your household). Ultimately, both are incomplete and not entirely "smart" solutions.
Equally unappealing is the prospect of installing individual apps from FedEx, UPS, and USPS -- because (a) those apps tend to suck (seriously, if you want a hearty laugh, go install the FedEx app and give it a quick look-through), (b) that's way too much nonsense to have to keep on your device for such a simple purpose, and (c) amazingly, those apps don't even all deliver notifications in any consistent and controllable manner.
So what to do? After months of frustration and experimentation, I've found a foolproof and hassle-free answer. Let me walk you through it.
Ready, set, track
Now, a quick word of warning: This setup does involve a few different services on the back end, and getting it all configured will take a few minutes of work up front. But that's just a minor one-time inconvenience, and the result is worth it: Once you get this set up, it'll just work -- automatically and intelligently, without any ongoing effort on your behalf. Five minutes of organization once, and you'll have an effective and maintenance-free system that'll find all your incoming packages and alert you with updates wherever you want.
Step 1: The triggers
The first step is to sign up for email alerts from the package delivery services that are relevant to you -- probably FedEx, UPS, and USPS, if you're the U.S. All of those services make it fairly easy to do:
- For FedEx, sign up for Delivery Manager and then edit your notifications to make sure you get only the emails you actually want.
- For UPS, sign up for My UPS and then follow the option to set up delivery alerts.
- And for USPS, sign up for My USPS and then go to the "Package Preferences" page to enable email notifications.
(If you live outside of the U.S. and/or have different delivery services that matter to you, just go to each service's respective website and look for a similar email notification option.)
You'll need to have the various alerts go to a valid Gmail address that you own, but it's worth mentioning that it doesn't have to be your primary Gmail address or even one you ever look at; in fact, I prefer to use a secondary, out-of-the-way Gmail account instead of my main one for this sort of stuff, as that keeps the whole process behind the scenes and out of my hair.
Remember: These emails are just triggers. You don't ever actually need to see them yourself.
Step 2: The notifier
Next, we need to make sure that your device is linked up to a service called Pushbullet. Pushbullet irked a lot of people when it shifted to a "freemium"-style subscription model late last year, but the part of the app involved in this process is still completely free; all you have to do is install the app on your Android device, then open it and follow the instructions to sign in.
(You can also add Pushbullet to Chrome, Firefox, or Opera if you want to get the notifications on your desktop computer, too. And if you want to get the alerts on other mobile devices -- an Android tablet, an iPhone, an iPad, or whatever -- just add the app to those places as well. Similarly, if you change to a new phone in the future, all you have to do is install and sign into Pushbullet there for the alerts to carry over. The beauty of this is that it'll work anywhere, anytime, without any additional setup or effort.)
Step 3: The connector
Almost done: For our final step, open this page at IFTTT -- a free cloud-based automation service -- and click the big blue button that says "ADD." The site will prompt you to sign in (or sign up if you don't already have an account) and then authorize it to connect to Gmail (make sure you use the same account you used for the various email alerts a minute ago) and to Pushbullet so it can tie everything together.
The ready-to-use recipe I created will monitor your inbox for any incoming messages from FedEx, UPS, and USPS -- messages that, if you set things up right in step 1, should include only alerts and updates about the statuses of any packages being shipped to your address. Whenever any such message is detected, it'll create a notification in Pushbullet with all the relevant info. That notification will appear on any device where you have Pushbullet installed.
And that's it, folks! Finish those steps, sit back, and wait for the notifications to come in anytime a package is en route or on your doorstep. It just works, and it works well -- and in my book, that's worth everything.