Indie productivity app Alfred refuses to let Apple steal its thunder

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Well, there goes Alfred.

That’s the first thought I had when I saw the new Spotlight in OS X Yosemite. I feared Apple had basically made my favorite little app launcher obsolete (we nerds call it “sherlocked”).

I was wrong.

It’s six months later, and Alfred is doing just fine, thanks largely to a vibrant community built around its power features, or workflows. Spotlight may be able to quickly launch an app from anywhere, but Alfred can tell the weather, eject attached hard drives, and control your Nest thermostat.

And now, after five years on the Mac, Alfred is making the leap to iOS with a new companion app called Alfred Remote. Released today, it’s not going to be useful for most people, but serious Alfred users will love it. If anything, it’s evidence that you can still build a great app and community around core features offered by Apple.

Spotlight Search. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
Spotlight is a lot smarter in Yosemite. It can search different websites, pull up directions and even make math calculations. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

“Yosemite hasn’t really taken anything away from us,” said Vero Pepperrell, one half of the two-person team behind Alfred, to Cult of Mac. “It has in fact enlightened a huge number of Mac users to the benefits of quickly accessing their apps and files. They then realize they need more, which is where Alfred enriches their experience far more, with significantly more features, even as part of the free version.”

Alfred Remote is designed to be an alternative to hotkeys and keywords on the Mac. By pairing an iPhone or iPad with a Mac running Alfred, users can assign app icons and triggers for specific actions, whether it be putting the computer to sleep or controlling iTunes.

When I first heard the pitch, I wasn’t sold. But then again, I’m not that much of an Alfred power user. I use a few workflows on the Mac for stuff like controlling Spotify and searching YouTube, but nothing too fancy.

The real value, even for someone like me, occurs when you start chaining together different actions in one shortcut, explained Pepperrell.

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Alfred Remote’s interface for controlling your Mac.

Pepperrell has a “Good Morning” coffee bean icon on her iPhone that launches the websites and apps she uses on her Mac every day. Another “Good Night” shortcut could quit all open apps, perform a backup to a remote server, etc.

Like the recently released Workflow app on iOS, Alfred Remote’s usefulness is really up to the imagination of its users. The Remote app’s pages can have different tasks chained together, like Google searching the last thing pasted to your clipboard. Alfred Remote beta users have already “created pages to add the current Web browser page to Evernote, connect to remote Macs, restart Web servers and more,” said Pepperrell.

Alfred Remote costs $4.99 in the App Store, and the Mac app is free with an optional £17 (around $25) upgrade to unlock power features.

Many great apps have fallen to the wayside over the years after Apple introduced similar functionality, but Alfred’s developers aren’t fazed by how Spotlight is starting to encroach on their territory.

“Those who’ve followed the development of Alfred over the past five years know we’re constantly evolving the products,” said Pepperrell. “There are some stunning features planned for both Alfred on Mac and Remote, which will continue to better our productivity as Mac users.”