I am Peter Breuls. I write web applications in PHP, movie reviews and irregularly something on this weblog. Welcome!
Through my company Devize, I'm available as a developer or a consultant for websites or web applications.
I work as an Administrator at online community FOK! and as a Lead Developer at frontoffice supplier SIMgroep.

Knock, knock? Not there!

Tech / Maccomment

Thanks to a tip coming from one of my favorite podcasts, I've started to give the Mac/iPhone application Knock a try. I'd like to tell you why it's awesome, but also why it's not there yet. So it's not awesome, yet, but it's promising.

What Knock does is really simple: it lets you unlock your Mac by knocking on your iPhone. That's it. And it's brilliant. When you're at the password screen for your Mac, instead of typing your password, you just knock on your phone and the Mac unlocks itself. No password hassle needed.

In theory, this is absolutely perfect. You can protect your Mac with a really strong password that you'd (almost) never have to type yourself. In practice, however, it doesn't work as well as it should, which is why it "almost works", therefore it's "almost awesome" or "actually not awesome at all".

The application works as two apps: a free OSX background app that sits in your menu bar (yet another icon up there? yup) and an iOS app that costs a couple of euros. You install the OSX app first, to check if your Mac is recent enough to support Bluetooth Low Energy, which is the technology that's used by the apps to communicate. The OSX app tells you if your Mac is supported. If it is, you can go ahead and buy/install the iOS app on your phone. You run both, they tell you about how to do the setup, you follow it and you lock your Mac.

Then, you knock on your phone twice. If everything's going as it should, your Mac should now unlock. Yay! But there are cases in which this doesn't work.

You have to be logged in
The first case is mentioned in the FAQ on the Knock website: your Mac needs to already have been running before locking. So a fresh boot, leading to the login screen, won't work. But to be fair: that's also not an 'unlock', that's a 'login'. So there's that.

Hello? Someone there?
The second case is a variety of situations in which you're actually better off just going ahead and typing your password, making the app obsolete. I've experienced quite a lot of times, when I wanted to unlock my Mac, that the Mac and the iPhone hadn't found each other yet. There's a green ring around the avatar in the login screen that circles around until there's a connection. When the connection has been made, the ring turns completely green and I can knock. But it can take a couple of seconds before the connection is made. Seconds I could have shortened myself by just typing my password. And that action is almost second nature for me, so why bother waiting for my phone to connect?

Nobody home
Sometimes, there's no connection at all. I just wait and wait, and give up. Turns out, and this is not so much surprising as experience-lessening, the Knock iOS app has to be up and running. When I close it, there will never be a connection between Mac-Knock and iPhone-Knock. It's perhaps understandable; iOS doesn't like stuff happening in the background, but to be honest, having to make sure the app keeps running kind of defeats the purpose of the application. This stuff needs to "just work" for it to be really powerful.

Additionally, sometimes when the iOS app is running, my Mac still can't connect to it. That just feels buggy.

Just keep knocking
The final annoyance might just be a bug, so let's hope it is so it can be fixed quickly. Sometimes, just knocking twice won't work. The unlock screen shows that the knocks are registered, but there's no unlockin' happenin'. So I knock again, twice. And again, now harder. And then I knock thrice, or four times, before Knock registers the knocks as valid and unlocks me. It's annoying; again; that time could have been spent just typing the password.

So, in summary, Knock is a brilliant app, in theory. I hope it's possible to fix some of these issues, because those are the only things keeping me from absolutely loving the app.