Caller ID in OS X
Lost in the discussion of major Mac HTPC capabilities are features that enhance the home theatre experience in smaller ways. One trimming I’ve always looked for has been the ability to display incoming Caller ID on screen during video playback.
And after a little digging (and a lot of testing), I discovered this is still very much an emerging area that could use a little clarification for Mac users like me looking to add this seemingly simple feature to their OS X-based home theaters.
I use an Intel iMac for most of my computing, whose lack of a modem made purchasing an external device necessary. There were two possible roads to go down: snagging the Apple USB Modem combined with 3rd party software or a proprietary software/hardware combination. Since the price difference is $50 vs $100+, I chose the former.
ShowCallerID 0.1 (Free) – ShowCallerID is a simple program that lives exclusively in the menu bar. It offers no control over the location or duration of the caller info it displays. The number (no name) is thrown up in black text against a white block on the upper part of the screen.
Unfortunately, this is the first version of the product and the site freely points to a reality I quickly became familiar with: “Sometimes the modem doesn’t talk to the computer. The phone rings but no notification window pops up.” 90% of the time, ShowCallerID sat idle by while my phone rang away.
This lack of consistency combined with development that apparently ended in early 2006 makes ShowCallerID a dry hole in my search.
Caller ID for Mac OS X 1.0 Beta 3 ($14.95) – Like ShowCallerID, Caller ID For Mac OS X (CIDOSX) resides exclusively in the menu bar. It does offers rudimentary control over the display location, but nothing else. In fact, there is little in the way of features that sets CIDOSX apart from ShowCallerID beyond the price difference.
Except that CIDOSX NEVER worked with the Apple USB modem…not one call was detected. To that end, CIDOSX is a complete non-starter with a nod to the fact that it’s still in Beta.
Silica 1.2 (Free) – While $14.95 less than CIDOSX, Silica offers a surprisingly robust set of features compared to the programs covered so far. It offers more control over the display’s location and appearance, to start.
It also is the first to offer support for Growl, which theoretically should allow the info to be shared across networked computers also running Growl and display the caller’s info on multiple computers.
But Silica’s performance bordered on lifeless. I was able to get a couple of displays with Silica’s built-in notification, but Growl did absolutely nothing. Truth be told, I’ve been trying get Silica to work for a while on different Macs (with various modems) with little success. As much as I like the price tag, performance is number one in most aspects of my life. Hence, another sad face.
CallWall .92 ($10 during Beta) – Man, I wanted to love CallWall. In addition to incorporating Growl support, it also lets users create a “call firewall” that allows dynamic blocking of specific numbers, plus integration with an online database of know phone marketers. And the interface is simple and very OS X-like. My enthusiasm even led to an ill-conceived and premature purchase.
Premature because I cannot get consistent service. Like so many others, CallWall sometimes saw my calls, but most of the time it just looked pretty while my ringer went on and on. And the developers haven’t answered repeated requests for help.
Jon’s Phone Tool 3.7.2 ($22.50) – By this point, you may be wondering how I know it’s the software and not my system. BECAUSE I FOUND A PROGRAM THAT WORKS EVERY TIME. Before and after each other piece of software failed, Jon’s Phone Tool delivered accurate info every time the phone rang via my Apple USB modem.
But JPT is much, much more than just a caller ID notifier and it demands more of my system’s resources than I’d care to use for just one of it’s features. This is no knock against JPT – it’s a kick-ass phone interface for Macs. Just way more than I want and need.
It does work, however. Which makes it the default winner…with plenty of room for decent competitors in the next race.
Beyond the Apple USB modem, there are pricier hardware options available…I owned and returned Ovolab’s Phlink due (again) to flaky incoming notifications. The only high-profile possibility I haven’t test driven is PhoneValet due to it’s steep cost.
* Obviously, anyone with better info than me – post up and I’ll update the list!