Are you running your Mac as a media center? Do you have an iPhone or iPod touch? If you answered yes to both of these questions, then there are a few apps you absolutely need to have to get set up in comfort and style. Wow your friends and mimic setups with dedicated hardware that cost up to three or four times as much. And take your media with you on the go, too.
Boxee Remote (Free)
Now, obviously, getting this app requires you to have Boxee set up on your Mac as a pre-requisite, but that’s a step you definitely should take if you’re going to be using your Mac as a media center machine. Boxee automatically organizes your existing media library and gives you convenient, TV-optimized navigation of not only your own files but also of web content from sites like YouTube, CollegeHumor, U.S. television network sites and Hulu.
The official remote app for the iPhone is free, and it works better than any other general use remote software I’ve come across. You get to choose between standard and gesture control modes, depending on your preference, and it automatically detects and connects to any Boxee installation running in your house without any issue. And using the iPhone’s keyboard to perform text entry commands means you can shelve the Bluetooth keyboard, too.
Air Mouse Pro ($1.99)
There are countless remote control applications for use with your Mac on your iPhone, but I still prefer Air Mouse Pro above all others. Recently introduced features like a battery indicator prove that the developers behind it are committed to offering continued support, and the list of extras you get beyond basic control functions is long indeed.
For instance, at any time shaking the iPhone will provide a full screen trackpad, either in profile or landscape mode. There’s a keyboard for data entry, and also a variety of other screens to make sure you’re never wanting for a button to press. It requires a server, but it sits innocuously in your menu bar, and doesn’t use almost any system resources.
Apple Remote (Free)
Apple’s original iTunes remote application is still the best way to manage your music collection when you’re listening by yourself or hosting a party. If you haven’t used the iTunes DJ functionality yet, invite a bunch of friends over for a music party just to test it out.
If you use your Mac for playing games like me, particularly classic emulated games, then you’ll want to pick up this handy little app. It only costs $1.99, and with it you get a fully functional gamepad with a classic NES button layout. I’ve got copies on my iPhone and iPod touch for two player action at no extra cost. You’ll need a server app to get it working, which can be confusing at first since the app launches without telling you anything about its desktop requirements.
Air Video ($2.99)
Air Video can do amazing things for your video files. Just set up the server, point it at folders that you want to have access to (ideally ones where you keep your videos, obviously) and you’ll be able to see them on your small screen wherever you happen to be. A data connection is required, but it works with both 3G and Wi-Fi connections.
Air Video also has the advantage of being able to convert incompatible video files on the fly, and even let you watch as you convert so long as you have an iDevice running iPhone OS 3.0 or later.
Long past is the time when your media center Mac was limited to the home. Thanks to the iPhone, iPod touch, and now the iPad, you can take your media with you in more ways than ever. Maximizing your living room experience is great, but being able to take that room on the road with you is way better.
Manage your Netflix queue from your iPhone. This app has always worked well, but until very recently it had one of the ugliest icons in the App Store, which is a huge deal for a design snob like myself. Get it now and use it in conjunction with Netflix on Boxee and you’ll be sailing.
I don’t know about you, but my Mac has quickly overshadowed my digital cable box as the centerpiece of my home entertainment system. Combine that with the convenience and portability of the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad and you’ve got a killer combination. It’s only a matter of time before that cable subscription gets canceled. Being able to watch episodes of the Dog Whisperer whenever I want on the National Geographic Channel is really the only thing preventing me from doing so already.