A Mac geek's take on birth announcements

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Any day now, I’ll be celebrating the birth of my second child. As you might expect, I’m a bit preoccupied with this impending event, including making preparations for informing family and friends afterwards.

It used to be that when you had a baby, you spent a few weeks settling in with your new child, and then you sent cards—real, paper cards—announcing the birth. But things have changed. When our first child was born, my wife and I took a few pictures right away, but waited until the next day to upload those pictures to our Web site and send out an e-mail announcement. But even that can be too slow these days; people want to know all about the baby now.

Some might say this is a sign we all need to take a step back and relax. I saw it as a challenge. I wanted to design the quickest way to notify loved ones after the birth, preferably using the tools I already had at my disposal. Here’s how I set up my own baby-notification system.

The dilemma

My goal was to be able to e-mail our close family and friends about our newest addition, using my iPhone, within minutes of the birth. But I wanted everyone to be able to see a photo of our newborn, and I also wanted to include the URL of the baby-to-be’s online photo album, which would soon be overflowing with the requisite parental-fawning photos.

The simplest approach would be to just take a photo with my iPhone and then e-mail it, but I didn’t want to have to sit there, post-birth, frantically tapping through my Contacts list as my wife and I figured out to whom the e-mail should be sent. Nor did I want to be spending time typing the perfect e-mail message when I should be with my wife and newborn. I wanted to create the e-mail ahead of time, pre-addressed to all recipients with as much information as possible, so it would be ready to go at the big moment.

Unfortunately, the iPhone doesn’t allow you to add a photo to an existing draft e-mail message; when you send a photo, the iPhone creates a new message.

So you can see my dilemma: if I wanted to have my announcement e-mail addressed and written beforehand, I couldn’t take a photo with my iPhone and then send it to people from the phone. I had to instead upload the photo to an online photo album—and that album had to have been set up beforehand so I could include the album's URL in my e-mail message.

As it turns out, as a Mac user, .Mac subscriber, and iPhone owner, I had all the tools to do exactly what I wanted: iPhoto, a .Mac Web Gallery album, and my iPhone's built-in camera.

The setup

As I just mentioned, for my system to work I had to have the photo album set up ahead of time. It also required that I have some way to get photos from my iPhone to the photo album. Avid photo-sharers know there are plenty of online photo-sharing services that fulfill both requirements, but I chose to use Apple’s Web Gallery, part of .Mac (or, in a few weeks, Mobile Me). Web Gallery works well with both the iPhone and iPhoto, two tools I'll be using frequently over the next few months.

iPhoto Web Gallery setup

First, I used iPhoto to create a new album. Since a gallery must have at least one photo, I added a placeholder image to the album. Mine was essentially a title screen, created by taking a screenshot of a TextEdit document, but an ultrasound picture of the newborn-to-be, or a recent photo of the mom’s belly, also make for great placeholders.

To publish an album to a Web Gallery, you click on the Web Gallery button at the bottom of the iPhoto window. This brings up a dialog where you choose your options for your online album, including who can view the album and whether or not people can download photos from, or upload photos to, the album. The important setting here is “Allow adding of photos via e-mail,” which lets you add photos to the gallery from your iPhone. Clicking on Publish pushes the album live and gives you both the URL and e-mail address of the new album.

e-mail draft message

I then created my draft e-mail, first choosing the long list of recipients and then typing in the message, including the Web Gallery URL. Of course, I couldn’t include important details such as the baby’s name and weight; I just left space-holders for those. When I was done, I tapped on Cancel, which brings up the option to save the message as a draft. My announcement e-mail is now sitting in the Drafts folder on my iPhone, waiting for the big moment.

Finally, I created a new contact on my phone with the e-mail address of the new gallery. This way when I’m ready to upload my baby photo(s) to my gallery, I can just send the photo(s) to Baby Album (the name of the contact) rather than having to look up the e-mail address.

(There’s actually a simpler way to upload photos to a .Mac Web Gallery from your iPhone: When you tap on the “share” button while looking at a photo on your iPhone, one of the options is Send To Web Gallery. This uses the login information from your .Mac e-mail account on the phone to upload your photo to the gallery. Unfortunately, as my colleague Christopher Breen explained last year, this approach doesn’t always work. So I opted to go with the sure-fire e-mail method. The e-mail approach also works using any other camera-equipped phone that lets you send e-mail.)

The big moment

That may seem like a lot of setup work, but it took only a few minutes to actually do everything. And it means I’ll be able to quickly and easily notify our friends and family of the newest addition to the Frakes clan, including all the relevant details and the URL of the baby’s online photo album—which will already include the baby’s first photo!

When the big moment arrives, here’s all I’ll have to do:

iPhone e-mail photo

  1. Take a photo with the iPhone.
  2. Send the photo to the Web Gallery album: While viewing the photo, tap on the Share button on the iPhone’s screen, and then tap on e-mail Photo. Address the e-mail message to Baby Album, type the desired name for the photo in the message’s Subject field, and then tap on Send.
  3. Open my draft announcement message, add the missing details—name, weight, etc.—and then tap on Send.

Total time? During a test run—you didn’t think I’d set all this up and then not test it, did you?—the entire process, Steps 1 to 3, took less than a minute. (For those of you who haven’t been through such an event, and think I'm overemphasizing the benefits of this solution, I can assure you that my post-childbirth wife will much prefer “Let me take a picture of the baby for everyone,” followed by a few taps, to “I’ll be back in a bit; I’ve got to go find WiFi so I can upload this photo and send out an e-mail.”)

Sure, there are other ways I could have approached this challenge, some perhaps simpler. But my method will accomplish all my goals, plus it takes advantage of the integration of Apple’s various digital tools—and it was fun to figure out. What more could a Macworld editor ask for?

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