OS X 10.10, better know as Yosemite, is a major Mac update that offers numerous features never seen before in an operating system. One of the most important is Continuity.
While the name is slick and simple it actually represents a variety of interconnected features across the entire operating system that make using an iPhone or iPad alongside OS X easier than ever before. What does Continuity do, and does it work? Here’s what you need to know.
Calls & Text Messages
The most prominent feature of Continuity is its ability to turn your Mac running OS X Yosemite into an extension of your mobile phone. You’re now able to send and receive text messages (actual text messages, not just iMessages to other iPhone owners) and also take and receive phone calls using your Mac’s built-in microphone as a speakerphone.
SMS texting is the simplest feature to explain. If your Mac and iPhone are registered under the same iCloud account the text messages you receive will simply be forwarded to your Mac (but will remain available on your iPhone, too). You can also start new text message conversations with anyone who you have registered as a contact. While it sounds potentially complex, it’s really quite seamless, and most users won’t even realize the difference between a text, an iMessage and a message sent through another Internet service. The fact Apple has updated the Messages app to mimic the look of the iOS version helps with this illusion.
Phone calls also work, though not as well. Unless you have a headset attached to your Mac you’re going to be using the built-in Microphone which, well, is less then fabulous. Throw in the call quality issues that still plague cellular communications and you have the recipe for some pretty rough conversations.
Placing a call can be confusing, too, because there isn’t really an app that handles the feature. Calls (regular calls, not FaceTime calls) are made through Contacts, Safari or Maps by clicking on the phone icon next to a number. Incoming calls are handled through a notification. There’s no dial pad so you can’t just pick a number and dial it. You can get around this problem by entering a phone number into an empty text field, however, as OS X will usually detect it and allow you to call with a control+click.
Apple doesn’t yet seem to have any intention to unify iOS and OS X but it does want the two operating system to compliment each other. Handoff is the company’s boldest effort in pursuit of that goal. Apps that support this feature will be able to “hand off” a task from a Mac to an iOS device and vice versa with the tap of a single icon.
Safari is the obvious example. Opening a new Safari window on your iPhone or iPad will cause a special Safari icon to appear on your OS X dock. Click it and the webpage open on the iOS device will appear. On iOS devices the icon appears on the lock screen, allowing transfer of a Safari session from Mac to iPhone or iPad. This feature also works with Calendar, Mail, Maps, Notes, Reminders and the iWork suite.
While it’s theoretically seamless, this does require a Bluetooth connection between your Mac and iOS device to work. That results in some compatibility issues I’ll address at the end of this article. Bluetooth also just isn’t that reliable, at least in my experience. While my Mac and iPad are paired, they don’t keep track of each other as they should. As a result I have to re-connect them manually each morning. It’s not a major issue, but it is a bit annoying.
Handoff doesn’t just work for Apple apps, as the company has exposed the feature to third parties as well. GoodReader, a PDF viewer, is the only third party app I know of that supports Handoff at this time. The list is sure to grow but it’ll take developers a bit to properly implement the feature. It also will only be of use with apps that are available on both iOS and OS X.
Have you ever wanted to use your iPhone as a hotspot, but didn’t want to hassle with digging it out of your bag? Instant Hotspot solves that problem by letting you enable a hotspot directly from your Mac so long as both your devices use the same iCloud login.
There’s not a lot to explain here. When active, Instant Hotspot will appear in a new part of the WiFi drop-down menu. Clicking it will enable the hotspot, which will work just as iPhone hotspots always have. All the normal restrictions on range and data limits apply. Helpfully, Yosemite tries to preserve your data limit by delaying network backups and most automatic updates while you’re tethered to your hotspot.
This feature is not an end-run around mobile carriers. You need a data plan that allows hotspot use to connect; if you don’t have one the option will never appear. Perhaps someone will learn to hack this on jailbroken phones but most users will still have to pay.
Last up we have AirDrop, a feature that lets you share files and links between iOS devices. Users who are unfamiliar with Apple devices may be thinking “wait – isn’t that what Handoff does?”
Kind-of. What makes AirDrop unique is that it’s not restricted to devices on the same iCloud account. You can send an AirDrop request to any iOS device within range that has AirDrop turned on. The user of that device will receive the share and can choose to accept it or dismiss it. This is an easy way for friends and family members to share files without using an intermediary like Facebook or email.
And now it works in OS X, too. In addition to enabling the feature Apple has added AirDrop to the newly added share menu which can be found in Safari and a few other apps. Like a website and want to share it with a friend? Just click the share button, selection AirDrop, and select their device. Simple!
Turning The Features On And Off
In typical Apple fashion you’re not given a lot of control over how the features work. There’s a small handful of options that just control whether features will or won’t work.
In the General section of System Preferences you’ll find a checkbox for “Allow Handoff between this Mac and your iCloud devices.” It is checked by default in Yosemite, and unchecking obviously disables Handoff.
The iCloud section of System Preferences controls your iCloud account. There aren’t any Continuity options here, but logging out of iCloud will negate most of its functionality.
Phone calls can be disabled by opening FaceTime and accessing its Preferences menu. You’ll see a checkbox labeled “iPhone Cellular Calls” – just uncheck it to disable the feature.
There does not appear to be any way to disable AirDrop or SMS messaging besides disabling Bluetooth and disconnecting your iCloud account.
Continuity is a feature suite rather than a single feature, and that has caused some confusion about compatibility. Some Macs will only support select features.
Handoff, Instant Hotspot and AirDrop require support for Bluetooth 4.0 Low-Energy (LE). All iOS devices that can run version 8 or newer have the feature except of the iPad 2. Some Macs as new as three years old don’t have it, though. You can check by opening the Apple Menu and then going to About This Mac. Click System Report and then, once it opens, go to the Bluetooth section. Look for the Bluetooth Low Energy Supported field (it’s third from the top). If it says no you’re out of luck. If you already updated to Yosemite you’ll also see an “Instant Hotspot Supported” field, which will say either yes or no.
You also have to pair your Mac with your iOS devices via Bluetooth for Handoff to work.
The call and SMS features will work without Bluetooth and in theory are compatible with any Mac that can run Yosemite, but you’ll still need an iCloud account. You also will need a iOS device running 8.1 or newer for every feature except Handoff. That will work with iOS 8.
I personally love the new features that Continuity brings to Yosemite – but then I would, because I already own an iPad and an iPhone.
What do you think of Continuity, and will you actually use it?