Yosemite and Continuity: The Half a Loaf Report

October 22nd, 2014

One of the most significant features of Yosemite is Continuity, a proper and efficient way for a Mac to talk to another Mac, or to an iOS device. This is the sort of integration that you can’t find at Google, Microsoft or Samsung. The critics might regard this is a scheme on Apple’s part to perpetrate the infamous “walled garden,” but they aren’t features you ever have to use.

You can have a Mac, and use an Android smartphone of you like, or if you’re one of the few out there, one with Windows Phone or whatever it’s called nowadays, or even BlackBerry. By the same token, iPhone and iPad users aren’t at all locked into Macs. True, Mac market share is growing substantially, even when reported by IDC, which is notorious for underestimating Mac sales. But there are still loads of Windows users who haven’t made the leap. They choose to buy computing gear from multiple manufacturers.

But let’s consider a few of the Continuity basics that can be mighty convenient if you make the investment in all or mostly Apple gear.

So imagine SMS messages on a nearby iPhone being forwarded to your iPad, your iPod touch or a Mac. You can even have phone calls forwarded, and since many people these days exist on a wireless phone with no landline, that should cover the extent of it. No need to figure out where you left your iPhone when a call comes, if your Mac is close at hand. In theory, it should make handling phone calls easy, so long as you are willing to be stuck in a speakerphone mode or have a headphone at hand.

The other compelling part of Continuity is Handoff, which does what the name implies. You start an email or a document on your Mac, or iPad, and pick up where you left off on your iPhone. Choose any combination you prefer, and it’s an elegant solution for those of you who may not have the time to do it all on a single device.

Apple touts it as a great way for all your gear, at least those with an Apple label on them, to work closely together. When it works, it builds the famous Apple halo and can really make you think twice about not sticking with Macs, iPhones and iPads.

But don’t overlook certain limitations that may keep Handoff all or partly out of reach for many of you.

So you need iOS 8 to forward iPhone phone calls or manage Handoff. Monday’s iOS 8.1 update added support for SMS forwarding, but that doesn’t cover all the conditions. The fine print reveals that  millions of Macs simply cannot support Handoff. Now it’s perfectly true that Apple doesn’t exactly hide these limitations, but you have to look for them. The detailed list of supported gear, which include AirDrop’s shortcomings, can be found in a support document: http://support.apple.com/kb/PH18947.

The long and short of it is that, if you have a Mac built before 2012, Handoff probably isn’t supported. It requires Bluetooth LE hardware, no doubt chosen to allow for low-power persistent connections on a Mac note-book that won’t severely drain the battery. This limitation was discovered during the Yosemite beta process, but Apple said nothing about it at the WWDC when the new features were first demonstrated.

True, there are cheap Bluetooth LE dongles, but it would require some sort of built-in system support, perhaps in the form of a kernel extension, to work, assuming Yosemite would allow for it. I suppose Apple could provide support for that solution, though it may not be quite as stable or elegant as the built-in hardware. As soon as outside companies are brought into the picture, there’s the potential for trouble. I suppose Apple might consider offering their own line of approved Bluetooth LE accessories to deal with this problem, but the chances are slim to none.

Honestly I don’t know if it’s even feasible. What I do know is that Apple should do its best not to exclude so many Mac users from being able to use a key tentpole feature of Yosemite. I understand about not wanting to look backward, to want to exploit the features of newer hardware, and maybe entice more people to upgrade.

Whether or not Apple considers a change may depend on how well Handoff is accepted as more and more people upgrade to iOS 8 and Yosemite. My initial impression of Continuity is that it seems to work, but engaging it is awkward. For SMS forwarding to work on a Mac, you have to first setup an iMessage account in Messages before your iPhone settings can display that connection choice. Forwarding calls to your Mac requires checking a FaceTime preference that activates iPhone Cellular Calls.

But none of that is obvious unless you look to the appropriate app and app settings, check the Help menu, or search for online instructions. Wouldn’t a simple entry in System Preferences suffice? No doubt putting the settings in FaceTime and Messages ended up as the most logical choices by Apple’s OS developers, since these apps are responsible for these features to work.

But it’s early in the game. If Continuity catches on, perhaps Apple will make the initial setup a tad more intuitive. As to devising ways to add support for older Macs, I wouldn’t bet on it.

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2 Responses to “Yosemite and Continuity: The Half a Loaf Report”

  1. Peter says:

    I’ll be amused when the wife grabs an iPad and suddenly starts seeing one side of a text conversation between her husband and his lover.

    Oooh…that’s gonna hurt.

  2. David says:

    Having Bluetooth LE hardware isn’t enough to make Handoff work. If you compare the list of officially supported Macs to the list of Macs with Bluetooth 4.0 hardware you’ll find an entire model year of MacBooks and Mac minis that “should” work, but don’t. Therefore I wouldn’t expect any third party Bluetooth solution to ever work.

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