With Mac OS X 10.10 Yosemite and iOS 8, Apple introduced a range of new features designed to bring the iPhone, iPad and Mac closer together. With Continuity you can answer phone calls on your Mac, share files wirelessly and switch between apps Mac and iOS apps.

At least, that's the idea. The only problem is that all these cool Continuity features only work on recent Macs. If you picked up a Mac in 2011 and earlier, the chances are you won't be able to use the Continuity features. But don't worry. It's possible to get round this restriction, if you're fairly tech-savvy and willing to put in a bit of work.

If you are finding you can't get AirDrop to work between your Mac and iPhone or iPad read our guide to troubleshooting AirDrop.

The iOS devices that can use Continuity

These are the devices that can use Handoff and Instant hotspot:

  • iPhone 5, 5c, 5s, 6 and 6 Plus
  • iPad 4, iPad Air, iPad Air 2
  • iPad mini, iPad mini with Retina display, iPad mini 3
  • iPod touch (5th generation)
  • The iPhone 4s allows sharing iPhone calls (but no other features)

Read: Complete guide to Continuity

The Mac devices that can use Handoff and Instant Hotspot

These are the Mac devices that can use Continuity:

  • MacBook Air (Mid 2012 and later)
  • MacBook Pro (Mid 2012 and later)
  • iMac (Late 2012 and later)
  • Mac mini (Late 2012 and later)
  • Mac Pro (Late 2013)

Here's how to use Handoff: How to switch between your iPhone, iPad and Mac using Handoff

The Macs that can make phone calls

Any Mac can be used to make and receive phone calls from an iPhone 4s or later, iPad 4 or later or any iPad mini.

Why can't older Apple Devices use Handoff and Instant Hotspot?

The Macs and iOS devices sold before 2012 use an older type of Bluetooth, whereas the newer devices feature Bluetooth 4.0 LE chips (the LE stands for Low Energy). Older editions of Bluetooth drained the battery when they were connected, but Bluetooth 4.0 LE only uses significant energy when it is being used (to share files, make phone calls).

Handoff requires a fairly consistent connection between Macs and iOS devices, so older Macs and iPhones would find the battery being drained quickly if they tried to use Handoff.

This is a bit of a downer if you've bought a Mac from a couple of years ago that is otherwise perfectly usable, but would like to use Handoff, AirDrop and Instant Hotspot features. Luckily there is a way...

Unresponsive apps? Here's how to ctrl-alt-delete on a Mac, aka Force Quit on a Mac

How to force Continuity to work on an unsupported Mac

Older Macs created before 2012 are incompatible with Continuity. The deciding factor is the Bluetooth chip within the Mac, with older Macs lacking the vital low-power mode that makes Continuity possible.

Older Macs might not have Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy support

The great news is that with an easy peasy hack you can very likely bring the whole raft of Continuity features to an older Mac. In fact, you’ll also get additional features that rely on low-power Bluetooth, such as AirDrop between your Mac and iOS devices.

Read: How to view your Mac or PC screen on an iPad

Use Continuity with older Macs: What you need

You’ll need two things. The first is to add to your Mac Bluetooth Low Power support. This is usually done by attaching a USB Bluetooth dongle. The second required trick is to apply the Continuity activation software patch to the system.

It might be possible to upgrade the AirPort Extreme card inside your Mac to upgrade Bluetooth but it’s a pretty tough job even for those used to rooting around inside computers – and it can be expensive too.

Arguably the simplest and cheapest way forward is to use an inexpensive Bluetooth 4.0 USB dongle. Not all are compatible with the Continuity activation patch, however. The hackers behind the patch have tested three USB dongles (Asus BT400, IOGEAR GBU521 and GMYLE), and our advice is to use one of them – in our tests we purchased the GMYLE dongle for around £10 from Amazon.

A simple Bluetooth dongle is likely all that’s needed to enable Continuity on older Macs

Many but not all older Mac models are supported by the software patch with the addition of a USB Bluetooth dongle. Mac models are identified by the year they were first released, and at present the patch works with the following models (see also the chart created by the developers of the patch). To find out your Mac’s model designation, click Apple > About This Mac:

  • MacBook Air: Late 2010 and later models
  • Mac Mini: Late 2009 and later models
  • MacBook: Late 2008 models
  • MacBook Pro 13-inch: Mid-2009 and later models
  • MacBook Pro 15-inch: Late-2008 and later models
  • MacBook Pro 17-inch: Early 2009 and later models
  • Mac Pro: Early 2009 and later models
  • iMac: Late 2009 and later models

Read: How to tell which Mac you own

Continuity activation possibilities depend on the age of your Mac

Continuity activation on early 2008 Mac Pro models is possible but they require an AirPort Extreme upgrade. A USB Bluetooth dongle won’t work. Similarly, Continuity activation on mid-2007 iMacs again requires a new AirPort Extreme card. 

However, there’s great news if you’ve a mid-2011 MacBook Air or Mac mini. Both will work with Continuity once the patch is applied – and there’s no need to add a USB Bluetooth dongle or new AirPort Extreme card. 

Use Continuity with older Macs: Words of warning

For the Continuity Activation Tool to work it needs to hack a handful of system files and also disable driver signing. In other words, the overall security level of your Mac will be lowered a notch. This is arguably a minor concern, and a price worth paying bearing in mind the enhanced functionality you receive in return, but it needs to be noted. 

Because of the system file hacks, you’ll need to reapply the hack whenever you update OS X. You should always ensure you have the latest version of the Continuity Activation Tool.

Read: How secure is Mac OS X

Use Continuity with older Macs: Installation

Start by creating a Time Machine backup, if possible. Then download the patch from the Continuity Activation Tool website – click the Download ZIP link at the middle-right of the page.  

Unzip the activation tool archive, and right-click the Continuity Activation Tool icon (it’s the orange circle), selecting Open on the menu that appears. Click Open in the dialog box that appears. You’ll immediately be prompted to type your login password. 

Two command-line windows will open, with one running through a series of checks and performing a series of background actions. Don’t worry – this can be ignored in favour of the second window that offers install options. Select it and tap 1 on your keyboard, which will activate Continuity. Insert the USB Bluetooth dongle when prompted, or remove and reinsert it if it’s already plugged-in. 

Continuity activation takes a few minutes after which your Mac needs to reboot

Once again, background checks and procedures will take place, and after several minutes you’ll be prompted to reboot your Mac by again selecting the window and tapping any key. If there are problems you’ll be told about them, and told what you can do. 

Read:

How to restore a Mac using Time Machine

How to back up a Mac using Time Machine

Use Continuity with older Macs: Setup

Once the Mac’s rebooted, open System Preferences, click General, then put a tick alongside Allow Handoff Between This Mac and Your iCloud Devices. On each of your iOS devices, open the Settings app, tap General, then tap the Handoff & Suggested Apps heading. Then activate the switch alongside Handoff. 

A new option will appear in System Preferences letting you enable Continuity

Remember that for Continuity to work, you’ll need to be logged into the same iCloud account on your Mac and iOS devices.

If you’re lucky everything will work immediately. To test app Handoff, open a page in Safari on an iOS device. It should virtually immediately appear at the left of the Dock.  Try it the other way around – open a webpage in Safari and it should appear as an icon at the bottom left of your iOS device’s lock screen (just drag it up), or at the left of the app switcher that appears when you double-click the Home button. 

If it doesn’t work, sign out of iCloud on your Mac and your iOS devices, then sign back in again. Try rebooting everything too. In my tests iOS-to-Mac app handoff worked immediately, but it took several hours for Mac-to-iOS handoff to start working. Just be patient! I was unable to get any of the iWork apps to work consistently via Handoff, but others report similar troubles even if their Macs are fully compatible with Continuity.

Note that the USB Bluetooth dongle needs to remain attached to your Mac at all times. Continuity simply won’t work if you frequently unplug/reattach the dongle.

Read: Complete guide to System Preferences on the Mac  and: How to use iCloud Drive for Mac, iPhone & iPad

Use Continuity with older Macs: Uninstallation

Keep the Continuity Activation Tool on your hard disk and don’t delete the KextsBackupAfterPatch or KextsBackupBeforePatch folders it created in your Users folder. If you run into problems, such as your Wi-Fi adapter not being recognised, you might choose to remove the patch.

To restore your computer to the way it was, again run the tool and this time select the Uninstall option. Reboot when prompted.

See also:

How to prepare for and download OS X Yosemite to your Mac

Revert back to Mavericks from Yosemite

Mac OS X Yosemite and OS X Mavericks compared

and have some geeky fun with this guide to using terminal on the Mac