Continuity is the new feature in OS X Yosemite and iOS 8.1 that lets you partner your iPhone with a Mac (or other iOS device) in order to:
- Make and receive phone calls: You can make and answer calls to mobiles and landlines via an iPad or iPod Touch, or your Mac.
- Send and receive text (SMS) or multimedia (MMS) messages: Your Mac, iPad and iPod Touch can send standard text, picture, video and audio messages even to non-Apple users. Any you receive will also be listed alongside your iMessages on your Mac or iOS devices.
- Handoff files between devices: When using compatible apps (which includes most of the stock Apple apps) you can create or open a file or task on a Mac, iPad and iPod Touch, then continue it instantly on any other of your Macs or iOS devices – and vice versa.
- Get online with Instant Hotspot: If there’s no Wi-Fi network you can instantly hook-up to your iPhone’s data connection (provided your call plan allows it).
- Use AirDrop: Share files between Mac and iPhone and iPad.
Continuity is an umbrella term Apple is using for a range of new features that bring the iOS and Mac OS X devices closer than ever before. There are four main parts of Continuity: Handoff, Phone Calls, SMS Text Messaging and Wi-Fi Sharing. For more information about Continuity read our OS X Yosemite review.
Compatibility: what Macs and iPhones can do Continuity?
Alas, Continuity isn’t compatible with all Macs or iOS devices. The chief factor is whether the Mac or iOS device features low-power Bluetooth, also known as Bluetooth 4.0.
To quickly check the Continuity and Bluetooth capabilities of your Mac, hold down Alt (Option on some keyboards) and click Apple > System Information. Then select the Bluetooth entry at the left of the window that appears. At the right, look at the headings that read Bluetooth Low Energy Supported and Handoff Supported. You’ll need a Yes in both to get the complete range of Continuity features.
Checking if your Mac is compatible with Continuity can be done via the System Information app
However, even if you see a “No”, this only means your Mac is incompatible with most Continuity features. Phone call and SMS Continuity rely on Wi-Fi so might work fine. (Although if you’re brave you might be try to hack an older Mac to work with Continuity.
The same low-power Bluetooth compatibility is necessary for your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch in order to experience full Continuity. A quick way of checking on the device itself is to look for a toggle switch within the System app – tap General and look for an entry headed Handoff & Suggested Apps. If it isn’t there then your device doesn’t support Continuity although again, as with Macs, you may find phone call and SMS Continuity works fine.
Obviously, you’ll need to ensure Bluetooth is actually enabled: on an iOS device bring up Control Center and ensure the Bluetooth button is activated. On a Mac open System Preferences and click the Bluetooth icon, then click the Turn Bluetooth On button if it’s present.
The Settings app will give a clue if your iOS device is compatible with the full range of Continuity features
For more about iOS Settings read: How to use the iOS Settings.
What software do you need to run Continuity on a Mac, iPad and iPhone?
On your iOS devices you’ll need to be running at least iOS 8.1 for all of Continuity’s features to work, and ideally should be updated to the latest iOS release to minimise unreliability and glitches. In the Settings app tap General > Software Update.
Macs need to be running Yosemite and again should be running the latest update – click Apple > App Store, then tap the Updates tab to see what system updates are available.
All your Macs and iOS devices need to be signed in with the same Apple/iCloud username, and for the full range of Handoff features you’ll need to enable all iCloud features on all devices, such as Mail, Contacts, Calendars, iCloud Drive, and so on. On a Mac this can be done by clicking iCloud within System Preferences, while on an iOS device opening Settings and tapping iCloud will offer the same options.
For Continuity to work fully you’ll need to enable all iCloud features on all your Macs and iOS devices
How to set up your Mac to take and make Phone calls
Let’s start by looking at phone call Continuity. To have incoming calls to your iPhone ring-out on your Mac(s) and iOS device(s), you’ll need to open the Settings app on all your iOS devices – including the iPhone itself – and tap the FaceTime entry (not the Phone heading!), then slide the switch alongside iPhone Mobile Calls.
On your Mac(s) you’ll need to open FaceTime and then open the Preferences dialog (Cmd+,). Ensure there’s a tick alongside iPhone Cellular Calls. Note that there’s no need to have FaceTime open on either the Mac or iOS devices for calls to be received.
To receive calls on your Mac you’ll need to enable an option within the FaceTime app
How to answer incoming calls on your Mac
When somebody calls your phone a notification will slide into view on your Mac at the top right of the screen, and clicking Accept will take the call.
Pro tip: This notification can be dragged and turned into a “real” window, allowing you to move it around the screen.
Clicking the Decline button will refuse the call – just like tapping the same button on your iPhone – although tapping the small down arrow alongside the button will let you reply with a text message, again like on the iPhone itself, or choose to be reminded of the call via a notification in 5 or 15 minutes, or an hour later.
The call will simultaneously ring out on your iPad and/or iPod Touch too. If the iOS device is locked you can slide to unlock and answer the call, just like you would on an iPhone. If the iOS device is already unlocked then tapping the green Answer button will do the trick. You’ll subsequently see the same grid of icons as you would when taking a call on your iPhone, such as the ability to switch to a keypad to enter DTMF tones.
An incoming call will appear on your Mac in a notification pop-out at the top right of the screen
Bear in mind that you’ll probably need earphones with a microphone to get the best sound quality during calls – for both you and the other party – and there’ll probably be a second or so delay after the iPhone itself starts ringing before it sounds-out on your other devices. The ringing also tends to continue for a second after you’ve taken the call on another device or Mac. Read: How to make a phone call on your Mac
Making and taking calls on an iPad is just like answering a call on your iPhone
How to make phone calls on your Mac
To make an outgoing phone call on your Mac or non-iOS device, you’ll need to use the FaceTime app.
Tap the Audio heading and then, if using iOS, either tap the person’s name in the list of recents beneath, or on a Mac double-click their entry (recent call lists are synced with your iPhone). If the person isn’t in the list then type their name in the search field above, which will probe your iCloud address book, showing the results underneath.
Making an outgoing phone call on an iPad can be done via the FaceTime app, and tapping the phone icon
The call will take place immediately. Once the call is underway on iOS you’ll see the same grid of icons as you would on the iPhone, allowing you to mute the call or switch to the keypad, for example. On a Mac you’ll see a waveform display of the audio in the same floating notification window as used to receive calls and you can mute the call, or end it, by clicking the relevant buttons.
Pro tip: On a Mac while taking or making calls you can enter keypad tones, for services such as online banking, by simply pressing the number keys.
To force FaceTime to create a FaceTime audio call, which offers better quality and takes place over the internet (although requires the recipient to have Apple hardware), you’ll need to tap the phone icon alongside their entry in the list on a Mac and select FaceTime audio, while on an iOS device you’ll need to tap the (i) icon and then the phone icon, before selecting FaceTime Audio.
To force FaceTime not to use the iPhone for audio calls you’ll need to click the phone icon and select FaceTime Audio
Set up SMS/MMS on your Mac
To enable text and multimedia message sending and receiving on your Mac or iOS devices, first open the Settings app on your iPhone, then tap the Messages heading. Upon tapping the Text Message Forwarding entry you’ll see a list of any Macs or iOS devices logged into the same iCloud account. Tapping the switch alongside any will pop-up a PIN prompt, and the PIN you need to type will be displayed on the Mac or iOS device – on a Mac the Messages app will open and a dialog box will appear showing a PIN, while on an iOS device you’ll need to unlock it in order to see a pop-up dialog box showing a PIN. Tapping the Allow button on the iPhone after entering the PIN will clear the dialog boxes on each device.
Yes, we’re also unsure why text/MMS forwarding needs permission to be set in this way, while phone calls work automatically. Read: How to send Messages from your Mac using Yosemite
Setting up text message forwarding and sending on Macs and iOS devices requires that you enter a PIN generated by the Messsages app
How to send and receive text/picture (MMS) messages on a Mac
Sending a text message on a Mac or iOS device is just like sending a message to an iMessage user, except you specify the recipient’s phone number in the To: field of the Messages app, or look them up in the iCloud address book by typing their name. As when sending messages on your iPhone, sending via iMessage instead of text will happen automagically should Apple know the recipient to be using an Apple device, and the same colour coding of messages applies: those in green are SMS/MMS, and those in blue are using iMessage. Additionally, messages sent as SMS/MMS have the heading “SMS with”, followed by the recipient’s number or name.
Similarly, text/MMS messages received by your phone will now automatically appear in the Messages app. Put simply, all messages of any kind will now be synced across your Apple Macs and handhelds. Read: Best Message features in iOS 8
Just like on an iPhone, SMS/MMS conversations are coloured green on a Mac and iMessage conversations are coloured blue
How to set up an Instant Hotspot via your iPhone
If you’re not already connected to a Wi-Fi network, Instant Hotspot lets you make use your iPhone’s data connection. This is sometimes referred to as data tethering and Instant Hotspot will only work if your mobile phone plan allows it. One way to quickly check is to open Settings, tap Mobile (or Mobile Data), and look for a heading that reads Personal Hotspot or Set Up Personal Hotspot. If it’s not there then you should get in touch with your provider. Read: How to turn your iPhone into a WiFi hotspot .
Although Personal Hotspot is not the same as Instant Hotspot, its presence in the System app indicates your iPhone supports Instant Hotspot too
However, although similar, Instant Hotspot is separate and distinct from the older Personal Hotspot feature. Personal Hotspot doesn’t even need to be activated for Instant Hotspot to work. In fact, no setup is needed on the iPhone.
Using Instant Hotspot on your Mac is easy – just click the Wi-Fi icon at the top right of the desktop and select your iPhone from the list (remember that you’ll only see it if you’re not already connected to Wi-Fi!). Alongside the iPhone’s entry you’ll see the type of data connection the phone currently has, along with signal strength and the battery life of the phone – all of which will look just like they do on the phone itself. Just click to connect. No password will be required because security is handled automagically via iCloud. If you want to disconnect, open the Wi-Fi menu again and click the Disconnect option, although your Mac and iPhone will periodically disconnect if you’re not using data in order to save battery life, and then reconnect automatically when it’s needed. This happens in the background and you won’t be aware of it. Read: How to share a WiFi connection from a Mac to an iPhone.
Connecting to Instant Hotspot is as easy as selecting your iPhone in the list of available Wi-Fi networks
For usable data connections you should look for LTE, 4G or 3G alongside the phone’s entry in the menu. Entries that read E or GPRS will simply be too slow and you’ll likely see connection timeouts.
Pro tip: If you find your Mac automatically connecting to a useless Wi-Fi network, such as one that is slow or appears not to work, hold down Alt (Option on some keyboards) and click the Wi-Fi icon. Then select Disconnect underneath the network you’re currently connected to, and click the iPhone’s entry in the list. Read: How to troubleshoot WiFi problems on a Mac.
How to use Handoff on your Mac, iPhone and iPad
For Handoff to work you’ll need to have compatible apps installed on your Mac and iOS devices. At the moment these are mostly limited to Apple’s own apps (Safari, Maps, Notes, Calendar etc), with a handful of third-party apps playing along too. Various sites have compiled lists of Handoff-compatible apps.
No setup is required for Handoff to work. On a Mac, handoffs are shown at the left of the Dock (left of even the Finder icon), and at the left of the icons that appear when you invoke the task switcher using Cmd+Tab. Clicking the icon will make your Mac take-over the task – if you’re editing an email, for instance, it will open instantly on your Mac for editing and the original will close on your iOS device. If you’re not handing off a document – perhaps you’re sharing a map location or Safari website, for example – then the original app will remain open.
On an iOS device, the icon for the handoff will appear at the bottom left of the lock screen. Swiping it upwards and then unlocking the phone will switch to it. If the phone is already unlocked the Handoff will appear at the very left of the list of thumbnail previews in the multitasking screen that appears when you double-click the Home button. Curiously, there’s nothing within the iOS or Mac apps themselves to indicate a possible handoff. The above methods offer the only ways of using Handoff.
For an in-depth look at Handoff, see our complete guide to using Handoff on the Mac, iPhone and iPad.
Handoff tasks appear as icons on the lock screen of iOS devices, and in the multitasking screen
What apps work with Handoff?
Apple lists the following apps as being Handoff compatible:
And Handoff not just limited to Apple apps. Third-party app developers can easily build Handoff into their apps.
Handoff: does my Mac meet the requirements?
Handoff, part of the Continuity feature set requires your Mac device to be running Bluetooth LE. This is the low energy version of Bluetooth found in newer devices. Here are the Macs that will be able to support Continuity:
- MacBook Air (Mid 2011 or later)
- MacBook Pro (Mid 2012 or later)
- Retina MacBook Pro (All models)
- iMac (Late 2012 or later)
- Mac Mini (Mid 2011 or later)
- Mac Pro (Late 2013 or later)
So only Macs purchased in the last few years will be able to use the new Handoff features. It’s a shame that Apple couldn’t get a system like Handoff to work with older Macs, but we think Handoff could be the reason to splash out on a new Apple Mac.
AirDrop: How to share files between Mac OS X Yosemite and iOS 8
AirDrop is a way to transfer files between devices that arrived on iPhones and iPads iOS 7. It has existed on Macs for even longer, but Macs and iOS devices were unable to communicate due to differences in the technology required. In Yosemite and iOS 8 Apple has made it possible to use AirDrop to share files between Mac and iOS devices.
Like the other Continuity features, AirDrop won’t work on all Macs, and in fact we had some struggles getting it to work on Macs that should have been compatible.
To use AirDrop start by opening a Finder window on the Mac and select AirDrop; choose to be seen by everyone or by a contact. On the iOS device swipe up on Control Centre and turn AirDrop on. You should now see the iPhone in the AirDrop window in the Finder and your Mac should appear in the AirDrop window on the iPhone or iPad.
To share from your Mac, drop an image onto the icon representing the iPhone; accept the alert on your iOS device.
To share from your iPhone to your Mac, select the image or document you wish to share and tap the Share button, tap the image representing the Mac in the AirDrop section, then accept the incoming image on your Mac.
Read about how to get AirDrop to work between your Mac, iPad and iPhone here: How to use AirDrop to transfer files from iPhone to Mac and Mac to iPhone.