A Week with Continuity

One of the biggest new sets of features unveiled by Apple last fall was called Continuity.  This set of features focused on making iOS devices and the Mac work better together.  In turn, the biggest part of Continuity was Handoff.  Handoff is a way to streamline workflows involving multiple devices.  Suppose you’re sitting in front of your Mac reading a web site, and you have to get up and do something.  It’d be nice if you could continue reading the website on your iPhone, but it’s such a pain to try to find that exact page again.  With Handoff, you can just swipe up on a little icon on your iPhone’s lock screen, and the webpage is automatically there.  This trick, which works over Bluetooth, also applies to many other apps, including Mail, Maps, and even third-party apps that have implemented the feature.  It sounds really useful, but until last week, I hadn’t really ever used it.

Oh sure, I tested it out when the feature first launched, but that was about it.  The biggest reason was probably that I was afraid leaving Bluetooth on (something  don’t usually do) would drain my battery.  Also, the feature was a tad buggy when it first came out.  However, I decided that it was only fair to test Handoff the way it was meant to be used, always on, in day-to-day life.  So last week, I flipped on all my Bluetooth switches and… didn’t do anything special.  I just used my devices like I normally did, waiting to see if use cases would pop up. Going into this experiment, I expected one of two things to happen.

The Good One
I was hoping to discover that Handoff was wildly useful.  That all of a sudden, my workflows would get easier and my switches between devices would be less painful.  I was hoping that I could actually switch devices more, since moving to the iPad would now be easier than just dealing with the tiny iPhone screen.  This was my best case scenario.

The Bad One
At worst, I thought maybe Handoff wouldn’t be useful at all.  Part of the reason I never turned it on before was because I couldn’t think of that many times when I’d use it.  I mean sure, I could think of a few, but would that justify the feature?  More importantly, would my battery life suffer from leaving my Bluetooth on?  This was actually what I was most afraid of: that my battery would drain and I wouldn’t even use the feature anyway.  This was my worst case scenario.

So what happened?  Actually… not much.  This surprised me.  One the one hand, I didn’t use the feature a whole lot.  On the other hand, my battery didn’t seem to drain any faster either (maybe a little bit, but not much at all).  I was expecting a more decisive conclusion, but I just didn’t get one.

So since I’m unsure whether it fits into my workflow, let’s ignore the fact that I didn’t use the feature much and just look at the feature itself.  When Handoff works, it’s downright magical.  Just this morning, I was working on my Mac when I needed to call a number in an email message.  I pulled up the email on my Mac, and a few taps later it was right there on my iPhone where I could tap the number to call it.  It worked really well.  On the other hand, there are times when Handoff is disappointing.  I was texting someone on my iPhone, and I wanted to send them a screenshot I had just taken on my iPad.  After a while, this screenshot would have synced over iCloud Photo Library, but that process isn’t instantaneous.  I opened up my iPad and was pleased to see the Messages app appear in the Handoff corner.  Yes!  I swiped up, but then was disappointed to see that, while it had taken me to the correct person in messages, it hadn’t transferred the text that I had already typed out on my iPhone.  Less than magical.

Honestly, then, I’m still on the fence as to whether I’m going to leave this feature on.  It’s really cool when it works, and maybe over time my workflow will adjust to implement this more often.  For the time being though, it’s sort of underwhelming.  On the other hand though, there aren’t really any downsides to leaving it on, so I guess I might as well.  I’m curious as to where this feature will go in the future.  Hopefully, both Apple and third-party developers will continue to implement and improve this feature in more apps.  Until then, however, I’m still a little unsure.  ••

First Thoughts on iOS 8

A few months ago, when iOS 8 was first announced at WWDC, I wrote about a couple iOS 8 features that I was really excited about.  iOS 8 finally came out last Wednesday, and so far I’m pretty impressed.  iOS 8 certainly isn’t anywhere near as ground-breaking as iOS 7 was, and it does have its share of new bugs.  Still, I think iOS 8 is really cool.  Now that it’s officially released, I thought I’d write about how those features I wanted actually work in practice.

1.  Actionable Notifications
In iOS 7, if you got a banner notification at the top of the screen, you could tap it to see the text message, email, or whatever it was.  However, that would switch you into the messages app, and after you replied you would have to switch back to whatever app you were using before you got the text.  With iOS 8, you can swipe down on a notification to get actions for it.  This means a reply screen for a text message, and “Mark as Read” and “Trash” buttons for emails.  This is really useful, and I’m looking forward to seeing what third-party developers will do with this new feature.

2.  Hands-Free Siri
This feature works more or less exactly as promised, though you’ll have to first enable it in Settings -> General -> Siri.  When your iOS device is plugged in, you can say “Hey Siri” to activate it.  You can then tell Siri to play music, text someone, or set a reminder.  There was also a little extra thought put into this feature that makes it really useful.  Normally, when you tell Siri to set a reminder, it says “Here’s your reminder” out loud but doesn’t actually say the text of the reminder out loud.  This was fine before, because you had to be holding your device to use Siri in the first place.  When using hands-free Siri, however, Siri will read the text of the reminder out loud to you.  This little bit of extra thought puts Siri’s new usefulness over the top.

3.  Continuity
The main part of continuity I want to talk about here is a new feature called Handoff.  With Handoff, all your devices are aware of what you’re doing nearby on your other devices.  If you’re looking at a website, typing an email, or looking up directions, Handoff broadcasts your activity to your other devices via Bluetooth.  If you, say, start writing an email on your iPhone, then realize you’d rather use the keyboard on your Mac, you simply walk over to your Mac, click the Mail Handoff icon on the dock, and your draft is magically transferred.  Handoff won’t work on the Mac until OS X Yosemite is released next month, but for now I tested it between my two iOS 8 devices.  I started an email on my iPod, then picked up my iPad, and a mail icon appeared both on the lock screen and in the multitasking menu.  Swiping up on the lock screen icon or tapping the page in the multitasking menu brought the draft up on the iPad.  Pretty neat!

The final feature I mentioned last summer was the possibility that the iPad could run two apps at the same time, side by side.  This was never announced by Apple as a feature, but someone digging through the iOS 8 beta found the code required to do it.  There’s been no mention of this feature in iOS 8 so far, but it’s possible that Apple will release an iOS 8.1 later on, maybe after the new iPad models come out next month.  If this becomes a feature, the iPad’s usefulness, especially as a productivity tool, will go through the roof, and I know there are many people who will be very, very happy about that.  ••