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.  ••


OS X Yosemite Review

Last Thursday, Apple released the latest update to the Mac operating system, OS X Yosemite.  After using it for the past week and a half, I must say that I really like it.  Most of the changes were aesthetic, giving OS X a new, iOS 7-style look and feel.  In addition to these changes, we also saw some new features, most notably Continuity.

As you can see from the screenshots, much of the UI has gotten a flatter, more transparent look.  This is actually what I expected when I upgraded to OS X Mavericks last spring.  I bought my Mac used, and it was running OS X Mountain Lion when I got it.  Since I didn’t have a Mac when Mavericks came out, I hadn’t paid much attention to what it looked like.  Seeing the similarities to iOS 6 in Mountain Lion, I just assumed that Mavericks would have iOS 7-like graphics.  I was wrong.  This seemed odd and disjointed to me, and I’m glad that OS X and iOS are back on the same page visually.

Aside from the UI, the other really cool feature in OS X Yosemite is Continuity.  Continuity is actually a collection of features that makes the Mac, iPhone, and iPad work closer together.  For example, before Continuity, you could send iMessages (text messages to other Apple products) and do FaceTime calls (which, again, can only happen between Apple devices) on the Mac and iPad.  If you wanted to call or text someone with an Android, you’d have to use your iPhone.  Now, with Continuity, you can use your Mac and iPad to make calls and send texts to any number, as long as you do still have an iPhone.  The feature of Continuity that I’m most excited about though is called Handoff.  I talked about Handoff in iOS when iOS 8 came out last month, but now that the Mac can participate, Handoff is really going to be useful.  Basically, with Handoff, your devices are aware of what you’re doing on your other devices nearby.  This works over Bluetooth.  Say, for example, that you start writing an email on your iPhone, then decide that you’d rather not use that tiny little phone keyboard.  Normally, in order to switch to your Mac, you’d have to email the draft to yourself, then pick it back up on the Mac.  With Handoff, your Mac notices that you’re writing an email on your iPhone, and puts an extra “Mail” icon to one side of your dock.  This icon represents the draft you’re working on.  To move the draft to the Mac, all you have to do is click that icon, and you’re good to go.  This is really cool in principle, but I found that it doesn’t always work correctly in practice.  Still, I hope Apple irons out the kinks in order to make this new feature shine.

The last thing I want to talk about is speed: OS X Yosemite seems slower than OS X Mavericks.  Believe it or not, I’m actually willing to cut Apple some slack here.  As operating systems advance, they are designed to be run on computer hardware that is advancing as well.  This means that new software will always be slower on old hardware.  Another thing to consider is that all new Macs now ship with solid state hard drives, so Apple engineers are creating software that is designed to be run on a computer with a solid state.  My Mac does not have a solid state, so it’s bound to be an extra little bit slower than newer Macs.  Even with this speed decrease, in general, I’m happy with OS X Yosemite.  There weren’t too many huge changes, but on the whole, the operating system seems to be getting slowly better.  Now all we need to do is convince Apple to start naming their operating systems after national parks in Georgia, instead of California.  How does OS X Kennesaw Mountain sound?  ••

Apple’s October Event

Apple made a big splash last month with their September event (which I covered both before and after), and now they’re hoping to do the same with their second major event of the fall.  Last Thursday, Apple had their October event, during which we saw updates to their iPad and Mac lines.  There weren’t many big surprises at this event; most of the new advances were pretty much expected.  Still, Apple has released some cool new hardware and software that I’m excited about.

Apple unveiled the iPad Air 2 and the iPad Mini 3 on Thursday.  The iPad Air 2 is slightly lighter and thinner than the iPad Air, but the iPad Mini 3 has the same dimensions as the Mini 2.  The iPad Air 2 also has a new processor chip and several camera improvements, but the iPad Mini 3 remains the same as the 2nd generation in both those respects.  This seems odd to me, but I guess the full-size iPad has higher sales, so Apple pays more attention to it.  Both new iPads do, however, include Apple’s Touch ID fingerprint reader.  They also both come in the new color gold (similar to the iPhone), in addition to the silver and Space Gray models.  One other interesting note: Apple will continue to sell the original iPad Mini for $249.  When this model first launched two years ago, it started at $329.  Apple was widely criticized for not offering a $200 or $250 model, but they stuck to their guns.  Last Black Friday, we saw original iPad Minis going for around $200, but now there’s finally a $250 iPad that doesn’t require braving Black Friday.

Apple unveiled several new Mac models on Thursday, including an iMac with a Retina 5K display, which has a 5120 x 2880 resolution (to put it into perspective, 1080p HD is 1920 x 1080, and 4K is 3840 x 2160).  There was also a new Mac Mini, with a reduced (but still high) starting price of $499.  The new version of the Mac’s operating system, OS X Yosemite, was available to download the same day as the event.  This surprised me; I didn’t think Yosemite would be available for another 7-10 days.  You can be sure that next week I will have a review of this new operating system.

iOS 8.1
Apple also announced iOS 8.1 on Thursday.  This is the next update to Apple’s mobile operating system, and it will be available Monday.  The update will include some new photo features, in addition to one old one: the “Camera Roll” photo album is back (it was replaced with “Recently Added” in iOS 8.0).  Apple says that it has listened to user feedback from iOS 8 and used it to help create iOS 8.1.

Apple Pay
Apple Pay was announced last month, but we weren’t told exactly when it would be released.  Now we finally have an official date: Apple Pay will launch alongside iOS 8.1 this Monday, October 20.

That’s about it.  The October event is never quite as big for Apple as the September event is, since the iPhone is a much more pervasive product than the iPad or Mac.  Still, I’m excited about what I saw at this event.  I’m most excited about OS X Yosemite, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it.  As a general rule, I usually get more excited about software updates from Apple, as opposed to hardware updates.  The new iPads are cool and everything, but updating my OS is free; updating my iPad would cost me $500.  ••