Apple's Worldwide Developer's Conference (WWDC) is underway in San Francisco this week, and it's a time of new product and feature announcements as well as the unveiling of strategic ideas. Front and center in the keynote speech by CEO Tim Cook were the introductions of new operating systems for Mac computers and iPhones/iPads; OS X 10.10 "Yosemite" and iOS 8, respectively. Yosemite, billed as the replacement for OS X Mavericks, will be available for most Apple computers released within the past few years such as the iMac, MacBook Air, MacBook/MacBook Pro, and Mac Mini). iOS 8 will be installable on iPhone 4S/iPad 2 devices as well as iPhones/iPads produced after these models (here's a list of incompatible devices).
Cook and Apple software executive Craig Federighi went over a broad range of topics involving new and fascinating features, many of which will be covered here on TechRepublic. Today I want to talk about Apple's new "Continuity" concept which will apply to mobile devices and computers, letting you switch between them to continue tasks or facilitate better communication. While many tech-savvy users have data synchronized among their systems, getting the same functions - particularly involving ongoing work such as typing an email or reading a webpage - to line up is the next logical step in the mobile device evolution. Let's look at the ways in which Apple envisions helping to streamline your tasks (and expand your partnership with their products).
More flexibility when making and receiving phone calls
One of the simpler Continuity notions involves the ability to answer phone calls to an iPhone on a Mac, as seen in the main image above.
The incoming call notification uses a program called iMessage and relies on the user's contacts to identify the caller. This process can also work in reverse; a Mac computer can be used to make phone calls as well. The only requirement (besides the updated operating systems) is that the two devices operate on the same wireless network; a standard procedure and the foundation of many of the other Continuity concepts.
Greater text messaging capabilities
There's not too many ways to spruce up texting, which is about as simple a function as you'll find. However, expanding the ways you can use it and the gadgets you can use it on makes it more convenient. Apple says you'll be able to use iMessage to send and receive any kind of text message from any of your devices - so long as your iPhone is nearby. It will also be possible to send texts by accessing a phone number in the browser, calendar or your contact list. Even better, this function will work when sending/receiving texts to non-Apple devices.
Accessing active data and tasks from any device
Next up is an idea called "Handoff" which I referenced previously. Handoff will allow you to carry out a task across different hardware, like starting an email on a Mac and completing it on your iPhone.
It will also let you continue reading web pages you accessed from another device.
Now, either of these functions can be found already in some email clients and browsers; saving an email draft to pick up again later via another interface is a common practice, and some browsers allow you to access open tabs on linked computers. However, email drafts don't always sync up (if you're using Google Apps Sync with Microsoft Outlook that functionality doesn't exist across different systems) and I have found with Chrome that not all of my tabs are reliably available (to be fair I have not tested this in Firefox).
If Handoff is as seamless as they say it will be a welcome feature and will also work with other apps such as Pages (which could be especially handy when actively editing documents), Numbers, Maps, Calendar, Contacts and more. Third-party app vendors can also build programs to work with this feature and make it even handier.
Piggyback off an iPhone Hotspot
With iOS 8, users will be able to set up their iPhones as instant hotspots so other devices such as iPads can connect to these and get online as needed (the wireless connection is dropped if not in use, so as to not run the battery down). This can come in handy in a place without a Wi-Fi signal (or perhaps where the signal is shoddy or unsafe).
Better file management and sharing using AirDrop and iCloud Drive
AirDrop is not a new product; it has been around for some time and allows you to share files between devices, whether yours or someone else's. Previously it could only work between the same type of device; two Mac computers or two iOS devices, for instance. Apple is updating AirDrop to work from Mac to iOS and vice-versa.
AirDrop is not the same as Apple's iCloud Drive storage service, which is more like Google Drive or OneDrive in that it involves centralized cloud-based storage so you can back up files or share them with others from the web. iCloud Drive is seeing some improvements too, such as new integration in the Finder app on the Mac:
Users will also be able to use tags for their documents to help organize them more effectively.
A promising blend of new features
Continuity capitalizes upon the advantages of mobile devices (portability and broad application capabilities) while helping to alleviate some of the disadvantages (smaller screens and error-prone keyboards) so that you can carry your work over to the most convenient system. It's a smart idea, trying to facilitate the transition from using an iPhone to an iPad to the Mac OS by helping the customer perform the functions they need without missing a beat or losing their focus. After all, many people who dwell within the Apple universe have an array of these gadgets, so helping to reinforce this ecosystem is both user-friendly and strategic.
Both OS X 10.10 and the iOS 8 operating systems are expected to be released free of charge later in 2014. Yosemite will be available in a public beta program during the summer and those with iOS developer accounts can try out a beta of iOS 8 right now via the Apple iOS development center.
Scott Matteson is a senior systems administrator and freelance technical writer who also performs consulting work for small organizations. He resides in the Greater Boston area with his wife and three children.