Sending and receiving SMS/MMS on iOS 8 for iPad and OS X Yosemite: Explained

Sending and receiving SMS/MMS on iOS 8 for iPad and OS X Yosemite: Explained

In addition to app and web Handoff in OS X Yosemite and iOS 8, Apple's new Continuity features include cross-compatible AirDrop, easy tethering, the ability to make and take iPhone calls on iPad and Mac, and the ability to send and receive SMS and MMS from all your green-bubble friends from all your iOS and OS X devices. That means, even if your iPhone is in your bag or in another room, you can still use the carrier messaging channel to stay in contact with Android phone, Windows Phone, BlackBerry, and feature phone users all. So how does it work?

Why SMS and MMS messaging matters

The original iPhone shipped with an SMS (short messaging service) app. It was an ugly system that had been retro-fitted for cross-carrier compatibility and had almost nothing in the way of modern messaging features. But it worked on pretty much all phones pretty much all of the time, even if cellular data — which was limited to EDGE on the first iPhone — was spotty or non-existent. In other words, it was the original cross-platform mobile instant messenger.

Apple didn't even offer MMS (multi-media messaging service) at first. The iPhone was an internet communicator and that meant it had real, rich, HTML email, so why even offer MMS? Turns out people wanted to be able to send picture and video messages to their family, friends, and colleagues who weren't using iPhones but did have MMS. So, within a couple years, Apple added MMS.

Carriers charged a fortune for SMS/MMS. Texting, I'm not sure whether jokingly or not, was called the most profitable legal business ever devised by humans.

When iMessage shipped as part of iOS 5 and OS X Lion, Apple sought to solve many of those problems. It offered reply-state notification, similar to BlackBerry's BBM, could handle all sorts of data types, similar to MMS, and used Wi-Fi or cellular data for its transmissions, so it didn't require an extra texting plan. At least not if you were talking to other Apple users.

Like the lack of MMS before it, it was that last part that caused friction. Being able to iMessage from an iPad or iPod touch or Mac is fantastic, unless we have a friend, family member, or colleague using what Apple calls a "lesser device" — an Android phone, Windows Phone, BlackBerry, or feature phone. For anyone not on an iPhone, those "green bubbles" simply didn't exist, and the seamless nature of the iMessage experience was broken.

That, the seamlessness of the messaging experience, is what Continuity fixes.

Apple ID logged, Wi-Fi connected

Bluetooth pairing between phone and tablet to allow for SMS transport has been done before. Apple's advantage is that they make everything from phone to tablet to computer, so SMS and MMS transport can be done from the iPhone to both the iPad and Mac. And it can be done easily.

You do have to make sure your iPhone and any iPad or Mac you want to use are all logged into the same iCloud account (Apple ID). That reasonably proves they're all your devices and are entitled to send and receive your personal, private SMS and MMS.

You also have to be on the same Wi-Fi network. Not only does this handle the transport of the SMS and MMS data from your iPhone to your iPad or Mac, but it means all the devices are in proximity to one another, and you don't have to worry about your SMS or MMS popping up on a work Mac if you're at home, or a school iPad if you're at a restaurant, or anywhere else beyond your reach.

It should be noted that Apple hasn't mentioned Bluetooth in regards to Continuity SMS/MMS, only Wi-Fi network. However, that doesn't mean Bluetooth isn't used to handle negotiation or pairing (the way it is for the new, easier Continuity tethering). I'll be experimenting some more to find out.

SMS and MMS ins and outs

Receiving SMS and MMS on your iPad or Mac is easy. Once your devices are paired, any green bubbles simply appear in the standard Messages app alongside the blue ones, same as they've always done in the iPhone Messages app.

To send an SMS or MMS from your iPad or Mac, just go to Safari, Calendar, or Contacts, pick a number, and choose to send a message. The conversation will likewise start, or continue, in the same Messages app.

All of it will simply be sent from your iPad or Mac, to your iPhone, and out over the carrier SMS/MMS system, just like any other text or multi-media message.

Bottom line

SMS and MMS might be old technologies but they're still popular technologies. More importantly, with iMessage remaining exclusive to Apple devices, they're the only cross-platform messaging system built-into the iPhone, and one that didn't previously exist on the iPad or Mac. That made for an incomplete experience.

Apple's current business model means we're probably not going to see iMessage for Android or Windows or the web any time soon, nor are third-party messengers like WhatsApp or Skype ever going to enjoy built-in status. That again leaves SMS and MMS.

And that means, thanks to iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite, as long as iPad and Mac customers also have an iPhone anywhere in the room or the vicinity, they get the same SMS and MMS access on those devices that they get on the phone itself. That absolutely fits Apple's business model of making the sum worth more than the value of the individual parts.

If you've got an iPhone and an iPad or Mac, are you looking forward to sending and receiving SMS and MMS on all your devices?

More of iOS 8: Explained

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Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

Sending and receiving SMS/MMS on iOS 8 for iPad and OS X Yosemite: Explained


Seriously, we actually have to explain what SMS "was" now?? Geez, i'm only 19 and i feel old already.....

Question: will these SMS messages sync between devices if they aren't always on the same Wi-Fi network? For example: will an iPad I leave at home get synced with text messages occurring throughout the day on the iPhone I have with me everywhere? It would suck to go to use this feature only to find out that the iPad didn't get the latest SMS message since it was sent when the iPhone wasn't in range.

I'm sure that you will be able to RECEIVE/sync/view the messages on your Mac/iPad but you won't be able to send anything until your iPhone is in range (going back to the same Wi-Fi requirement). In short, it's best to just have both but you can leave your iPhone in your pocket, backpack, etc. without having to worry about missing those "green bubbles" :-)

Sent from the iMore App

My understanding — and Apple has only done the one demo at WWDC involving this — is that nothing happens unless and until you're on the same Wi-Fi network, then the green bubble conversations start working.

My hope is that they auto-populate on handshake so everything is updated, but we'll have to wait and see how it works in practice.

Here is my burning question. Since I don't believe in WiFi only tablets I only buy the LTE ones for the fact of always on connectivity. iMessage actually used ur actual phone number when texting from my iPad. Unlike the WiFi only ones that had to use ur apple id.. If I use this new feature with my connected iPad do I even need the WiFi requirement? Since they are both connected to the same network through LTE?

You've got it wrong, Gerald. Any device (even WiFi-only iPads, even Macs) can use your "actual iPhone number" when texting. It's got nothing to do with the fact that your iPad has LTE. Your iPhone number is linked up with your AppleID, so when you sign in with those devices, the iPhone number is an available option to choose for "Start new conversations from" and "You can be reached for new messages at."

I've had an iPhone and an wifi only iPad. And never did the iPad allow me to use my phone number to send text. Which is why I always got the "why u texting me from ur email" response. Ever since I got the iPad mini LTE did the iPad allow me to use my cell phone number as well. But the real question is. Since my iPhone and iPad have cellular data do I need to use wifi for this feature to work? If I do then it's pointless to me, but if it works like the aw him hoping this feature would be awesome. I'm assuming that if both devices have cellular radios it will bypass the wifi requirement just like it does now with iMessage, since I don't need wifi for them to sync on my iPad they come anyways

No, you're making an assumption about that iPad mini LTE. After all, it's not using the iPad mini's phone number, it's using your iPhone's phone number!

I have a WiFi-only iPad (as well as a MacBook Air that is WiFi-only, obviously) and the settings in iMessage allow me to use my iPhone's phone number as the 'return address' when sending messages from those devices. I also receive messages sent to that iPhone's number, on my iPad and MacBook Air. it has nothing to do with whether or not these devices have LTE. It has everything to do with them all being linked up by the same AppleID.

Thank you Rene. I was like screaming at the screen when I read that message. Imagine, getting all of your "texts/iMessages" on your phone while you were out. I'd die.

I would assume, the answer to your question is, yes, it will sync up (as well as let you send SMS without having your phone around) - provided you have a supported iPad. I just tested the "Send/Sync while not on the same network" theory using my iMac - I'm at work, and I used the iTeleport app to connect to my home computer and send my buddy (using a "lesser device" Samsung GS4) an SMS. Once I sent it, I closed the Messages apps on my iPhone 5 and iMac. He replied that he received the SMS (received Push Notification on iP5), then I checked the iMac (again, via iTeleport), and his SMS reply showed up there, too.

Here's what is "broken" (I guess you could say) about Apple's Continuity idea: using iOS 8 (on iPhone 5) and OS X 10.10 (on mid-2010 iMac), I can send/receive SMS/MMS on my iMac, just as advertised, but I can't use Handoff or make/receive phone calls using the same devices. Interesting, right? My assumption is that SMS/MMS strictly uses iCloud authorization (I don't even need to be on the same WiFi network for SMS to be sent to my iMac), and Handoff and phone calls use a BT LE/WiFi combination.

Well, iOS 8 and Yosemite are both still in beta, so things that will work on release may or may not work at any point during the beta cycle. (It's not so that people can get new features sooner, it's so developers and others can ready their software or coverage sooner.)

However, in this case I think you might be right. BT LE is used for pairing in Handoff (and I believe Continuity Tethering as well). I'm not sure what if any roll BT/BT LE plays on calling/SMS/MMS. It might well be none.

In which case, yeah, Macs without BT LE would enjoy only partial Continuity support. However, there's nothing "broken" about that. It's just another example of technology marching on.

You're right, "broken" is definitely the wrong word. I'm still waking up, and my brain isn't quite at cruising altitude yet.

Rene - I assume you have the beta iOS 8 and OSX betas to test, if you turn bluetooth OFF will Handoff work or not? Since my Mac is mid 2012 it does not have BT LE 4.0. That would really suck if it doesn't work. Being on the same network (subnet) hardwired with WiFi turned off on the iMac will I have to turn the iMac WiFi on for this to work?

Rene is an honorable dude. So if he does have the betas to play with, I doubt he'd break the NDA to confirm or deny any features. I am not as honorable as Rene, in this regard, and can tell you that Handoff does not work on my mid-2010 iMac, which has BT 2.1 - not BT 4.0. I plan to purchase a BT 4.0 dongle (from Best Buy for under $20) tonight and test out Handoff and phone calls again - I'll update sometime after 7pm pacific. As for SMS, I replied on another comment that you currently DO NOT need to be on the same network AT ALL to have SMS/MMS sync with your computer. That would tell me that, wireless connection be damned, it's solely dependent on iCloud verification (think current implementation of iMessages and FaceTime).

Thanks @arin.failing - I suppose the LE dongle will be the workaround with the iMac. I certainly hope so if in fact LE is required as the initial handshake for Handoff to work. Cheers. You are an honorable dude.

The rumor I heard is that a BT LE dongle will NOT work and that people have tried.

Guess Apple expects you to buy a new computer, even if your "old, ancient" one is only two years old.

What's next? Require yearly computer purchases? Anybody know when Bluetooth 5.0 will come out to make the latest ones obsolete?

I just read that as well re. the dongle not working. Hopefully Apple will realize that folks with a Mac barely two years old will want to upgrade simply to get BT 4.0.

If they don't open drivers for BT LE dongles that will suck in the extreme.

Yeah, I saw that someone else had tried, too (over on the "How to tell if your Mac has Bluetooth 4.0 (BT LE)" post). But I won't be satisfied until I try for myself - it's just the way I am. If it doesn't work, I'll return the dongle and get my money back. So it's no sweat off my back to give it a shot.

But you shouldn't put it past Apple to expect you to upgrade, or just not have it. That's something Apple is known for doing.

Ok... testing is complete (iPhone 5 with mid-2010 iMac). Bad news - Bluetooth dongle that I found doesn't work. Unfortunately though, I have no idea if this BT from Rocketfish ( is 4.0. It is the only one that my Best Buy stocks, and there is no indication of what version it is... ANYWHERE. But here's a list of works/doesn't work with whatever the hell version that one is (spoiler: no difference from before):
SMS/MMS (send/receive/sync) on iMac - works flawlessly (I assume because it uses iCloud verification ONLY, like FaceTime and iMessage)
Phone calls on iMac - doesn't work (I assume it requires BT LE to pair, then just stays on throughout your WiFi network... maybe Apple will add us lowly long-time users... doubt it though)
Handoff - doesn't work (this seems pretty straightforward that it depends primarily on BT LE, as it senses when you're close to your computer)

Has anyone been having problem with the bluetooth staying connected? I'm trying to pair the iphone 5 with the ipad mini and it will say connected for a few seconds and keep dropping to not connected. Have any of you had this problem too.

Now as far as SMS goes I was able to send a text to a friend who has an android phone directly from my ipad mini which was cool, but then I got another friend who has an android phone to text my iphone.

I received his message, but the ipad mini never received it. So that's what happened with me and I'm on Beta 2. Anyone else have the same issues?

If the transfers of messages between devices are indeed over wifi, do we know how they will be encrypted? Knowing Apple's recent focus on privacy I'm sure that they haven't overlooked encrypted transfers.

Sent from the iMore App

If the transfers of messages between devices are indeed over wifi, do we know how they will be encrypted? Knowing Apple's recent focus on privacy I'm sure that they haven't overlooked encrypted transfers.

Sent from the iMore App

Doesn't work for me, I have a iPad Mini, and iPhone 5s, I can send and receive from iPhone, not iPad, same iCloud/Apple ID, same WiFi, new help!

I just noticed that on my iPhone, I had to go to Settings -> Messages -> Text Message Forwarding
and enable my MAC to send SMS. Poof.