Continuity: Where it is now, and our hopes and dreams for the future

iOS 8
iOS 8 (Image credit: iMore)

Continuity is one of the major new features across Apple's new operating systems, iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite, and the one that's best embodied Apple's "integration" theme. It lets you AirDrop just about anything between your iPhone, iPad, and Mac. It makes hotspots instantly available. It relays your phone calls and SMS/MMS between your iPhone and your iPad or Mac, and back again. And it lets you handoff activity between all of your devices. Yet, for all Continuity does, it's still a version 1.0. That means there are some frustrations, but also a lot of hopes, dreams and wants for the future. Here they are!

Are you using Continuity?

Peter: I do, but I don't use it as much as I like, because the support just isn't there for it yet from third parties. But as a core feature of iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite that's supported by core Apple apps, I find it very useful.

Ally: I use Continuity calling on a regular basis. I love being able to answer phone calls on my iMac and respond to a regular SMS from weird Android people without having to break my train of thought. I'd love to use it for Mail but my odd workflow is a problem. I use Mailbox on my Mac and the default Mail app on my iPhone and iPad, which obviously creates a problem for myself.

Rene: I'm with both Ally and Peter. I don't use Handoff as much as I'd like to simply because not enough apps are supporting it yet. Right now it's mostly for Safari and Mail, when I want to continue reading or writing as I step away from my Mac and head out with my iPhone. I use AirDrop not only with friends and family, but to send files from my iPhone to Mac. Instant Hotspot has made working from coffee shops a pleasure. Call and SMS/MMS relay is something I use a lot. I don't have many green bubble friends — they're all on iMessage! — but being able to answer them — okay, Phil — from my Mac is stellar.

Ren: I want to use Continuity more than I find I actually use it on a day-to-day basis. I think it's a feature I still need to fully integrate into my workflow for it to become natural, and it's not widely-enough available yet to be instantly comfortable for me. I find I use it a lot more iOS to Mac (for things like Mail, Messages, Safari, and the third-party app Pixelmator) than I do vice-versa — in part because I think the Dock's continuity indicator is a little more visible than iOS's hidden multitasking screen or Lock screen icon.

What's your favorite app for Handoff?

Rene: I want it to be Pixelmator, but on the Mac I'm still trapped by decades of Photoshop muscle memory. Handoff, however, is a transformative enough feature that I'm now going through the process of weaning myself from Adobe so I can take advantage of it. (It's almost as awkward as transitioning from Corel to Adobe was back in the 90s, but far more fun.) Right now I'm really enjoying the iWork apps. Just the other day I stepped away from my iMac, picked up my iPad Air 2, and kept right on working with Keynote on the couch. Moving from mouse to multitouch not only changed context, but unlocked ideas.

Ally: I'm like Rene and have Photoshop ingrained into my life. I haven't yet tried to pull myself away, but Pixelmator makes me want to. I haven't found a ton of apps that I use regularly that support Handoff, which is a shame. Hopefully that'll change in the near future.

Ren: I'm going to join the Pixelmator chorus, because I think it's really darn cool. I will always prefer a touch screen to a mouse when it comes to video, audio, or photo work — something about tactile feedback just feels more natural when it comes to those areas — and Pixelmator is the perfect app for it. With a Lightning to SD Card Camera Reader, I can import images directly from my DSLR and edit them in Pixelmator, then send the finished product over to my Mac for any last tweaks and export. I'm really loving the workflow, and the way it incorporates my iPad.

Peter: You should try Continuity Keypad. It's an app on my Mac that enables me to dial phone numbers from my connected iPhone without storing them as contacts or opening the FaceTime application and doing it manually.

What about Continuity frustrates you?

Peter: Lack of consistency is really maddening. Sometimes Continuity features work flawlessly for me, sometimes I have to reboot devices to get them to work, sometimes I have to sign in and out of iCloud to get them to work right. I just get the sense that it's not fully baked.

Ren: If Continuity "just worked" the way that Apple dreams it could, it would be lovely. But there are technical issues, and incompatible devices — I had Continuity shut down because I hadn't updated OS X to the 10.10.1 release. A Continuity troubleshooter (à la Network Diagnostics on OS X) that said "Oh, hey, your devices need to update their system version" or "I don't see this device over Bluetooth" or "You're using something that's too old for Handoff" would do wonders at easing connection frustrations.

Ally: I haven't personally had many issues with Continuity, but I know from writing many troubleshooting how tos on it, I'm in the minority. I'm not a fan of how call relay can ring long after I answer one of my devices. Then again, this is an issue that's plagued FaceTime for as long as I can remember.

Rene: It's especially awesome when you're using AirPlay and suddenly your Apple TV starts to ring! I haven't had any problems with Continuity, not even in the betas. That said, Continuity is a complex process that involves a lot of moving parts, including Bluetooth Low Energy, peer-to-peer Wi-Fi, Apple Push Notification service, and iCloud — and sometimes those parts don't play together successfully. That makes diagnosing problems tough.

What would you like to see from Continuity in the future?

Peter: Better reliability and consistency throughout the process; better troubleshooting for when things go wrong. And more broad support from third-party developers.

Ally: A more consistent and reliable experience. Even though I haven't had many issues, I'm well aware that others have. Toggling switches and rebooting all the things isn't a very good user experience and hopefully it's something Apple will address before adding more features to the mix.

Rene: That's it, I'm turning this roundtable around right now and driving Peter and Ally home! This is supposed to be the part where we dream wonderful, audacious dreams about the future. This is supposed to be the part where we lust after Handoff for iTunes and for Apple TV, so our music, TV shows, and Videos can transition from device to device just as we do. Where iLife lets us shift editing video, photos, and music between our iPhones, iPads, and Macs. Where Camera relay lets us take photos and videos on one device from another, and where Instant Screen Share lets me control one from another. That's what this part is supposed to be, right, Ren?

Ren: Yes! I mean, I'd love to see better reliability from Continuity in the future — who doesn't want their cool science-fiction-esque features to work better? But I also want more creativity from third-party app-makers and Apple alike. Pixelmator's a great example of an app that starts playing in the pro field; what about Final Cut Pro for iPad, Cupertino? (Though, honestly, I'd settle for a version of iMovie that could sync projects between desktop and mobile.) Or using Continuity with Xcode? (Imagine how cool a module-based Xcode for iOS could be.) It seems like a feature ripe for creative professionals — people who by nature start their work in the field, rather than at a desk. I'm sure app developers are hard at work, and fingers crossed we'll see some more Continuity magic show up in the next year.

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.