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