Will Handoff Change the Way We Use Apps?

For those of us suffering from a limited attention span, the idea of starting a task and finishing said task in a single sitting is a foreign concept, perhaps also a daunting one. Somehow, composing an email or jotting down an outline for a project tends to become an exercise that requires multiple sittings, as opposed to a single 5- to 10-minute endeavor. The flow goes something like this: you begin composing an email at your desk, lose interest, leave your desk to get a coffee, return to desk, try to recall what you were supposed to be doing, locate the half-finished email in the sea of tabs you’ve accumulated, struggle to remember what you were writing about or why you were composing the email in the first place, finally push send.

Even if you don’t recognize your own behavior in the above scenario, there have likely been multiple occasions in which you didn’t have enough time to finish a task you started – whether on your smartphone or on your desktop – or just as many times when you started doing something on your phone only to realize that task would be better done at your desk. We live in an era when owning and using multiple devices is a way of life. We use these different screens interchangeably, yet fluidly switching back and forth between them in the pursuit of a single task is not always achievable, at least not without a lot of fumbling. This is not due to user error, but because most operating systems are not optimized to support synchronicity amongst devices.

However, last week’s launch of OS X Yosemite introduced, amongst a host of other new tools, something called Handoff. This feature makes it easier for iOS and Mac users to rotate smoothly between connected devices (at least those within the Apple family: iPhone, iPad, iMac, MacBook Air…), meaning that you could theoretically start an activity on your phone, switch to your Mac and then finish the task on your iPad, all without losing your place and maintaining the work you just did.

Handoff fits in neatly with the latest theme/buzzword that Apple has been throwing around: Continuity, which means that when you use your Apple products together, you can “do more.”  Other “Continuity” features of iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite adhere to this principle: by using these new operating systems, you can take and make calls on your Mac; tether with ease using Instant Hotspot, which allows you to remotely access your iPhone’s personal Hotspot using your Mac; and use Airdrop to share files with nearby iDevices.

However, you can have this level of happiness only if you’re a devoted Apple consumer. For Handoff to work, all (Apple) devices must be signed into the same Apple ID account and connected to the same wifi network. You also need to have OS X Yosemite as well as iOS 8 (the latest Apple operating systems) installed on all of your devices. What’s more, the feature does not work on earlier Mac models: iPhone 5 or newer, Macs with Bluetooth 4.0, fourth-generation iPad or newer, or fifth-generation iPod touch.

Apple not only wants you to own as many iDevices as possible, but also wants to you use Apple’s native apps, as Handoff works seamlessly with only these: Mail, Safari, Keynote, and friends. Third-party applications must add support for Handoff using Apple’s developer tools.

Overall, though, Handoff means you’ll be able to “do more” with all of your devices, not just your iPhone. From writing emails, to making to-do lists, to using third-party apps, Handoff should make your devices more flexible (not in that way) in letting you switch between applications and devices. Not only does this new feature pave the way for mobile app developers to branch out into desktop territory, but it also (finally) unchains SMS messaging from the cell phone. When we’re seeing substantial increases in mobile usage, could Handoff be a move away from mobile and back to the familiar desktop? Only time will tell, but we’re happy to have this handy new feature available.