One of Continuity’s best features is Handoff — the ability to push not just data but state between iPhone, iPad, and Mac.
Using Handoff, you can start an email on your iPhone, sit down at your Mac, tap an icon, and finish right where you left off. You can start reading a website on your Mac and then grab your iPad, swipe, and plop down to keep reading on your couch. As long as you’re logged into the same Apple ID, and in proximity, everything you do can be started, continued, or finished on all of your devices. Well, not everything — there’s currently no Handoff support for iTunes. And I’d love it if iOS 9 changed that.
I understand Continuity is brand-new. The first version shipped only last fall, and already, it’s enjoying support from apps like Pixelmator and Pages. So it’s not surprising that it can’t do everything and right away. Moreover, Apple bought Beats last year, and figuring out what their combined future looked like no doubt consumed a lot of cycles.
Still, the idea of starting a playlist on my Mac, picking up my iPhone, swiping, and walking away listening to the same music holds a lot of appeal. So does watching The Flash on my Apple TV, getting tired, picking up my iPad, and finishing it in bed.
Continuity works by using Bluetooth LE to broadcast activities, then activates the internet, iCloud, or direct Wi-Fi transfer to make that activity’s content available on other devices to continue those activities. So, iMore for Safari on the Mac would trigger Safari for iPhone to load iMore as well. Keynote on iPad would cause Keynote on your Mac to check for the current file in iCloud Drive and, if so, grab it. A half-composed Mail message on the iPhone might push the content of that Mail message right to the iPad.
Now, doing Wi-Fi direct transfer is okay with small files. Trying to push a 1.3 GB TV show file or 3-4 GB movie file, however, is an entirely different matter. That why I’ve kept this constrained to iTunes and not talked about audio and video in general.
iTunes content is kept on iCloud’s servers: That’s’ how iTunes Match works. It’s how the Apple TV streams and how the iPhone and iPad download or re-download your content. That’s also how Apple can make Handoff work. Bluetooth LE would broadcast that you’re listening or watching, what you’re listening or watching, and where you are in the timeline. Pick up another device, and that request goes to Apple’s servers, finds the iTunes content, and starts streaming from exactly that point.
Because Netflix and other streaming services work in a similarly cloud-centric way, my guess is they could do something similar. You can already open the Netflix app on any device, find the show you were watching, and resume it. Handoff would just make the process faster — you wouldn’t have to open the app and find the show, you’d just swipe or tap and keep watching.
Continuity, like Extensibility, is transformative. It unbundles apps, letting their discreet functionality come to where ever you are. It decouples the interface and changes it from pull to push. I’d argue that, over time, it will change the way we use our devices, but it doesn’t need time. In many ways, for many activities, it already has.
iOS 8.4 already has the beginnings of Apple’s next-generation music app, and the just-announced WWDC 2015 is rumored to bring a new music service and perhaps even a new Apple TV to go with it. I’d love it if iOS 9 — and OS X 10.11 — to make that even more convenient, and to continue the Handoff trend into audio and video content with iTunes.