Apple’s Handoff and Continuity Work Now; So What?

I wrote about a month ago about my travails getting Handoff and Continuity features to work on my Macs and iOS devices. With the exception of my MacBook Pro, which does not work at all with these features, all my other devices – my iMac, iPhone, iPad Air 2 and iPod touch – work. It’s clear that the problems are on Apple’s side; something to do with devices being correctly registered with their servers.

Handoff

But now that they do work, so what? While these are certainly gee-whiz features – the ability to start an email on one device, then finish it on another; accessing a web page on one, then viewing it on another device – there’s really not much point. With the exception of text messages and phone calls, I think I’ve used these features about twice, not counting testing.

While these features are a good idea on paper, how often do you really want to start an email on your iPhone then finish it on your Mac? If your Mac is close enough for Handoff or Continuity to work (I still don’t know which is which; Apple should have just one name for these features), then you’d be more likely to start the email on the Mac.

Handoff2

The only times I’ve used it was when I was looking at a web page in the living room or bedroom, then realized I wanted to see it on my Mac, such as to order something. I went to my office, then accessed the web page. But I could have done that with iCloud Tabs, which works (more or less) well.

I really can’t imagine using these features with Pages or Numbers documents, because if I’m creating a document, and I’m near my Mac, then I want to use that. If I’m just editing or viewing a document, it often doesn’t matter which device I use. And since I store them either in iCloud or Dropbox, I can easily access them from any device.

So this is another example of a feature that looks good (remember the fast user switching cube animation, that Steve Jobs happily explained that they do it “because we can?”) but that really doesn’t have much real-world application. I wonder; do you, dear readers, use these features, other than for text messages and phone calls?

OS X Tip: Increase Icon Size in iTunes, Mail and Finder Sidebars

If you find the icons and text in the sidebar of iTunes, Mail or the Finder to be too small or too large, you can change their sizes. But the setting isn’t easy to find; it’s not in the preferences of any of those three apps; it’s in the General pane of System Preferences.

Prefs

Choose a size from the Sidebar icon size menu: you can choose Small, Medium or Large. Here’s how the three sizes look in the iTunes sidebar:


Medium  Small  Large

Note that the above screenshots are a bit larger than what you’ll see, depending on your display, but the scale between them is accurate. I scaled them at 50% from screenshots taken on my retina iMac.

This setting applies to other Apple apps, such as iPhoto and a few others. Try the setting in each of the apps you use; you’ll find the right size for you. However, it’s a global setting, and if you want to use Small in iTunes and Large in the Finder, you’re out of luck.

RIP Mac OS X Hints, Nov 4 2000 — Nov 4 2014

Dearly belovedÂ…

On this, the occasion of its 14th birthday, we’re gathered here to mark the passing of Mac OS X Hints.

While it can be hard to tell exactly when a web site has died, the signs are fairly obvious. It’s been over 45 days since the last new hint appeared on the site. There is no way for new users to sign up for an account. There’s been one new comment posted in the last two days. A sidebar box proudly proclaims Latest Mountain Lion Hints. The site design, logo, and icons were last updated when I worked for Macworld, over four years ago. To paraphrase a Star Trek character, “it’s dead, Jim.”

I worked on the Mac OS X Hints web site for many years. I got to know Rob Griffiths, who founded the site, way back when, probably a couple of years after he launched this site. I worked with him writing a few chapters of a book which collected hints (whose title was so dumb, I won’t mention it). Subsequently, I filled in for Rob when he took vacations, took time off when his kids were born, and then, when he left Macworld, I took over as site editor for a while.

I’ll miss the site. It had lots of great information.

via RIP Mac OS X Hints, Nov 4 2000 — Nov 4 2014 | The Robservatory.

OS X: Prevent iPhoto from Opening Automatically When You Connect an iOS Device, Camera or SD Card

By default, when you sync an iPhone or iPad, connect a camera, or insert an SD Card into your Mac, OS X opens iPhoto, asking you if you want to import photos. I had this setting turned off in Mavericks, but it seems to have been turned on again in Yosemite. Yet when you look in iPhoto, there is no such setting. Tricky of Apple to have hidden it in another app…

Connect your iOS device to your Mac. Open Image Capture, which is in your Applications folder. Click on the iOS device, then you’ll see, below the sidebar, an option allowing you to choose what happens when you connect the device.

iphoto-opening.png

(Yes, I have lots of photos of Titus the Cat.)

Click the menu that says iPhoto; you have several options, such as Image Capture, Preview, or, perhaps, other apps. But you can also choose No Application. Select that, and you’re good to go. Personally, I use Dropbox’s photo import feature, then go through my photos in the Dropbox folder from time to time and decide what I want to keep.

If you don’t see the menu below the sidebar, click the little widget at the bottom-left of the window; that will display the menu.

Note: if you’ve turned on Photos in the Cloud in your iOS device settings, you won’t see this option, since your iOS device no longer lets you add photos to iPhoto when it’s connected. And you can’t delete photos from the device using Image Capture either.

Update: a commenter pointed out that there’s a setting in iPhoto’s general preferences. I missed this – in part because I’m pretty sure it wasn’t there in Mavericks – but that setting is global, and affects what happens when you connect any camera or iOS device. In Image Capture, you can adjust this setting individually for each device, so the Image Capture solution is more flexible.

The AirDrop Mess on OS X and iOS 8

I recently wrote about my problems with Handoff and Continuity features in Apple’s new operating systems. Many people I know have similar problems, and another feature that causes grief is AirDrop. This allows you to easily send files from one iOS device or Mac to another. You don’t have to open a network share, or sign in; you choose whether you want your device to be available to everyone, or just your contacts, and when you’re near another device – within ten meters – you should be able to share files easily.

You should be able to share files. In practice, this is very iffy.

Right now, I have four devices: an iMac, a MacBook Pro, an iPad and an iPhone. They’re all AirDrop compatible.

The iMac seems to work best: it can see both my iPad and my MacBook Pro:

airdrop.png

The MacBook Pro can see the iPad (and sometimes the iMac shows up for a while, then disappears). The iPad can see the MacBook Pro. And, most of the time, the iPhone can see nothing, and nothing can see the iPhone.

Right now, as I’m writing this, the iPhone can suddenly see the MacBook Pro and the iPad; but not the iMac. The iMac can see all there other devices, but the MacBook Pro still can’t see the iMac. And all these devices are on the same desk, a few feet apart.

I’ve heard from lots of people who have this problem, along with the Handoff and Continuity problems. The only workaround I’ve seen suggested in to toggle Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, which are how AirDrop detects devices and sends and receives files. Nevertheless, I’ve not found that toggling those makes much of a difference. Devices appear and disappear according to the humors.

It’s important to note that for a device to be detected, it must be on and unlocked. At one point, I thought you had to have the AirDrop window visible in the Finder, but that doesn’t seem to be the case any more (I’m pretty sure it was when AirDrop was first introduced).

The thing is, when AirDrop works, it’s great; it’s a quick way to get files from one device to another. But when it fails, there’s no way of knowing why, and no troubleshooting other than trail and error. In the time it takes to toggle Bluetooth and Wi-Fi on two devices, it’s easier to send a file by email, or via a network share.

This is yet another excellent feature in iOS and OS X that just doesn’t work as it should. At a minimum, Apple should have some way of helping us troubleshoot this. There should be an AirDrop Connection Doctor, as there is in Mail. I can’t help but feel let down every time one of these “magical” features fails inexplicably.

Oh, now that I’m at the end of this article… The iMac can see the iPhone and iPad. The MacBook Pro can see the iPhone and iPad. The iPhone can see the iPad. And the iPad can see the iPhone. Go figure.

How to Use iCloud Drive

Much as you may have been satisfied with the way iCloud synced your data in the past, if you’d hoped for comprehensive file syncing between your Mac, iOS devices, and the cloud, you were likely frustrated. Prior to OS X 10.10 Yosemite, iCloud’s file storage was sandboxed, meaning that you could only access files created with a specific application by that application. You could, for example, launch Pages and access the Pages files you stored in the cloud, but you couldn’t use that same app to open TextEdit files stored in iCloud.

Enter iCloud Drive. Taking its cue from Dropbox, which is a simple file repository accessible from any app, Apple has changed the way iCloud manages files.

Read the rest of the article on Macworld.

Apple Design and Hard Drive Icons

With all the work Apple has done on the design of the Yosemite interface, you’d think they could do something a bit more original with hard drive icons. If I look at the top level of my Mac, I see the following:

hard-disk-icons.png

There are three types of disks connected to my Mac. The first is an SSD, it’s named Yosemite. Yet it shows as a hard drive, not an SSD, and that hard drive icon is just plain ugly. I also would have expected Apple to some sort of witty text on the label; instead, it’s this:

hard-disk.png

The second type of disk is drives connected via Thunderbolt; they have a lightning bolt on them (because thunder = lightning?). However, the two drives named Boot Backup and TM Backup are also partitions on Thunderbolt drives, yet they don’t show the correct icon.

The third type is USB drives. With Mavericks, they showed a USB symbol on the drives; in Yosemite, they don’t. Music Backup is a USB drive.

Finally, the TM Backup drive is a Thunderbolt drive, and it’s a Time Machine disk. So it should show a green icon, as it does in the Time Machine preferences; This disk showed the correct icon under Mavericks.

tm-drive.png

Notwithstanding the fact that several of these disks display incorrect icons – it can be useful to know which disks are connected by Thunderbolt and which by USB – they’re just not attractive. And there’s an incoherence between the Thunderbolt icons, with their white plastic fronts, and the USB discs, which have metallic fronts. And, that bare hard disk icon is just ugly, and doesn’t suggest that it’s an SSD. (And, by default, when you set up a Mac, the boot disk is still named “Macintosh HD.” It hasn’t been a “Macintosh” for years, and if you have an SSD or Fusion drive, it’s not an “HD.”)

It’s not a big deal; I don’t look at my hard drives often. I don’t display disks on the Desktop, and I navigate though the Finder sidebar, or using LaunchBar. It just seems odd that, with all the refinements in design, that Apple has ignored this part of OS X: they’re some of the last bastions of multi-dimensionality in Yosemite.

Handoff and Continuity Don’t Work on My Devices, and I Can’t Figure Out Why

One of the marquee features of iOS and Yosemite is Handoff and Continuity. According to Apple:

“Continuity features include Handoff, Phone Calling, Instant Hotspot, and SMS. You can start an email or document on iPhone, for example, and then pick up where you left off on your iPad. You can use your iPad or Mac to make and receive phone calls through your iPhone.”

None of this works for me, and I can’t figure out why. I’ll explain what I think might be causing the problem, but, first, here are some of the oddities I’m seeing.

When I get a phone call, it rings on all my devices. I can get text messages from my phone in Messages on my Mac. So that works. But all the rest – the phone calls from the Mac, or any of the document Handoff features – fail.

All my devices are compatible. I have the following:

  • 5K iMac
  • 2013 retina MacBook Pro
  • iPhone 5s
  • iPad Air 2
  • iPod touch 5th generation

According to this Apple support document, I should be able to, say, start an email message on one device, and pick it up on another. But this doesn’t work from any device to any other.

Another oddity is the settings required to use Handoff and Continuity with phone calls. Apple says:

“On your Mac, open the FaceTime app and go to FaceTime > Preferences. Click Settings and deselect the iPhone Cellular Calls option.”

I don’t have any such option:

facetime-settings.png

Nor do I have that option on my iPhone or iPad.

I had a call with Apple support this afternoon, and got transferred to a senior advisor, who couldn’t figure it out. We eventually thought that the only possibility is that my router is blocking something. I use EE for my internet service here in the UK, and use their router (I don’t think you’re allowed to even connect with a third-party router), and then use an AirPort Extreme to distribute Wi-Fi in my house. Yet I asked one friend, who also uses a third-party router in the US; he can get Handoff to work between two iOS devices, but not iOS to Mac or Mac to iOS.

I’m willing to accept that there may be something in a router that could block this feature, though, given its importance, I would have thought that Apple would warn people about it. Do a Google search, and you’ll find plenty of articles saying that it doesn’t work for some people; Apple’s forums have many posts as well.

This isn’t a question of compatibility; all my devices are compatible. But it seems that there’s something on my network that is blocking all Handoff and Continuity features, with the exception of phone calls and SMSs, which may use a slightly different protocol.

What about you? Does it work for you? If it didn’t work and does now, what did you do? I tried toggling Handoff off, then back on; logging out of iCloud, then logging back in (which is an annoying process). Nothing works.

I’m frustrated. This is one of the key features of the new OSes, and it should “just work.”

Update: this whole thing is fubarred… I logged out of iCloud again on both Macs, then logged in again. Now some of the Handoff features work, but not all, and not consistently. (So it wasn’t the router after all.) I turned off my iPhone, then turned it back on, and I new get the iPhone Cellular Calls option both on the iPhone and on Face Time on both my Macs.

This stuff is a mess. The more I’ve looked for solutions, the more I’ve seen people struggling with the same issues I’ve been having. Apple has created a Rube Goldberg that depends on the ever-flaky iCloud back end, and the trouble it’s taken to get this to work – pretty much half a day – is astounding.

It will be interesting to see if this continues working, or if it stops again; I did get phone calls for a while, probably before iOS 8.1. And it will be interesting to see if Handoff every actually works with all the apps it’s supposed to support. In the end, I’m not even sure how useful it is; if my iPad or iPhone is close enough to my Mac, I’m not likely to start working on a document on one of them, then want to switch to another device.

How To: Use OS X Yosemite’s Finder Preview Pane

A neat feature in Yosemite that I haven’t seen mentioned much is the new Preview pane in the Finder. If you display this, you’ll see a preview of whatever item you’ve selected in a Finder window. (This is new in icon view; it has existed for years in column view.)

Here’s an example:


finder-preview.png

I’ve got three files in the folder above, and I’ve displayed the Finder preview pane by pressing Command-Shift-P, or choosing View > Show Preview. I selected a file, and you can see a preview of it; in this case, it’s an audio file, and you can see its artwork, size, duration, date information and more. If you hover the cursor over it, you’ll see a play button; you can play the music. If you have certain types of text files, you’ll see forward and back buttons, and you can view their content.

You can change the size of the preview pane, but not by much. And it doesn’t play well if you use a colored background; by default, I have all my Finder windows set to use a blue background, and it looks a bit odd when the preview pane is visible, as there’s no visible separator between the two sections.


finder-preview2.png

But this is a useful feature, one you may not want to leave on all the time, but one that you’ll toggle when you want to glance at different items in a folder without selecting them and pressing Command-I. It doesn’t display as much information, but what it does show might be enough.

How To: Use Dark Mode in OS X Yosemite

OS X Yosemite features a dark mode option. If you turn this on, your menus, Dock and application switcher (the bezel that displays when you press Command-Tab) will be black, and not translucent.

To activate this, open System Preferences, then click on General. Check Use dark menu bar and Dock.


Screen.png

You can see above what the menus look like. I don’t find this very usable; the contrast is too harsh (it’s always harder reading light text on a dark background than the contrary), and many menu extras don’t display correctly, including some of Apple’s. But if you like this interface, it’s just a click away.