It’s finally happening. Apple software that runs the Mac and the iPhone/iPad/iPod touch are at last merging with the next releases …
Except actually they’re not.
When Apple announced OS X Yosemite and iOS 8 at its Worldwide Developer Conference this month, it introduced a new look for the Mac system that’s more akin to the flat and colorful appearance of the current iOS 7. (iOS 8 keeps the same theme.)
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So while the two platforms may look similar, don’t worry, the Mac you know is still there. In fact, the iOS-related changes involve interoperability between devices, not overtaking of the Mac. Here are some practical ways your Apple devices will benefit when the next versions arrive in the fall, plus a few options to get similar features now.
Handoff. Apple’s push to incorporate iCloud into most of its products has been aimed at making the device you use partly irrelevant.
If you’re working on a document in Pages on the Mac, you currently can save it to iCloud, open it on an iPad or iPhone and pick up where you left off.
I’ve used this feature plenty of times when writing articles. I’ve also taken advantage of similar functionality in apps such as OmniOutliner (which uses its own sync service instead of iCloud).
Still, even though we’re not transferring files via floppy disks and the old “sneakernet,” transitioning from one device to the other requires a few steps.
In Yosemite and iOS 8, a new feature called Handoff will let you toss an active document from, say, your iPad to the Mac as if you were moving a piece of paper from a briefcase to a desk (in apps that support it).
Related to that, one of the mysteries of OS X Mavericks and iOS 7 will be solved: AirDrop, which appears on both systems, finally will be able to transfer files between Mac and iOS.
Phone calls. When you’re working on your Mac, chances are your iPhone is somewhere nearby. When a call comes in, you need to stop what you’re doing and look to see who it is.
In Yosemite, the call appears on your Mac, with Caller ID to identify the source, where you can answer and take the call without touching the phone at all.
Going the other direction, you can click a phone number on your Mac to dial it on your iPhone.
If you’re running OS X Mavericks and iOS 7 now, you can get a taste of this behavior using the Maps app. Find a location using the Maps app on the Mac, click the “i” button to get more detail about it and then click the Share button in the upper-right corner of the detail box. You’ll find options to send the item to the Maps app on an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch.
Another nice iOS-related feature is the ability to use the iPhone or cellular-capable iPad as an instant Wi-Fi hot spot for the Mac.
That will be nice at locations where Wi-Fi isn’t available.
Spotlight. Under Yosemite, searching for items on the Mac is still performed using Spotlight, but it won’t be tucked into the upper-right corner of the screen. Pressing Command-space to enable the search produces a big search field in the middle of the screen.
Why should that matter? Apple wants people to turn to Spotlight more often not just to find documents on the computer, but to be able to find anything on the Internet (and not reflexively open a Web browser to perform Google searches).
Today you can perform similar actions using one of my favorite utilities, Launchbar (www.obdev.at) which was updated last week to version 6.
Beta. Of course, Yosemite and iOS 8 will bring more features than just these, but the point is this: Even as the Mac and iOS are moving closer together, one isn’t going to subsume the other. Instead, the improvements are geared toward providing not a Mac experience or an iOS experience, but an Apple experience.
And it turns out you don’t have to wait until the fall to sample some of what’s to come. Anyone can apply to test the beta of OS X Yosemite at https://appleseed.apple.com/sp/betaprogram
Jeff Carlson writes the Practical Mac column for Personal Technology and about technology in general for The Seattle Times and other publications. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.