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Thoughts on iOS 8.1, Yosemite, and the iPhone 6 Plus

In 2010, Apple held its “Back to the Mac” event. While this event previewed OS X Lion (10.7), which saw the beginning of better integration between OS X and iOS, it was also Apple’s way of saying that the Mac still mattered and it wouldn’t be going iOS-only any time soon.

Now, in 2014 we are finally seeing the fruits of that labor. With iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite, we have now blurred the lines between the OSes in a good way. In 2012, SVP Scott Forestall left the company and all design decisions now end at Jony Ive. As part of this de-siloing, your experience across Apple’s devices will hit fewer walls.

Today I’ll be talking about my thoughts on iOS 8, OS X Yosemite, and my iPhone 6 Plus. Rather than talk about each component separately, I’m going to talk about the core concepts I use, and how they all relate to my different devices. It is difficult to talk about iOS 8 without mentioning Yosemite, and vice versa.

iCloud to the center

Documents in the Cloud was a poor substitute for iDisk. Each app had to store its cloud data in its own sandbox, which became a problem if you wanted to edit a file in different apps. While some apps would let you use the Open In trick to hand the file off, you’d end up with multiple versions of the file scattered across your iOS device. The root of the problem was no Finder-level access to your Documents in the Cloud; while you could access the files in the ~\Library\Mobile Documents file, that path could lead to pain.

With iOS 8 and Yosemite, apps can now write to a central repository called iCloud Disk. Any app that is able to read a file that is stored in a folder can read and edit it. The gotcha? The app needs to support the new Document Picker.

On your Mac, there is an iCloud Drive folder in your sidebar allowing you to navigate it to your heart’s content. No such app exists on iOS 8. We may see such an app with iOS 9. Change in this regard with iOS is best done slowly. Time will tell how Apple handles this in iOS 9. Heck, we still don’t have a Preview app for iOS, and iBooks doesn’t support opening files from iCloud Drive. If iBooks is to become the default PDF reader for iOS, it needs some sort of Document Picker. Otherwise, I’m reduced to using GoodReader to hand off PDFs to iBooks if I need to.

Continuity/Handoff blurs the lines between iOS and OS X

A long-standing frustration for me has been reading texts from friends while I’m on my Mac or iPad. If it wasn’t an iMessage, I usually wouldn’t see them until the next morning when I grabbed my iPhone as I headed to work. Now, with Continuity I get all my texts on all of my devices. It feels like something we should have had years ago, and it’s a feature I use every day.

Handoff is an odd moment for Apple. The idea is decent. Start working on a document on Pages, head to the train and there will be a little notification on the home screen that’ll let you finish working on the document. It’s an odd moment because Apple has done a poor job at communicating which devices support Handoff. Apple’s own Continuity page completely glosses over you need an iOS device or a Mac made in at least in late–2011. Continuity works over Wi-Fi, but Handoff for some reason requires Bluetooth LE, or a non-A5 chip.

A reason why it couldn’t do this via Wi-Fi as well is lost on me. I’ve heard arguments saying that the Bluetooth LE proximity helps with document security, but I’d also think that argument would apply to SMS relay, which works over Wi-Fi. Only my iPhone 6 Plus supports Handoff, so I guess it can do self-Handoffing.

Extensions make interplay easier

Before iOS 8, interplay between apps was reduced to a somewhat kludgy URL Scheme. URL Schemes are not things average users understand. Not all apps supported them, which make interplay even harder. The app sandboxing model really blocked apps playing with each other.

That changes in iOS 8. Applications can now exchange data with other apps via Extensibility. A good example of this is 1Password. In iOS 7, the optimum password manager was iCloud Keychain, which wasn’t the best solution. In iOS 8, I can use 1Password which is my favorite password manager. Share extensions lets you send data to apps like Evernote and Pocket. This is a feature I use every day. On the OS X side, Pocket uses Yosemite share extensions to send pages to its website.

The iPhone 6 Plus

My purchase of the iPhone 6 Plus was a carefully thought-out decision. I based it on battery life and the larger screen. The clincher for me was the iPad-like view, especially the rotating dock. I also really wanted a device I could read a book on while waiting for a meeting to start or in a cramped place like Fenway Park waiting for the Red Sox.

I do not regret my purchase one bit. It does not bend, fits in my pocket comfortably (I’m a big dude), and I haven’t dropped it yet. Frankly, it’s everything I wanted in a phone. Right now, I just need more apps updated. I’m still waiting on OneNote and IM+ Pro.

What’s been interesting to watch is the effect it’s had on my iPad usage. My iPad 3 is still a near-constant companion. I prefer reading in bed with the larger screen. I also bring it to work with me, but that’s more because taking notes on my iPhone can give off the perception I’m just texting. The iPad staves off that perception a little. Yes, I know with Continuity I could be, but we won’t let the other participants know that, shall we? I’ve been setting my iPad on my desk at work, but that’s been more habit than need. I’m going to start leaving it in my bag to see how often I really need to use it.

Another hope I had is that I would use spare moments to write more. The sample set is small, but I have gotten a little writing done on my iPhone. I find Pages and Byword adequate for light writing on the Plus.

Final thoughts

My original experiences with iCloud Drive were a little rough. I was having a lot of weird issues with iOS apps only seeing folders, but no documents inside them. The release of 8.1 seems to have smoothed some of those issues and I’m feeling more comfortable using it. I’ve started moving bits off OneDrive data into iCloud Drive to consolidate the data. My iWork data has always lived in iCloud so obviously I’ll continue to keep it there.

When I was critical of Apple earlier this month, a lot of my criticism was aimed at tying iOS releases to device releases. iOS 8.1 feels like what iOS 8.0 should have been. The OS X Yosemite release has been fine for me. To eliminate any potential issues, I upgraded my GM to the App Store version.

OS X Yosemite and iOS 8 are ambitious launches. What I hope is that iOS 9 will be less ambitious and more care is put into its initial launch. For now, though, I’m enjoying how well all of my Apple devices interact with each other. I think both releases set the stage for even more integration in the coming years.

8 Responses to “Thoughts on iOS 8.1, Yosemite, and the iPhone 6 Plus”

  1. ios 8.1 is a nightmare if you have an Ipad. It bogs it down, is not nearly as responsive and full of bugs. I elected not to go with Yosemite on my Mac and opted to run Windows 8 with bootcamp. Ironically, my Mac runs better and is faster with Windows..

  2. irritated

    uh, the fact that ibooks can’t open files in iCloud drive is baffling and utterly weak. is apple trying to kill the iPad? the continued ridiculously poor integration of ibooks (moving it from iTunes, hobbling one’s ability to edit metadata of pdfs, etc etc) is just making me want to give up on the iPad as a reading device.

  3. David Hroncheck

    Bluetooth 4,0 packs a lot of features under its hood that make Handoff/Continuity work. However, it’s in the Low Energy part of the stack that the real magic is exploited. Devices listen for one another in their sleep and once a conversation begins, the heavy lifting gets handled by WiFi.

  4. sockatume

    I suspect that Handoff uses Bluetooth LE specifically (and somewhat confusingly) because it’s very short-range. It’s not there because it’s the best choice for the data transfer, but because it allows you to easily (and with very little energy) figure out what devices the user has physically near them, and therefore the devices that they are likely to hand-off to.

    (This gracefully manages the unsupported but inevitable use case that two users have to share an iOS device device and thereby have access to an iCloud account. There’s no point in offering the handoff prompt on the iPad in another part of my house, which my wife is probably using anyway, even though that device has my iCloud account on it as is within the same wifi network.)

  5. sathish rao

    As a Mac-only user who’s not bothered about ‘Continuity’, ‘Unified iOS & OS X experience’ etc.., I’m utterly disappointed with the new ‘Washed-out & Flat’ Look & Feel of Yosemite. I’m regretting my hasty upgrade to Yosemite.

    • SMS continuity does not require your device(s) to communicate with each other at all. Incoming SMS’ are uploaded by your iPhone into iCloud, then pushed to individual devices (OS X Yosemite and iOS8.1 running devices that is). Handoff requires bluetooth as the devices are communicating directly to each other, and need to be paired in order for the functionality to work.

  6. Reblogged this on Taste of Apple Tech and commented:
    Some good thoughts here. I love iOS 8 and Yosemite, as well as my iPhone 6 – they’re definitely far beyond what Apple was capable of a few years ago. Still, most exciting is the fact that they’re just the start of an even better future for each product and for users of Apple products.