How to use Apple’s Continuity, iCloud Drive and AirDrop to share files with yourself

It’s like sharing for one; Apple refers to it as continuity. With the latest OS X Yosemite and iOS 8.1 updates, Apple has greatly improved how you can save and share your files across multiple devices. Things have even improved regardless of which apps you are using and what version of the OS you are running. And with the majority of the APIs that enable continuity being open to developers, things will only get better with time. Of course the more up to date you are and the newer your devices are, the more seamless the experience will be.

Continuity - Handoff

Hand off documents from one device to another

While it requires an iMac, MacBook or Mac Mini made in 2012 or later running OS X Yosemite and any iOS device running iOS 8.1, Handoff makes switching between devices as easy as possible. The number of apps that support Handoff are currently limited (Calendar, Contacts, Mail, Maps, Messages, Notes, iPhone, Reminders, Safari, Keynote, Numbers, and Pages), but the developer API to support Handoff is open to third-party developers. That means that despite the fact that it looks like Apple dominates the apps that currently support Handoff, it is not an exclusively Apple app feature and we should start seeing more apps support Handoff moving forward (Pixelmator for iPad please?).

You turn-on Handoff on your compatible Mac (noted above) from within the General System Preferences. Simply enable the “Allow Handoff between this Mac and your iCloud devices” option. On your compatible iOS devices, go to the General Settings as well, then select “Handoff & Suggested Apps” and switch on Handoff. One thing to keep in mind is that this feature does assume that you will be leaving one device, and switching over to use your other device. It was not intended to be used on both devices as an extended editor of your documents simultaneously.

When moving from OS X to iOS, you will see an icon in the bottom left hand corner of the lock screen on your iOS device representing the app you were using on OS X. That’s right, the lock screen. Swipe up on the icon to launch into the iOS version of the app and it will reveal the same content you were working with on our Mac. Going the other direction from iOS to OS X, you will look towards the Dock for an icon representing the app you were running on iOS. It will look just like the apps icon, but will have a tiny iOS device in the corner. Click on the icon to launch the OS X version of the app and the same document will open on your Mac.

Continuity - AirDrop

AirDrop from OS X to iOS and back again

AirDrop is another way to wirelessly share files between devices. Like Handoff, it can launch the default app when sharing a file between devices, whereas previously it only worked when sharing files between iOS devices or between OS X devices. Sharing between iOS and OS X was not possible, but now it is. I have even been successful using AirDrop to share files from my Mac running Yosemite to devices that are still running iOS 7.

You will need to use a Mac build in 2012 or newer and an iOS device capable of running iOS 8 in order to share across the OS X and iOS device boundary. If your Mac is older than that, you will be limited to Mac to Mac AirDrop sharing. To get it to work properly, you will need to make sure that you have turned on both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on all devices you wish to use AirDrop with.

On iOS you enable on AirDrop from within Control Center. Swipe up from the bottom of the screen to display Control Center and tap on the AirDrop button located just below the volume control. Here you will be presented options to share with only those listed in your contacts or everyone nearby. Once enabled, you will then see a list of AirDrop enabled devices nearby whenever you tap on an individual apps Share icon (the square box with an arrow pointing up and out of it). Tapping the Share button within an app is also how you share content via Twitter, Mail, Facebook and even send content to a AirPrint Printer.

With OS X you turn on AirDrop from within the Finder. After launching the Finder and tapping on the AirDrop section from the list of locations on the left, you should see a setting titled “Allow me to be discovered by:” setting (it is small and on the bottom of the Finder window). Just like on iOS, you can choose between sharing with only those listed in your contacts or everyone.

As for what name shows up in AirDrop, it uses the Contact app’s “My Info” and “My Card” settings. On iOS this is configured within the “Mail, Contacts, Calendars” section of the Settings app. On OS X this is configured within the Contacts App. Navigate to the “Card” menu’s “Go to My Card” menu item. When using AirDrop between two devices that have the exact same contact info (sharing for one), a subtitle will display under your name indicating what type of device it is. That way you can control if you share content with your Mac or your iPad from your iPhone.

Continuity - iCloud Drive

iCloud Drive for Windows and OS X alike

Seeing as how both Handoff and AirDrop are limited to sharing files between iOS and OS X, iCloud Drive would be the next best way to share files between iOS and Windows. Apple recently updated the iCloud for Windows client download, which now supports iCloud Drive.

iCloud Drive exposes what were once the hidden files and folders that apps installed on OS X. These same files on iOS are the ones that enable iCloud Data sharing across devices. These files were previously located in the “~/Library/Mobile Documents” folder on OS X. If you have not yet enabled iCloud drive, it is a good idea to make a backup or offline copy of this folder before doing so.

You enable iCloud drive from within your iCloud settings on both iOS and OS X. When you do switch your iCloud account over to using iCloud Drive, any device you own that is still running iOS 7 and older, or OS X Mavericks and older, will not be able to share and access your documents stored in iCloud Drive. So you may want to hold off on enabling iCloud Drive until you have updated all of your devices.

On OS X, you will see all of your iCloud Drive files and folders from within a special location in the Finder labeled iCloud Drive. You may have seen screen shots of what appears to be a similar iCloud Drive ‘app’ for iOS. This is actually just the document picker view from within apps that support accessing files on the iCloud Drive, not a standalone app. Individual apps will need to support access to iCloud Drive files in order for you to access and use it.

Continuity - Document Picker

Taking control of your document provider extensions

Finally there are the document sharing extensions on iOS. These are typically installed alongside a third-party app you buy from the app store. There are extensions for Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Pocket, Evernote, Dropbox and more. The most interesting extensions, the ones that will enable the most flexibility where your workflow is concerned, are the Document Provider Extensions that are new to iOS 8.

Document provider extensions behave much like iCloud Drive and will allow you to open and import files from different data providers as well as export and move files around more freely. Documents 5Transmit, Dropbox and Box are among the developers that currently support this new feature. On iOS it behaves just like the iCloud Drive document picker.

To see it in action, you can open either Pages, Numbers or Keynote and tap on the More button when adding or opening files. Here you will see options to toggle on and off storage locations for third-party apps. This allows the developer that manages the hosted cloud storage and app to update the extension without having other developers that want to use and access their cloud storage to have to deploy the updates within their app. So the next time Dropbox for example makes an enhancement or performance improvement, you will not have to wait on Apple to push an update in Pages to use it.