How to Use Handoff Between a Mac with Mac OS X and iPhone / iPad with iOS

How to Use Handoff Between a Mac with Mac OS X and iPhone / iPad with iOS

Handoff iOS to OS X

Handoff is a really great feature of modern versions of Mac OS X and iOS that allows a Mac user to pass off or resume an app session to their iPhone or iPad, or vice versa. For example, you can start typing an email on your iPhone, then pass it off to your Mac and finish writing that email or send it off. Or if you’re reading an article in Safari on your Mac and need to rush out the door, you can quickly hand it off to your iPad and read the rest on your horse as you commute to the office. There’s a lot of potential with Handoff as part of the broader Continuity experience, and it really aims to bring greater productivity to those who have an array of Apple devices.

To use Handoff, you must have the latest version of Mac OS and iOS on your devices, all Macs, iPhones, and iPads must be logged into the same iCloud account, the devices must be on the same Wi-Fi network, and they all must have Bluetooth 4.0 hardware that supports the feature. For some Macs that don’t officially support Handoff, this unofficial modification can make it work anyway, though some devices would require a new Bluetooth module which makes it somewhat impractical.

Enabling HandOff in iOS & Mac OS X

To get started, you’ll want to enable the feature in both Mac OS X and iOS, and then turn on Bluetooth and join the same Wi-Fi networks:

  1. From the Mac, go the  Apple menu > System Preferences > General and be sure that “Allow Handoff between this Mac and your iCloud devices” is enabled
  2. Enable Handoff in Mac OS X

  3. From iOS, go to the Settings app > General > Handoff & Suggested Apps > and be sure that Handoff is set to ON
  4. Enable Handoff in iOS

  5. Turn Bluetooth ON for all hardware:
    • Enable Bluetooth in iOS by swiping up to Control Center and toggling it ON
    • Enable Bluetooth in Mac OS X by  Apple menu > System Preferences > Bluetooth and choosing “Turn Bluetooth On” (you’ll probably want to enable ‘Show Bluetooth in menu bar’ while here for ease of troubleshooting
    • Make sure both the Mac and iOS device have wi-fi enabled and are connected to the same network

That’s the basics to get Handoff enabled on a Mac and iOS (remember, the minimum requirements are the Mac running with OS X Yosemite and the iPhone / iPad running with iOS 8.1 or newer), so once you have that setup let’s trigger the feature and pass a session between two devices.

Using Handoff with iOS & Mac OS X

Using Handoff requires that the applications support the feature, and many apps that share iOS and Mac OS X versions do, including Safari, Mail, Pages, the iWork suite, etc. More apps will support Handoff as time goes on too.

For the example here, we’ll use Safari that is being passed from a Mac to an iPhone, but the basic idea is the same for any other supported app or device too.

  1. Have Safari on the Mac loaded with a webpage and active as the forefront application
  2. Pick up the iPhone or iPad and look at the lock screen – you should see a little Safari icon in the bottom left corner indicating Handoff is ready to pass the Macs Safari session off to the iOS device
  3. Swipe up on that icon from the corner of the lock screen to open the webpage from the Mac onto the iOS device

The Handoff icon is directly across from the Camera icon, it’s small and somewhat subtle:

Handoff icon on the lock screen of iOS

If the iPhone or iPad is already unlocked, you can find Handoff in the multitasking screen where you’d typically quit apps that you don’t want running, just swipe all the way to the left to find the Handoff option.

Handoff shown on the multitasking screen of iOS

Finally, passing a session from iOS to a Mac shows up in one of two ways: in the Command+Tab multitasking app switcher, or in the far left of the Mac OS X Dock:

Handoff shown in the OS X Dock

This may be obvious, but the Handoff icon shown will represent the app that is active that wishes to pass off the session to the other device, meaning you’ll see the Safari icon for a Safari session, Mail icon for an email session, etc.

Triggering Handoff can be a bit tricky sometimes, we’ll touch on that in a moment.

Handoff Not Working? Handoff Unreliable? Some Troubleshooting Tips

While Handoff works flawlessly for some users, it’s very unreliable for others, and for another group of Mac and iOS users they can’t get it working at all no matter what they do. If you’re in the group having difficulties, here are a variety of troubleshooting tricks that may resolve the problems experienced with Handoff not working:

  • Make sure devices are on the same Wi-Fi network
  • Quit and relaunch the app(s) trying to use Handoff
  • Disable and re-enable Handoff (the feature is often enabled by default but doesn’t immediately work, toggling off and ON again often resolves that)
  • Disable and re-enable Bluetooth
  • Log out and back into iCloud accounts on devices
  • Reboot the Mac
  • Reboot the iPhone or iPad

Having tested Handoff considerably, I have mixed results. On one Mac it works almost all the time going in either direction (passing a session from iOS to MacOS X or vice versa, about 90% success rate), while on another Mac I can get it to work about 50% of the time when going from a Mac to iOS device, but only about 30% of the time going from iOS to Mac OS X. For the latter scenario that’s obviously a pretty high failure rate, but we can almost certainly expect this great feature to become considerably better and more reliable as both iOS and OS X receive further updates and bug fixes.

Oh and for what it’s worth, there are many users who have reported that Handoff didn’t work initially, but the feature magically starts working spontaneously and seemingly out of the blue without having changed any settings. That even applies to some of the Macs that are using the unofficial Handoff enabler tool for otherwise unsupported 2011 model MacBook Air and Mac Mini computers.

What has been your experience with Handoff? Do you love it? Does it work for you? Let us know your experiences in the comments!


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