iOS 8 Preview: Handoff makes going from iOS to Mac seamless

BY Jason

Published 14 Jun 2014

handoff ios 8 os x

One of iOS 8’s main themes was making iOS and Mac work seamlessly, letting you transition from one platform to another quickly, without breaking your flow. Handoff is a new feature in iOS 8 and Mac that lets developers enable users to transition from iOS to Mac, and vice-versa, seamlessly.

In Apple’s words, Handoff “lets you pick up right where you left off”:

Now you can start writing an email on your iPhone and pick up where you left off when you sit down at your Mac. Or browse the web on your Mac and continue from the same link on your iPad. It all happens automatically when your devices are signed in to the same iCloud account. Use Handoff with favorite apps like Mail, Safari, Pages, Numbers, Keynote, Maps, Messages, Reminders, Calendar, and Contacts. And developers can build Handoff into their apps now, too.

The feature, in other words, detects devices in proximity, and, as long as they’re signed into the same iCloud account, lets them talk to each other to ensure activities are transferred between the them seamlessly.

So say you’re working on a document in Numbers on your Mac, and you have to move away from your desk, you can pick right where you left off by simply sliding up the Numbers icon that appears on your iPhone or iPad’s lock screen:

ios 8 os x handoff numbers

If the device is already unlocked, you’ll see the Handoff app in the multitasking switcher on the extreme left, as can be seen below:

handoff ios 8 unlocked

This works in the other direction as well. So an email draft you composed on your iPhone can be taken to your Mac. You’ll see a new Mail icon on the extreme left of the dock that also tells you that the origin of the activity is from your iPhone:

ios 8 os x handoff mail

What’s really cool about the feature is that you can not only trigger an app-open with the same data on another device, but it also keeps the instances of the app updated with the latest changes made on another device in real-time. You can see this in the video below, where dragging and repositioning a map on iPhone also updates the Maps app on the Mac simultaneously:


  • Handoff requires a Mac running OS X Yosemite and an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch running iOS 8.
  • Handoff’s proximity based features are powered by Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy, so if your Mac or iOS device doesn’t have Bluetooth 4.0, this won’t work.
  • Both devices should be signed into the same iCloud account.

Compatible Apps:

Apple has built-in Handoff compatibility in many of its own apps:

  • Numbers
  • Keynote
  • Pages
  • Mail
  • Safari
  • Maps
  • Messages
  • Reminders
  • Calendar
  • Contacts

Third-Party apps:

And of course, third-party developers will be able to build this into their own apps as well. So Simplenote will let you easily edit the same note on your Mac that you created on iOS, Pocket will let you read the same article, Spotify would let you resume the same song, Tweetbot will let you read the same tweet, and so on.

iOS Apps and websites

Not all your favorite iOS apps will have Mac apps too, but you still might be able to work on the same content in the iOS app via a website on the Mac. So Handoff also lets iOS apps take you to a website on the Mac, if they don’t have a native Mac app. This, of course, works in the other direction too, provided website developers include the additional code needed to support Handoff.

Security and Privacy

The requirement to be signed into iCloud with the same account is kept with privacy in mind, and ensures private, confidential information in emails, documents etc. isn’t seen by anyone with a iOS device or Mac nearby you. The iOS and Mac apps need to be made by the same developer, so no third-party with malicious intent can intercept the data flowing between the two platforms.


Tim Cook lead a huge management reorganisation in 2012 which involved firing Scott Forstall, and said that this was done to encourage collaboration between various teams at Apple including the iOS and Mac groups. At that time, this just seemed like PR-speak, but iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite are a sign that this was actually put into effect at Apple.

Handoff features have us very excited, especially with how third-party developers will use this feature. Let us know what you think of Handoff in the comments below.

iOS 8 Preview Series: