Handoff and Continuity: Compelling reasons for small business to go all Apple

Features in the latest versions of iOS and OS X could be reason enough for small businesses to go all in with Apple devices.

A lot is being written for the consumer about iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite. This is especially true given the release of new iPhones, iPads and MacBooks. Apple has refreshed its offerings across the board, and indications are that consumers are buying in.

Handoff Apple
Image: Apple

Two features in iOS 8 and Yosemite are particularly useful for small businesses. The Handoff and Continuity features that debuted in iOS 8, and then shortly after appeared in Yosemite, can be valuable tools for team communications.

Handoff puts the entire interplay among workers right on the desktop, no matter what devices were used while it was taking place.

Handoff and Continuity allow Macs, iPads, and iPhones to work seamlessly together, especially in terms of communication.

The shared communications include phone calls and text messaging. Once Handoff is enabled on all user devices, incoming phone calls ring on the iPhone, iPad and MacBook. It's the same for text messages. The recipient can respond on whatever device is in front of him.

Where Handoff shines for the small business is with text messaging. Although I've always felt that texting should be avoided for business communications , that line has blurred for me given the benefits with texting for businesses using Handoff.

Handoff text messaging
Image: Apple

When texting is limited to phones, there are disadvantages. Text messages on phones have a tendency to be terse, and often without needed detail to get the most out of the conversation. Plus, the conversation only exists on the phones of the participants.

That's no longer the case with workers using Handoff. Text conversations can be conducted over the iPhone, iPad, MacBook, or a combination of any or all of them. When a simple text conversation becomes more involved, workers can move to a device with hardware that facilitates detailed replies, which allows text messaging to move into the more useful territory of email.

The added benefit of using different Apple devices throughout a text conversation is that the conversation is recorded on all the users' devices. Can't remember what was said earlier? The entire text conversation is captured on the iPhone, iPad (iMessages) and, more importantly, the MacBook in the Messages app. That puts the entire interplay among workers right on the desktop, no matter what devices were used while it was taking place.

This is valuable for anyone, but especially for small businesses. It facilitates and encourages team interaction at the moment questions arise. No waiting until everyone gets back to the office; issues can be dealt with while front and center in everyone's minds.

Useful features of the new OSes from Apple don't stop with simple messaging. The Continuity feature in iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite, which works like Handoff, also adds value for the small business.

Continuity MacBook
Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet

If you start an email on the iPhone but decide that a more detailed communication is needed, once you're back in the office you can bring up the email on any other device with a simple swipe. A detailed response is just a tap away.

Let's say you start reviewing a spreadsheet using Numbers on the iPhone or iPad and decide you need to do some heavy revision. When you get back in your office, you’ll see the Numbers icon on the left of the Mac’s dock (see image right). Click it and instantly fire up Numbers with the spreadsheet open and in the same place you left off on the iOS device. This works with several Apple apps, and since it’s open to third-party developers, we should see lots more apps take advantage of Continuity in time.

To leverage the benefits of Handoff and Continuity, small businesses will need to go all in with Apple equipment. To do so, each organization will need to weigh the costs and other benefits of that decision. It's not for all companies, but many will find it to be a good fit. Individuals using personal equipment for BYOD can also get the same boost in productivity.

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Once all the equipment is in place, Handoff needs to be initialized on all devices. (The settings in iOS 8 are in "General/Handoff & Suggested Apps".) Activate Handoff on the iPhone and iPad that each employee uses. To receive phone calls on all devices, turn on iPhone Cellular Calls on the iPad in the Facetime setting.

For Handoff to work, all devices must be on the same wi-fi network. They should also all have Bluetooth turned on since that's how it seamlessly connects them. This is why walking into your office automatically connects the iPhone/iPad to the MacBook on the desk.

Once everything is set up properly, Handoff and Continuity work automatically. Messages and phone calls arrive on all connected devices and can be dealt with on whichever device is at hand. Documents open on an iOS device show up on the Mac's dock at the far left. Tapping the icon opens the document in the appropriate app at the same point in the file as on the iPhone or iPad.

Handoff is a valuable tool for all users, and especially those working in small businesses. The seamless connectivity it enables removes the device from the equation, and lets workers concentrate on the task at hand.

This article is not suggesting that all small businesses buy Apple equipment. There are a lot of questions that each business must answer before taking such a big step. It is simply intended to highlight the benefits that such a move can bring to companies.

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