At WWDC, continuity across devices is the theme

Apple is now moving in new directions -- and beyond where Steve Jobs might have gone

Last week, I predicted that a big focus of Apple's WWDC keynote would be on platforms that aggregated data, tasks and functionality from a range of solutions and across Apple's various products and services. And that theme played a prominent role in yesterday's keynote.

Apple's "Continuity" initiative is all about using the right device for the right task at the right moment and shifting between devices seamlessly. It very much leverages all of Apple's solutions to create a very smooth flow from iPhone to Mac to iPad and, in some instances, to iCloud.

Working across all your Apple products

One of the major features under the Continuity umbrella is AirDrop, Apple's self-configuring content-sharing system that has been available in OS X since Mountain Lion's release two years ago and in iOS 7 since last fall. There was only one glaring deficiency: Macs could only detect and share files with other Macs and iOS devices could only see/share with other iOS devices. The big news is that AirDrop will work between iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite -- both due out this fall. One of the biggest advantages of AirDrop, in both its Mac and iOS iterations, is that the technology functions completely without any configuration.

Macs and iOS devices won't even need to be on the same network to share content -- as long as they're near each other, they can detect and establish ad-hoc access. This allows for immensely easy collaboration at a moment's notice and is so much simpler than signing onto a corporate network share, attaching a file to an email, or using a flash drive to transfer information.

Building on that effortless ease-of-sharing is Handoff, a new feature that will allow users to, well, hand off a task from one device to another. You can, for instance, begin composing an email on an iPhone and then finish the process on a Mac. Handoff really demonstrates, perhaps more than anything else that Apple announced at the keynote, the value of its ecosystem and the company's focus on delivering an end-to-end user experience.

Handoff isn't the only way Apple showcased this experience by a long shot. The ability to relay text messages and voice calls (complete with caller ID and the contact information associated with the caller) from an iPhone to a Mac, or to answer or initiate calls on a Mac -- using an iPhone or making the call directly from the Mac -- give us another peek at the unified vision, centered around the user, that appears to be Apple's goal moving forward.

Another feature Apple execs highlighted, sure to be a hit with road warriors and those of us who occasionally work in coffee shops, is an automatic hotspot feature. Using your iPhone as a hotspot isn't new, of course, and it was available on Android well before it was available on an Apple device, but Apple has made using it completely effortless. There's no need to configure a network or pair your Mac to your iPhone using Bluetooth; the connection simply occurs automatically with your iPhone appearing in the network menu in the Yosemite menubar.

This integrated experience doesn't stop at the individual level. Apple also announced family-sharing capabilities that create a seamless experience across multiple devices and Apple IDs, in part based on the credit card associated with those accounts and devices. The feature allows sharing of iTunes purchases, photos and photo streams, reminders and calendars. It also appears to be Apple's effort to put the in-app purchases scandal -- in which kids spent hundreds or thousands of dollars without their parents' knowledge -- behind it. Purchases made by minors now require parental approval and parents will get a request alert on their devices asking for just that.

Crafting new platforms

While a major theme was Apple as the platform, the company is also building out new platforms with third-party partners as well. These include the anticipated home automation and health tracking platforms as well as some unexpected additions.

HomeKit

HomeKit is the name for Apple's new home automation platform. To be clear, Apple isn't getting into the home automation game itself. Instead, it's working with a range of companies already building iOS-compatible smart-home devices. What HomeKit offers is secure pairing and control of various devices as well as the ability to group these devices into collections of devices called scenes. Scenes are designed as a way to automate several devices with a single command like locking the house and turning out all the lights when going to bed.

One of the advantages of this approach is that consumers can dip their toe in the home automation waters one device at a time. Another is that some device commands and scenes can be invoked verbally through Siri, which in iOS 8 gains an always-listening option such as that available on Android devices.

Computerworld's Ken Mingis and IDG Enterprise's Keith Shaw discuss what they liked (and didn't) at Apple's Worldwide Developer's Conference keynote.

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