An Apple device can tell many stories: One person can pick up an iPhone and see an extraordinary communication device; another, the perfect pocket camera. But whether you use it for creative endeavors, consumption, or some mix of both, there’s always been some inherent measure of compromise.
We write emails on our iPhone because it’s convenient to not have to pull out a laptop, even when we get to a place where that laptop is easily accessible. We drag computers on airplanes because we need their data, even if we don’t need them. We concede the best experience in lieu of trying to make one device do everything—whether or not they’re the right tool for the job.
I do this constantly. I’ll spend 15 minutes fighting with autocorrect on my iPhone to chat with a friend, all the while sitting in front of my MacBook Air. I’ll drag the computer across the house to read an article rather than pick up an iPad and load the same tab there. Currently, there are a few tools that enable cross-device usage, but at our cores, we’re stubborn creatures: If it’s not easy, we’re not doing it. We’d rather compromise.
Connecting the dots
Apple has never been the company that likes compromise. Apple strives for perfection and “it just works.” We’ve seen it time and time again: The company takes its time shaping and perfecting features and devices that its competitors have ignored or put together half-heartedly. The iPod. iTunes. iPhone. iPad. OS X. Multitasking. Retina screens. Swift.
That’s not to say every Apple product or service comes out of the gate fully-formed: There are plenty of ideas and services that need further sanding and shaping to truly reach their potential. (Ahem. Hey there, iMessage.) In spite of those initial stumbles, Apple’s stated goal has always been to make the best experience for its customers—to help their users tell the best stories they can, with the best tools.
But our stories are expanding. We’re no longer tethered to desks and Ethernet connections; we’re free to move our computing out into the world at large. And Apple has in part helped us get there—the iPhone and iPad, paired with a cellular connection, have given us a new playing field to explore.
But how do we tie these stories together? How do we unify our experiences out in the world with the work we do at home? It’s the question Web startups and social giants alike have been trying to answer. It’s the question that Apple hopes to use the new Continuity feature introduced at this week’s Worldwide Developers Conference to fulfill.
A framework for the future
We’re no longer living our lives chained to a single device: We’re in “the cloud.” We’re online, we’re inside our projects, in our emails, living in this strange space between devices.
But since we do not, as of yet, live in a freakish sci-fi future where we can communicate wirelessly with the cloud, we need devices to help us facilitate this connection.
And it’s here where Apple shines: It’s the company that obsesses over a user’s connection to technology. It’s spent the last 30 years making the personal computer, phone, and tablet essential to building your connected life. And from the looks of it, it’s going to spend the next 30 years unifying those devices to let you tell your story wherever you may be, whatever you’re using.
With Continuity, Apple is building a framework for the future: a place where each of its devices, current and hypothetical, can exist in its own space, doing what it does best. It’s a place where you can fit all your work on an iPhone or iPad, but why should you? Why compromise, when instead you can work on whatever device is best for the task at hand?
We’ve seen Apple experiment with this over the last few years in a number of spaces already: cross-platform GarageBand projects. Messages. AirPlay. iCloud Tabs. These were experiments; entreaties into a hypothetical world where users could move from device to device depending on the task at hand, rather than cramming everything in one space.
With iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite, the Continuity framework will continue to bring this hypothetical world into our real one. Swipe your news from your iPad to your Mac. Answer calls on your computer. Start emails one place and finish them on another.
We don’t know yet whether Continuity will “just work”—keynote demonstrations are one thing, active usage by millions of users is quite another. We’ve seen the company stumble and fail in this arena. But it’s been laying the groundwork for this shift for several years, and even if it’s not perfect, there’s room to grow and improve.
Apple has made a promise here: The future of computing should be free of file limitations and processor speeds, of screen sizes and portability. It should render the hardware invisible and put the focus on the work you’re doing.
And it’s a future the company can breathe and build in. It’s a future where the sales numbers of the Mac or the popularity of the Next Big Thing don’t matter; instead, it’s about the Apple ecosystem as a whole—the users who hook in, and the stories they want to tell.
If Continuity works as well as Apple promises, those are going to be some insanely great tales.