Apple opens bridges between OSes with launch of Yosemite, iOS 8.1

Apple desktop and laptop computers will play better with iPads and iPhones via new Continuity integration features on iOS 8.1 and MacOS X Yosemite, available free, starting Monday for iOS 8.1 and today for Yosemite.

"With Continuity, your devices are aware of each other and allow you to work at any moment with the device that's right for that time," said Craig Federighi [cq], Apple's senior vice president of Software Engineering, during a livestreamed event where the company announced the availability of the two OSes.

In addition to working with the Continuity technology, iOS 8.1 will also support Apple Pay and fix the bugs that have plagued iOS 8.

When users place an iOS 8.1 device near a Mac computer, a technology called Handoff lets them pass an activity from one to the other, such as web browsing on Safari or working on an iWork document, picking up where they left off.

Another link between the OSes lets people make and receive iPhone calls using a Mac "as a speakerphone," as well as send and receive SMS and MMS messages from a Mac, he said.

A new feature called Instant Hotspot has been designed to make it very simple for a MacOS computer to tap into an iPhone cell data hotspot for Internet access "without even touching your phone in your bag," he said.

In most cases, Continuity features require devices to be logged into the same iCloud account and connected to the same Wi-Fi network, as well as paired via Bluetooth.

MacOS X Yosemite also has improvements to its user interface, search function, Mail app, Safari browser, iTunes software and the iWork suite. It also includes iCloud Drive, Apple's cloud storage and file sync and share system.

Yosemite is available now as a free upgrade from the Mac App store. According to Apple, Yosemite can be installed on all Macs introduced in 2009 or later, and in some 2007 and 2008 models.

Meanwhile, iOS 8.1, slated for Monday, will arrive about a month after the rocky launch of the ambitious iOS 8, a major new version which nonetheless stumbled out of the gate with a series of bugs, including one affecting its HealthKit app. An update released a week later, iOS 8.0.1, made matters significantly worse, causing some iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus devices to lose cellular connectivity and affecting the phones' Touch ID function.

Apple pulled iOS 8.0.1 the same day it was released and told affected users to roll back their devices to iOS 8. A day later, Apple issued iOS 8.0.2 to fix the biggest issues. But with all this upheaval coming barely eight days after the launch of iOS 8, it seems many users have opted to remain on iOS 7 until the smoke clears.

At Thursday's event, Federighi said that iOS 8 is running in about 48 percent of iOS devices. He said that Apple had listened closely to customers' "feedback" about iOS 8 and pledged that'll be reflected in iOS 8.1, which will be the first iteration of the OS that lets people in the U.S. use the Apple Pay mobile e-payment system.

As described by the company, Apple Pay doesn't collect transaction information that could be matched to the purchaser, nor does it store a user's purchase history. In lieu of storing card numbers on the device, Apple Pay uses a unique "device account number" that is "created, encrypted and stored" on a portion of the device that exists outside of the OS and isn't synced with iCloud.

Apple Pay supports credit and debit cards from American Express, MasterCard and Visa. More than 500 banks are signed up for the program, which is also supported by many major retailers, including BJ's Wholesale Club, Bloomingdale's, Foot Locker, Macy's, McDonald's, Office Depot, Sports Authority, Radio Shack, Subway, Walgreens and Toys R Us. Others coming on board this year include Staples, Walt Disney Parks and Urban Outfitters.

Apple has also secured support from a number of payment system vendors. Purchases can be made in physical stores and in apps. In stores, users hold their iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus and, in the future, Apple Watch devices close to a reader and put a finger on the Touch ID. For purchases via apps, they can also use the new iPad Air 2 and iPad Mini 3.

IOS 8.1 will also come with the Camera Roll feature, which Apple removed in iOS 8, angering many users, and with the new iCloud Photo Library sync functionality in a beta release.

Juan Carlos Perez covers enterprise communication/collaboration suites, operating systems, browsers and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Juan on Twitter at @JuanCPerezIDG.

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