Advertisement

An Introduction to Bluetooth, Mac and iPhone

by
Student iconAre you a student? Get a yearly Tuts+ subscription for $45 →

Bluetooth has been around since before the days of feature phones, having been developed in the 1990s, and it has come a long way from just being used in oversized handsfree earpieces.

 If you want to wirelessly connect your iPhone to your Mac, Bluetooth is one of the easiest ways to do it. As long as you leave Bluetooth enabled on both your devices, they’ll automatically connect whenever they’re in range of each other.

In this tutorial, I’ll explain what Bluetooth is, how to use it and show you a few practical uses of Bluetooth to wirelessly connect a Mac and an iPhone.

Bluetooth Explained

Bluetooth is a method for wirelessly sending data between different devices and it is used in many modern computers and phones. Bluetooth connects a Mac to a Magic Mouse or an Apple Wireless Keyboard; it connects an iPhone to a handsfree car system and–the focus of this tutorial–a Mac to an iPhone.

Bluetooth works via low-powered radio waves from between devices. Each device has a maximum range of around 10 metres (30 feet). The current Bluetooth protocol used in modern Apple devices–Bluetooth low energy–allows devices to connect over Bluetooth with minimal impact on battery life. Earlier implementations of Bluetooth required more power and could drain batteries if left enabled all day.

When two devices are in range of each other it is possible to pair them so that they connect automatically in the future. The next time you bring those two devices close, they will automatically connect. This is how your Macbook connects automatically to your Magic Mouse when you bring it near.

Bluetooth operates in a fairly heavily used part of the radio spectrum. It, however, uses a number of clever tricks to ensure that different devices won’t interfere with each other. It even allows multiple devices to connect–up to eight–so you can have a Mac connected to an Apple Wireless Keyboard, a Magic Mouse, an iPhone, a pair of Bluetooth headphones and still have options!

Bluetooth Low Energy and Supported Devices

Bluetooth has been available on the iPhone since the first generation, though it used an older version of the protocol. The same is true of older Macs. Some of the solutions in this tutorial require Bluetooth low energy which means that they don’t work with older devices.

iPhones from the iPhone 4s onwards support Bluetooth low energy. The following Macs support Bluetooth low energy: 

  • 2011 MacBook Air and later, 
  • 2012 MacBook Pro and later, 
  • 2012 iMac and later, 
  • 2011 Mac Mini and later, and
  • 2013 Mac Pro. 

If a particular solution works with older devices, I’ll draw your attention to it.

Connecting a Mac and an iPhone

An iPhone and a Mac will not pair by themselves. You need to use an app that requires that an iPhone and a Mac be connected over Bluetooth to facilitate the connection. All the apps in this tutorial will guide you through that setup. 

The first time you connect an iPhone and a Mac, in an app, you may need to use the iPhone to initiate the connection. In the future, as long as you have Bluetooth active on the iPhone you will be able to connect using the Mac ...if they do not connect automatically.

Use an iPhone to Unlock a Mac

Last year, the app Knock created a stir by enabling the unlocking of a Mac by knocking twice on an iPhone. Surprisingly, it actually lives up to its promise!

As long as you are logged in, and it is just a lock screen rather than a login screen, Knock allows you tap the iPhone to autofill the password on the Mac; without ever having to open the app. It works using Bluetooth low energy which means it can be left running all day and it won’t drain the battery.

Setting up Knock is straightforward. Download and install both the Mac client app and the iOS app. The Mac client is free; the iOS app is $3.99.

Ensure Bluetooth is enabled on both the Mac and the iPhone.

Tip: To enable Bluetooth on an iPhone, swipe up to access Control Center. Tap on the Bluetooth icon if it is greyed out; if it is white, Bluetooth is on. On the Mac, click on the Bluetooth icon in the menu bar and select Turn Bluetooth On. If you don’t see it in the menu bar, go to the Bluetooth preference pane in System Preferences and check Show Bluetooth in menu bar

Setting up Knock on iPhone.

Open the Knock app on both the iPhone and the Mac. You need to give the iOS app permission to use Bluetooth when the app is not active and access to your location for Knock to work. Agree with all the prompts given by iOS.

When the iOS app is configured, it is time to sort the Mac side of things. Follow the instructions provided by Knock. When prompted, enter your password. Knock autofills this to log in rather than work around OS X’s security features.

Setting up Knock on Mac.

The next time you see a lock screen, there will be a rotating green circle around your user image. When Knock detects your iPhone and pairs it with the Mac, the green circle goes solid. Once it does, knock twice to log in. It’s that simple.

The circle around my face will go solid green when my Mac and iPhone pair.

Use Your Mac to Type on Your iPhone

In a previous tutorial I showed how to use Command-C to copy text and images between a Mac and an iPhone. One solution not considered, was using a Mac’s keyboard to type directly into an iPhone.

It has long been possible to use a wireless keyboard to type on an iPhone. With a Bluetooth connection between the two devices, and an app like Type2Phone, you can type directly to your iPhone using a Mac’s keyboard.

Type2Phone requires no iOS app, nor does it specifically require Bluetooth low energy. Consequently, it will work will all iPhones since the 3GS and almost any Mac. Download Type2Phone from the Mac App Store. It costs $4.99.

To connect an iPhone for the first time, open Type2Phone on the Mac. Ensure Bluetooth is enabled on both devices. Navigate to Settings > Bluetooth on your iPhone and select the Mac, from the list of devices, to start a connection. Once the Mac and iPhone are paired, anything you type into the Type2Phone app on the Mac will appear on the iPhone.

Type2Phone on Mac.

You can also use Type2Phone to send other kinds of key-presses not on the iOS keyboard. For example, you can move the input cursor using your Mac’s arrow keys or select all using Command-A.

Type2Phone on iOS: Connecting, typing and using keyboard shortcuts.

So that you are able to use the Mac normally, Type2Phone disconnects from the iPhone when you switch to a different application. To reconnect, switch back to Type2Phone and select the iPhone from the dropdown menu, or just choose Reconnect.

Use an iPhone to Make Calls From a Mac

Last summer I worked in a co-working space where the phone signal was awful except for one spot over by the window. Clearly, I couldn’t spend all day standing over there just in case my phone rang. Instead, I used a clever little app connected my iPhone and Mac thus enabling me to make and receive calls on my iPhone, using my Mac. That app was Dialogue.

Dialogue allows you make and receive calls on a Mac by routing everything through your iPhone. When it’s running, if you receive a phone call, the Mac will ring and you can answer the call there. You can speak using the built in microphone, or a headset. You can also make calls from the Mac using the menu bar icon.

Making a call with Dialogue.

Dialogue, like Type2Phone, uses an older Bluetooth protocol so will work with earlier generations of iPhones. Similarly, it only needs the Mac app.

Download Dialogue from the Mac App Store. Navigate to Settings > Bluetooth on your iPhone to make it discoverable to the Mac. Open Dialogue and select Connect from the dropdown menu. Select the iPhone from the list of available devices and allow them a few seconds to pair.

The iPhone now treats the Mac as a Bluetooth headset. To make a call using Dialogue, enter the name of one of your contacts, or a phone number, in the menu bar app’s search field. When the person you want to call is suggested press Return to start the call. You can now communicate using the Mac’s microphone and speakers as if they were the iPhone’s mic and speaker!

Using the menu bar icon to start a call.

If you receive a phone call whilst Dialogue is running, you’ll get a pop up on screen giving you the option to answer or reject the call.

Tip: If the iPhone is connected to the Mac when you don’t want it to be, you get the choose which speaker you want to use whenever you make or receive a call. Select iPhone from the menu that pops up on the iPhone and your it will behave normally.

Conclusion

In this tutorial I’ve explained Bluetooth is and demonstrated different ways in which you can connect your iPhone and Mac. In particular, I’ve explained how to unlock the Mac by knocking on an iPhone, how to use the Mac as an external keyboard for an iPhone and how to make calls from a Mac using an iPhone as a bridge.

The examples that I have shown are just scratching the surface of what can be achieved with Bluetooth, Mac and iPhone. If you have any great ideas please let me know in the comments.

Advertisement