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  1. Computer Skills
  2. Productivity
Computers

How to Use an Android Smartphone With Your Mac

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Year upon year, Android has proven its value as an alternative to Apple's iOS. Android's 79-per cent marketshare worldwide means a fair number of Mac users also use Android phones. This tutorial covers what it's like to be in that camp, and what apps and services are available to help make these obverse devices work together.

Managing Files

Early in Android's iterations, working with files was on an Android device from a Mac was next to impossible. You'd have to hope against odds that either the phone's manufacturer had built a specialized driver or the phone would be recognized as a storage medium by the generic driver included with Android's developer toolset.

More recently, Android File Transfer has become a handy tool for interfacing with your phone from your Mac. It's very basic, but it allows reliable access to the files on your Android device from your Mac and the ability to drag-and-drop files from your computer to the phone. It does require that your phone be on Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) or newer.

Its no iTunes but the Android File Transfer tool can provide a basic interface between your Android phone and Mac computer
It's no iTunes, but the Android File Transfer tool can provide a basic interface between your Android phone and Mac computer.

Because Android does not come with an all-in-one application to manage your media and data in the way that Apple does, Android File Transfer serves an important role. It's a decent way to do things like add music or other media files or backup your phone's contents by copying its files to a folder in Finder.

Once the files are on your Mac, you can use the respective format-friendly apps to modify or save them (ex. iPhoto for photos, iTunes for music, etc.) or move them to a different device.

Pictures, Wired

Understandably, dragging folders from your phone to computer, then importing them manually into iPhoto is not exactly a beautiful solution. Thankfully, if you are running Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich or newer, iPhoto should automatically recognize your phone as a camera when connecting via USB; it just requires changing a USB setting on the phone.

If you are on Android 40 check your settings menu for the USB protocol or USB computer connection If you choose Camera PTP iPhoto should recognize it automatically
If you are on Android 4.0+, check your settings menu for the USB protocol or USB computer connection. If you choose Camera (PTP), iPhoto should recognize it automatically.

When you connect an Android 4.0+ device (Ice Cream Sandwich) to your computer, it typically defaults to Media Transfer Protocol (MTP), the Windows equivalent of the Android Transfer Tool.

Change that USB connection to Picture Transfer Protocol (PTP)--either in the Settings > USB computer connection or by selecting it from the status bar while connected to the computer--and iPhoto should open automatically with a prompt to import the images shot from your phone as it does when recognizing a camera.

Tip: This may not work on all stock Android builds as the default camera application uses a naming convention for image files that is not recognizable by iPhoto. Most manufacturers have remedied this in their builds. Alternatively, you can use a different camera app as a workaround.

Pictures, Wireless

If you don't have a USB cable handy, Dropbox is your best bet. The service's Android app offers the option to automatically upload photos taken on the device to the cloud every time the phone connects to a Wi-Fi network.

Set the Dropbox app up on your Mac as well, and you have a consistent folder from which to import into iPhoto. There is even a (mostly) painless way to have Automator regularly tap into the Dropbox folder to do the importing for you.

Dropbox for Android has an option to allow automatic Camera Upload over Wi-fi This can be useful as a wireless way to get your photos onto your Mac desktop if you already use Dropbox for Mac
Dropbox for Android has an option to allow automatic Camera Upload over Wi-fi. This can be useful as a wireless way to get your photos onto your Mac desktop, if you already use Dropbox for Mac.

iTunes, Meet Google Music

You can use Android Transfer Tool to drag music to your phone, but assuming you have a data plan, you'd probably be better suited using Google Music Manager. Google freely offers the ability to upload up to 20GB of music to the cloud for access anywhere via your Mac or your Android phone.

The Google Music app makes it easy to navigate your library, and songs can even be made available offline.

Google Music Manager can make moving your music to your Android phone an easy process It allows for up to 20gb of free song storage and can even automatically upload newly added songs
Google Music Manager can make moving your music to your Android phone an easy process. It allows for up to 20gb of free song storage and can even automatically upload newly added songs.

Tip: This will not work with older DRM-protected music. If that affects a lot of your library, follow this tutorial about using iTunes Match to remove the DRM.

Bon Voyage, iCloud

If you choose an Android device, you can give up on using iCloud for most-everything except Find My Mac.

You will, however, find alternative solace in Google's ecosystem for most of iCloud's functionality, and Apple has largely added Google services to its two core productivity apps: Apple Mail and Calendar.

You can sync each app to Google's services--by adding Gmail and Google Calendar as new accounts within the app--and in doing so, can live in relative harmony amidst your competing platforms.

To do so, click the respective app's menu, then click Accounts... and choose Google. After adding your account, if you add an event using Apple Calendar, it is immediately added to the calendar app on your phone and vice-versa. In mail, deleting an email from your Android device will move it to the Trash on your Apple Mail app. It's refreshingly un-tedious.

Sync your Google Mail and Calendar with your Macs Apple Mail and Calendar by adding your Google credentials in the Accounts area of each app
Sync your Google Mail and Calendar with your Mac's Apple Mail and Calendar by adding your Google credentials in the Accounts area of each app.

Web Browsing

It may seem obvious, but if you're using an Android phone, you should use Google's Chrome browser on both your Mac and your Android phone (the default Android browser is not Chrome). Doing so unlocks a few features that can make your life easier between ecosystems.

First, your bookmarks, browsing history, and autofill passwords will automatically sync between devices.

Second, you can use the Chrome to Mobile extension to push websites directly to your mobile device from your computer.

Chrome to Mobile is an innovative Chrome extension that can push webpages directly from your Mac desktop to your Android smartphone
Chrome to Mobile is an innovative Chrome extension that can push webpages directly from your Mac desktop to your Android smartphone.

The Future of Cross-Platform Bliss

Apple has recognized the Google users among its customer base and made strides to support them. Using an Apple computer and an Android phone will likely never offer the seamless experience as using an iPhone, but it's now easier than ever.

Moving forward, be wary of the apps where you plan to invest your time to ensure each has a cross-platform mentality. Some popular ones include Dropbox, Google Drive, Evernote, Simplenote, Wunderlist, and Google Chrome. Hopefully, the future continues toward platform-agnostic apps so users can switch their OS at will. Until then, use this guide to make your Android more collaborative with your Mac.

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