Troubleshooting Continuity issues on iOS and Mac

By , Mar 15, 2016

continuity troubleshooting steps

Continuity and Handoff are features built into your iOS 9 devices and OS X El Capitan Macs that allow the devices to work more seamlessly together. With Continuity, you have instant access to a personal hotspot on demand, the ability to send and receive SMS messages and to make and take phone calls from your Mac, and the ability to pick up where you left off on one device from another.

Although they can work well at times, there is always the lingering chance that the functionality may not work right for you or connectivity may be flaky. In this piece, we’ll go over several troubleshooting steps you can take if your Continuity and Handoff experience isn’t going as expected.

Continuity isn’t working right

So you’ve tried over and over, and for whatever reason Continuity just isn’t working for you between your iPhone and your Mac. What should you do?

Check your system requirements

The first thing you should do is make sure you’re using a supported device. Although iOS 9 and OS X El Capitan support the feature, not all devices support it.

Apple notes that the following Macs are Continuity:

  • MacBook Air (mid 2012 and later)
  • MacBook Pro (mid 2012 and later)
  • MacBook (Retina, 12-inch, early 2015)
  • iMac (late 2012 and later)
  • Mac Mini (late 2012 and later)
  • Mac Pro (late 2013)

Apple also notes that the following iOS devices are compatible with Continuity:

  • iPhone 5 or later
  • iPad Pro
  • iPad fourth-generation
  • iPad Air or later
  • iPad mini or later
  • iPod touch fifth generation or later

Are you using an unsupported device? If so, that’s your issue. If not, move on to the next troubleshooting steps.

Troubleshooting Continuity on iOS

We’ll divide these troubleshooting steps between iOS and Mac to make things a little easier to follow; this way, you can check each device individually instead of sorting through the troubleshooting steps yourself. First, we’ll start with what you should do to troubleshoot issues on iOS.

Make sure you have a Wi-Fi and Bluetooth turned on

Some iPhone users never bother to make sure that they’re using Wi-Fi. I know this to be the case with my parents and grandparents, because when they are able to use the internet using a high-speed LTE connection, they think it means they’re on Wi-Fi. I’m sure other elderly people out there think the same way and you really have to be of the tech-savvy generation to know the difference between a cellular connection and a Wi-Fi connection.

Because a Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connection are required, you should make sure you have Wi-Fi and Bluetooth turned on in the first place. To do this, you can simply swipe up from the bottom of the screen to launch Control Center, and make sure the Wi-Fi toggle button and Bluetooth toggle button are both lit up:

Wi-Fi activated in Control Center in iOS

Make sure your iOS devices are on the same network

Even though both your iOS devices are connected to Wi-Fi, this doesn’t mean they’re both operating on the same Wi-Fi network. Often times, there are multiple Wi-Fi networks around you, and your devices will connect to any network they’re familiar with so long as it has the strongest signal.

Check to make sure that both devices are on the same Wi-Fi network, because this is an important requirement of Continuity.

On your iOS devices, go to the Settings app and just verify that you’re connected to the same Wi-Fi network by looking at the network name:

iOS Settings app Wi-Fi network name

Ensure you have Handoff enabled on your iOS devices

If Handoff isn’t working, make sure you have it turned on in the first place. A lot of times, the feature will be turned off by users who are wanting to preserve battery life, or users will turn on Low Power Mode, which disabled Handoff automatically to save power.

To check, go to Settings > General > Handoff & Suggested Apps and make sure the Handoff switch is turned on.

iOS Settings App Handoff Enabled

If after all these troubleshooting steps everything looks good, and Continuity still isn’t working right, then the problem might be on your Mac’s side. Below, we’ll go over Continuity troubleshooting steps for your Mac.

Make sure your carrier supports the Personal Hotspot feature

If your carrier doesn’t support Personal Hotspot on your iPhone, then you’re not going to be able to take advantage of Instant Hotspot on demand when you need internet access on your Mac or other iOS devices. You’ll be able to check and see if Personal Hotspot is supported by trying to turn it on from the Settings app. If it works, you’re good to go; if it doesn’t, then this could be the reason Instant Hotspot isn’t working for you and you might need to get in touch with your carrier to fix this.

iOS personal hotspot preferences pane

Check that text message forwarding is enabled on your iPhone

In order for SMS messages to appear on your Mac, you need to have text message forwarding enabled on your iPhone. You can also forward messages to any other iOS device with this feature. To make sure that text message forwarding is enabled, and to configure what devices text message forwarding will go to, open the Settings app on your iPhone and go to Messages > Text Message Forwarding and turn on the devices of yours that you want SMS messages to be forwarded to.

Enable text message forwarding on your iPhone

Troubleshooting Continuity on OS X

Next up, we’ll give you a few troubleshooting steps you can follow on your Mac if Continuity and its related features aren’t working and troubleshooting iOS didn’t fix the problem.

Ensure Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are turned on

Just like on your iOS devices, not having Wi-Fi or Bluetooth turned on may cause hiccups in Continuity-related features. You can simply click on the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth icons in your Menu Bar to ensure that they’re turned on – if one or the other is not, make sure you enable it at this time.

mac Wi-Fi and Blueooth in Menu Bar

Ensure that your iOS device and Mac are on the same Wi-Fi network

Some Continuity features only work when your iOS device and your Mac are on the same Wi-Fi network, such as using your Mac to take and make phone calls and using your Mac to send and receive SMS messages. If your devices are on different networks, then your Mac and iOS device won’t be able to find each other on the network and a connection will be unable to establish.

Open the Wi-Fi menu in your Mac’s Menu Bar and ensure that you’re on the same network as is displayed in the Wi-Fi preferences pane from the Settings app on your iOS device.

Mac OS X Wi-Fi Menu in Menu Bar

Make sure Handoff is enabled on your Mac

You may also want to make sure that your Mac has Handoff enabled. Sometimes, users turn this feature off not knowing what it is, and later forget to re-enable it when they want to try a new feature like Handoff. To make sure it’s enabled, open the System Preferences app from the  menu in your Menu Bar, and then open the General preferences pane and look to see whether or not Allow Handoff between this Mac and your iCloud devices is enabled. If it isn’t click on the checkbox to turn it on.

Allow Handoff between this Mac and your iCloud devices Mac System Preferences App

Make sure your Mac’s FaceTime app is set to take phone calls

Since your Mac’s FaceTime app is the app that handles incoming and outgoing phone calls on your Mac if your iPhone is connected to the same Wi-Fi network, it makes sense to check to make sure FaceTime is configured to handle phone calls if this part of Continuity isn’t working for you.

To do this, launch the FaceTime app on your Mac and then go to FaceTime > Preferences in your Mac’s Menu Bar. From this menu, you’ll ensure that the Calls From iPhone option is enabled.

FaceTime app OS X Calls From iPhone turned on

Sign out and back in to your iCloud account on your Mac

If all else fails, try signing out of your iCloud account on your Mac and then signing back in. iCloud plays a critical role in many Continuity features, so any kind of bug related to it may impact your experience.

To do this, open the System Preferences app from the  menu in your Mac’s Menu Bar and click on the iCloud preferences pane. From here, click on the Sign Out button, then attempt to log back in again.

Sign out of iCloud on your Mac

Wrapping up

With all these troubleshooting steps at your disposal, you should now have the ability to find out why Continuity features aren’t working on your devices. If they’re not, you can always try turning your devices off and on again.

have you tried turning it off and on again gif


If you found this tutorial useful, consider dropping us a comment below. Is there a tutorial you’d like to see featured on iDB? If so, let us know!

  • Share:
  • Follow:
  • Linton Findlay

    is there such thing as handoff between Iphone and iPad? ive never seen it work :/

    • Yes, it is a thing, I believe it only works though while your “from” device is on and in the app for it, to show as “HandOverAble”

    • eilfurz

      yes – e.g. open safari on your iphone, then sometimes the safari icon appears at the bottom left of your ipad. this won’t work, if you don’t have a lock-screen or if you use a smart cover that automatically unlocks your ipad. sometimes it just won’t work with no apparent reason, though.

  • Viv

    Can you do a similar article on AirDrop? I can never get it to work between my iPhone 5s and 2015 Macbook Pro. It works intermittently on some Wi-Fi networks but not reliably.

  • Mr_Coldharbour

    HandOff / Continuity works WHEN it wants to between my iPhone 6S Plus (iOS 9.2.1) and rMBP 15″ mid-2015 model running OS X 10.11.3. AirDrop works just fine but not HandOff. Works sporadically. Did every single trouble-shooting step in the aforementioned article even went a step further to make sure I trashed my Bluetooth plist file just in ANY case the one that shipped with my El-Cap update may have been broken. To the point where I got in touch with an Apple supervisor (senior) and did the screen sharing session to make sure everything was working correctly and even he was at a loss, not that I needed his input because I know my way around iOS and OS X but JUST IN CASE! The only thing left to do was to restore my Mac back to zero, and no chance I was going to do that just for a feature I was curious about to see works or not. So now it works WHEN it wants to. Marco Arment and co are right, software quality has been appalling on OS X since Mavericks.

    • eilfurz

      same here, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, using the same (time machine) network at the same position in the room.
      air drop is even worse for me.

      yes, apple-software quality has declined, or rather not kept up with the increasing complexity. maybe it’s because tim cook is a hardware/supply guy and doesn’t realize that software resources probably don’t scale as linear as hardware, when you add new functions.

      • Mr_Coldharbour

        I share your thoughts on software quality not scaling in a linear fashion as hardware, as in, it’s not as straightforward or “predictable” as hardware. Definitely hasn’t kept up I agree.