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Use iOS and OS X to Keep in Touch with Distant Family Members

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Dan Moren, co-author of The Connected Apple Home: Discover the Rich Apple Ecosystem of the Mac, iPhone, iPad, and AppleTV, explains how to take advantage of advanced communication features built into the latest iOS and OS X updates. Whether you want to send or receive text messages, phone calls, or photos/videos, your Apple device makes it not just possible, but easy - and free!
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With family members often spread all over the country—if not the world—staying in touch can be tricky, even in this age of advanced communications. Fortunately, your Mac, iPad, and iPhone can make connecting with disparate family members a lot easier, whether you prefer text, audio, or video. Even if some family members don’t use Apple products, it’s no problem. Let’s take a look at some of the easiest ways to keep your familial unit tight knit, no matter how far apart you are.

Immediate Connection: iMessage

One of the best ways to stay in touch is with Apple’s iMessage service. If you’re talking to other family members who use Apple devices, using iMessage is a no-brainer—it’s compatible with every Mac and iOS device, and it’s totally free. iMessage also has a lot to offer in addition to sending text messages.

Sending and Receiving Texts

Sending a text using iMessage is pretty straightforward. Simply launch the Messages app and hit the new message button at the top of the list of conversations. Enter a recipient (or multiple recipients) in the To field, enter your message in the text box, and tap Send (iOS device) or press the Return key (Mac). Your message appears as a blue chat bubble on the right side of the screen; if your contact responds, a gray bubble with the response message appears on the left side of the screen, as shown in Figure 1. (If the recipient isn’t on an Apple device, your chat bubble will be green—more on that in a bit.)

Figure 1

Figure 1 In iMessage chats, your chat bubbles show up as blue, and your contact’s are gray.

By default, Messages uses the phone number for your iPhone and your Apple ID as the addresses for people to reach you, but you can add other email addresses (see Figure 2). On iOS, visit Settings > Send & Receive and tap Add Another Email. On the Mac, open the Messages app and choose Preferences from the Messages menu. Click on the Accounts pane and select your iMessage account in the list; then click on the Add Email button.

Figure 2

Figure 2 iMessage uses your iPhone’s number and/or Apple ID as the default addresses at which you can be reached, but you can add more.

In both places, you’ll also notice a “Start new conversations from” option. Be careful to select the same address on every device that uses iMessage. This trick will keep your conversations in sync between devices, and ensure that you don’t end up with multiple chats with the same contact.

Sending and Receiving Pictures

You could send a message of a thousand words, or you could send a single image. Sending an image with Messages is easy, no matter whether you’re on a Mac or an iOS device.

On a Mac, just drag-and-drop a picture file into the window; it should transfer instantly.

If you’re using an iOS device, use any of these techniques (see Figure 3):

  • Tap the camera icon to the left of the text field to select one of your recent pictures.
  • Tap the camera icon and then tap Photo Library to browse your whole collection of pictures.
  • Use the Take Photo or Video option to use the camera right then and there. Shortcut: Tap and hold on the camera icon to bring up an option to shoot a picture or video.
Figure 3

Figure 3 When sending a picture or video, you can choose a recent shot, select from your entire Photo Library, or even take a photo or capture a video right there and then.

Sending and Receiving Audio

iOS 8 introduced audio messages. Tap and hold on the microphone icon to the right of the text box; the device will start recording immediately. When you’re done recording, either slide your finger to the up-arrow icon to send the message, or to the X icon to discard it (see Figure 4).

Figure 4

Figure 4 Audio presents a quick way to send a message when you don’t want to type. Tap and hold on the microphone icon to record a snippet.

When a contact sends you an audio message, you can tap the play button to listen to it, and then decide whether you want to keep it or let it expire. (You can change the expiration options on iOS under Settings > Messages.)

Texting with Other Platforms

It’s likely that somebody in your family doesn’t use an Apple product. If you notice when texting a particular family member that your chat bubbles are green instead of blue, that’s because you’re sending a traditional text message via the Short Message Service (SMS). Depending on your phone plan, you might pay a certain amount of money per text sent and received, or the text may be charged to a limited pool of messages available to you—200 per month, for example.

Before iOS 8.1 and OS X Yosemite, you could only receive non-iMessage text messages on an iPhone, as they were sent over the phone network. However, those updates added a feature called Text Message Forwarding, which—as the name suggests—lets your iPhone forward those messages to your other iOS devices on iOS 8.1 or later, Macs on OS X Yosemite or later.

To enable this functionality, make sure that all your devices are logged into the same iMessage account, and you have at least one email address associated and with a checkmark next to it. Then go to Settings > Messages on your iPhone and tap Text Message Forwarding. You should see a switch to enable the forwarding feature; slide that to the On position and iOS will list all your other devices associated with this Apple ID, as shown in Figure 5.

Figure 5

Figure 5 Using an iPhone running iOS 8.1 or later, you can forward your standard SMS text messages to other devices running iOS 8 or OS X Yosemite.

Enable the devices on which you want the forwarding to work, and you’ll be prompted for a code, which should appear on the device you’re trying to enable. Once that’s done, you should start receiving (and being able to reply to) text messages on all your devices—not just your iPhone. However, you won’t get some of the iMessage-specific features, including audio messages, videos, and delivery receipts.

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