Apple has made some changes to its core inter-device sharing protocols in iOS 8, including AirPlay and AirDrop. AirDrop, the simple file sharing mechanism introduced in OS X Lion and iOS 7, now works between Macs and iOS devices; and AirPlay, the video and audio streaming protocol that plays back music and movies from iPhone, Macs, etc. on Apple TV and approved accessories, will apparently work without requiring a shared network once the update hits.
This is part of a larger effort to make devices work together without making end users have to worry about what transit technologies are involved. The new Continuity features in both iOS 8 and OS X 10.10 Yosemite serve a similar purpose and operate on similar principles. Apple uses a combination of shared network, proximity signals and iCloud account identification to make those work, but the point is that in use, these underlying elements are mostly invisible to users; to borrow the old Apple maxim, “it just works.”
We’ve become used to the necessity of a shared network as the backdrop for tasks across devices: The local network as an analogy for ‘home’ is almost taken for granted at this point, as is its role as the interstitial material tying together our growing web of connected devices.
The problem is, it’s increasingly an outdated metaphor – users want sharing that extends beyond their network. The nexus point of a web of personal gadgets sensibly should be the person who owns them, too, and not the crutch of a single access point to bring them together. Apple’s multiple approaches to greater gadget interoperability still use the local network where it makes sense, but it doesn’t use it exclusively. This is about the right transit tech for the right moment, and it prefaces a future where we don’t care how our devices are connected, and instead just take for granted that they are when and where we need them to be.