One of the hardest things about walking away from the iPhone is giving up how well it works with the Mac. Paired together, your incoming text messages and phone calls all pop up on your desktop, where you can respond to them, and opened websites can be beamed from mobile to desktop Safari. It's a wonderful convenience that, among other things, allows me to text people at work without being seen toying with a phone.
Messages and notifications should appear on whichever device you're using
But I gave that up last year when I swapped my iPhone 5S for a Nexus 5X. Google has no way of pushing your calls, messages, or any notifications from your phone to your desktop (unless you port your number to Project Fi). So every time my phone buzzes at work, I have to pull it out to see what's going on. Google should have a syncing solution so I don't have to do that.
Android fans will tell you there's a solution: the app Pushbullet. Pushbullet is basically a must-have for anyone with an Android phone. Any time a notification pops up on your phone, Pushbullet will recreate it on your desktop. It lets you see exactly what's going on, and it's even supposed to let you send text messages from the desktop and sync files and snippets of text between devices.
Pushbullet's Chrome extension. Image credit: Pushbullet.
But in use, Pushbullet is far from perfect. Its desktop app didn't work for me, so I moved over to its Chrome extension. Its Chrome extension didn't work for me, but then, magically, a week later, it started mirroring things. And while it's supposed to let you send text messages, I’ve found that functionality to either be finicky or failed. Its notifications are bulky and intrusive; and, ideally, I'd rather not give a third party permission to see every message popping up on my phone. Don't get me wrong: I'm going to keep using it. But only until something better comes along.
Google could offer a feature like Continuity on every platform
More than anything, Pushbullet shows that there's an obvious way for Google to match — and even beat — Apple's iPhone-to-Mac Continuity feature: Chrome. Google may not have a widely used desktop operating system, but it does have a widely used browser (which, yes, is also sometimes an operating system). Chrome is on OS X, Windows, and Linux. According to NetMarketShare, it's used on just over one-third of desktop computers, second only to Internet Explorer. So Google could give Android phone owners the same type of experience that Continuity does, and it wouldn't even matter what computer they're using. They'd just have to use Chrome.
There are some hurdles. Apple is able to sync calls, text messages, and video chats because it already has those features built into the Mac's Messages app, which uses the same backend services as the iPhone's Messages app. Google has web apps that can do all of these things, too, but they're disparate services that aren't necessarily tied into Android's messaging app or dialer. If Google's plan to unify its communications around Hangouts had gone further, flipping that switch might be a lot easier.
Apple's Continuity feature mirrors a phone call on the Mac. Image credit: Apple.
Google does have some syncing functionality already built. Its backend notifications service is able to send alerts to both Android and Chrome, so it shouldn’t have a problem with mirroring (for its own apps, at least — third parties may deliver notifications through other means). And if you're signed into Chrome on multiple devices, the browser will automatically sync saved passwords, your history and open tabs, bookmarks, autofill settings, and more. Those are all browser-related items, though; Google has yet to add any direct syncing of information from Android.
There's reason to think that a feature like this could arrive in the near future. Google is starting to merge Android and Chrome OS, so the prospect of a unified notifications system doesn't sound all that farfetched. Whether you'd actually be able to interact with those notifications is another question — Google would need to better integrate its web services with Android — but a native, reliable notification system would be a fine start.