Instant Hotspot My Ass Apple’s super slow and unreliable “Instant Hotspot” feature

Context: For many years, it has been a bit fussy to connect a Mac to the Internet using your iPhone’s cellular data connection (a “hotspot”). It worked, but not smoothly.

The promise of Yosemite (Mac OS 10.11): In the fall of 2014, Apple introduced the “Instant Hotspot” feature to slickify your hotspot. (Sounds dirty!) In Apple’s own words:

No Wi‑Fi? No problem. With Instant Hotspot, your Mac can remotely activate the Personal Hotspot on your iPhone when they are near each other. Simply select your iPhone from the Wi-Fi menu on your Mac and you’ll be online in seconds. You don’t even have to take your iPhone out of your pocket or bag.

That last bit really cracks me up. As if!

The %@$*!& lame reality: Instant Hotspot just doesn’t work. Problems with Instant Hotspot are the rule, not the except. I am watching this happen right now…

So here I am in the park with my Mac and my iPhone and I want to connect to the Internet. I’ve already had many, many problems using Instant Hotspot — it just doesn’t turn up! So I take my iPhone out of my pocket, even though supposedly I don’t have to…

And so it begins. (And it begins using good, recent hardware, by the way. And everything always kept updated.)

  1. There’s no sign of the IH in the WiFi menu, but meanwhile my Mac has automatically latched onto ShawOpen, one of those many, useless not-actually-open networks. This happens so often it constitutes part of the problem. And since my iPhone hasn’t appeared as an option yet, I can’t just switch to it.
  2. I’m a power user, though, so surely I can figure out how to just disconnect from a network? Without turning off wifi altogether? Yes…eventually. After three minutes of poking around, I finally just remember that you can option-click on the WiFi menu to get a disconnect option. (So intuitive!) Still no Instant Hotspot though!
  3. So I start rummaging around in my phone settings and discover that the hotspot feature is… turned off! Why would it be off? Even though I’ve used this feature a dozen times in the last month. I don’t turn it off. So I frown and turn it on. That should do it, right?
  4. Another minute goes by. Nothing. I try to find something to do on my Mac that doesn’t need the Internet. Nothing.
  5. I check the wifi menu… the phone is there! Sort of! Except it’s just a regular network option amidst all the others, not an “instant hotspot” (which should appear at the top of the menu). But, instant or not, by golly it is there, so I the heck click on it! Result: “There was a problem connecting to this network.” I am not at all surprised: I’ve seen this particular error many dozens of times over the last few years. Through multiple versions of both iOS and OS X.
  6. I am given the option of troubleshooting my wifi connection, some kind of dumbass “wizard” app that almost instantly demonstrates that it does not know the first thing about instant hotspots. I quit that in disgust. I shudder to think how many other people would have dived down that rabbit hole.
  7. We’re up to about 5 minutes of annoyance now. Maybe the phone isn’t “paired” via Bluetooth with the Mac? It should be — as mentioned, I’ve used the feature regularly and recently. I don’t really know how Instant Hotspot works, but I assume it probably leverages Bluetooth. I check my Bluetooth status on both devices. Everything looks good. Should be fine. But… there is no iPhone listed in the devices the Mac is paired with! Seems fishy!
  8. Bluetooth preferences on the Mac are just as cryptic and user-unfriendly as they have ever been — no improvement in that in Yosemite! — but I know the drill and I try to add the device. But it can’t find it. Of course. I close the preferences. I open them again. There it is! Works every other time.
  9. I go through the pairing procedure. Now will the Instant Hotspot appear in the wifi menu? Will it autoconnect? I know what I’m betting.

The Instant Hotspot appeared in the wifi menu eventually, after about 90 seconds.

It did not autoconnect, so I waited another 90 seconds to see if it would do that after another painful delay. Nope.

So I clicked it myself… at least 10 minutes into the whole ordeal.

Instant my ass!

This has all happened before, and it will all happen again

I would never have written this if the problems with hostposts in general and Instant Hotspot in particular weren’t severe and chronic, spanning generations of hardware and software. (I still have all of these problems with El Capitan, for instance.)

Soon after writing the original draft of this post, I was back in the park and it all happened again, only I used the draft as a reference to try to guide me to the solution … and I witnessed almost exactly the same glitches in the same order. There were just a couple hilarious differences, like the fact that I never actually got my Instant Hotspot. It was the Never Hotspot! And when I tried to re-pair, I saw something completely new: my iPhone told me that the MacBook Pro is “unsupported.” In all my years of being pissed off by Bluetooth, I’ve never seen that before.

Instant Hotspot just doesn’t work. Google never should have said “don’t be evil” and Apple never should have said “it just works.”