AirDrop is Apple’s file-sharing feature that allows you to easily transfer files among Apple devices. It’s arguably one of the most seamless offline file transfer methods around, and it removes the need to upload your files to the cloud and then download them onto another device. It works on all modern Apple iPhones, iPads, and Macs.
In this article, we’ll talk about everything you need to know about AirDrop, and how you can use it.
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What is AirDrop?
AirDrop is a proprietary file-sharing feature from Apple. It uses an ad-hoc Wi-Fi connection to transfer photos, videos, documents, websites, map locations, and a lot more to other Apple devices. Moreover, it doesn’t require any setup, and can automatically detect other Macs or iPhones that are using AirDrop. The feature works completely offline and doesn’t need any kind of internet connection.
AirDrop made its debut as a part of Mac OS X Lion back in 2011. But it didn’t arrive on iOS until 2013 when it was added to the iPhone operating system as a part of iOS 7. Even then, the macOS AirDrop protocol and iOS AirDrop protocol weren’t interoperable.
The AirDrop protocol present in Mac OS X Lion, Mountain Lion, and Mavericks only used Wi-Fi, whereas the iOS AirDrop protocol uses both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. So to make AirDrop interoperable on both its platforms, Apple added support for iOS AirDrop protocol to OS X Yosemite. However, the legacy Mac AirDrop protocol is still used to transfer files between a Mac running OS X Lion, Mountain Lion, or Mavericks and another Mac running macOS Mojave or an older version.
Apple finally removed the legacy AirDrop protocol in macOS Catalina. Now, the iOS AirDrop protocol is used to transfer files among all modern iPhones, iPads, and Mac computers.
How does AirDrop work?
The iOS AirDrop protocol (which we’ll just refer to as AirDrop from now on) uses both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi to identify nearby devices (within 30 feet) and transfer content. It employs Bluetooth to detect any compatible devices in the vicinity. When a compatible nearby device is selected for a file transfer, AirDrop creates a peer-to-peer Wi-Fi connection to complete the actual transfer.
Since it uses a peer-to-peer connection, the two devices don’t need to be on the same Wi-Fi network. You can be anywhere with or without internet, as long as you have Bluetooth and Wi-Fi working on both devices. There’s no file size limit either. So you can transfer files as large as you want, given there’s enough space on the recipient device. You can also share pretty much everything between devices.
For data security, AirDrop uses TLS encryption over the peer-to-peer network, so your data is secure as well as private. It also creates a firewall between devices, so no one can access your phone or computer over the connection.
Which devices work with AirDrop?
AirDrop can work with iPhones, iPod touch, iPads, and Macs. The iPhones and iPads need to be running on iOS 7 or newer. To use AirDrop on Mac, you must have the 2012 or newer model (except the 2012 Mac Pro). In the case of the Mac Pro, you should have the 2013 or newer model.
As explained earlier, the older Macs can use the legacy AirDrop, but only if they’re running on macOS Mojave or older, and are airdropping files to another Mac running Mac OS X Lion to Mavericks. Macs running any macOS version older than Lion don’t come with AirDrop, and the legacy AirDrop was dropped in macOS Catalina. So there are very few combinations where legacy AirDrop still works.
Moreover, AirDrop can only be used with Apple devices. There’s no support for Windows or Android. Android has its own AirDrop alternative called Nearby Share. We’ll talk about it later in the article.
How to use AirDrop
Turning it on or off on iPhone or iPad
You can enable the AirDrop feature for just your Contacts or Everyone on iPhone or iPad, or set it to Receiving Off to disable it.
- To enable AirDrop, open Control Center on your iPhone or iPad. Depending on your iPhone model, Control Center can be opened by swiping up from the bottom edge or swiping down from the top right corner of your screen.
- Once Control Center is open, long press on the Wi-Fi button or anywhere in the network settings card, and you’ll see a number of connections-related options, including AirDrop.
- Tap on it to select from Receiving Off, Contacts Only, and Everyone. Everyone means any random person in your vicinity will be able to send files to you.
Turning it on or off on Mac
Similar to iPhone or iPad, you can set AirDrop to No one, Contacts Only, or Everyone on Mac.
- Open Finder on your Mac.
- Click on AirDrop in the left Navigation.
- Under the Allow me to be discovered by dropdown, select No One, Contacts Only, or Everyone.
How to share files from iPhone or iPad
You can send files using AirDrop from any iOS or iPadOS app that includes the Share Sheet.
- Open the app from which you’re trying to send something. For example, open the Photos app if you’re trying to share a photo or photos.
- Select what you’re looking to send and tap on the Share icon.
- Select the contact or device to which you’re trying to AirDrop the file.
Between iPhones and iPads, you can transfer all sorts of things, including photos, videos, contacts, Passbook passes, Voice Memos, websites, and Map locations.
How to share files from Mac
There are multiple ways to AirDrop files from a Mac. You can drag and drop them, share them using the context menu, or use the share sheet.
- Open Finder on your Mac.
- Locate the file or folder you want to share.
- Right-click on the file or folder and select AirDrop under the Share option.
- You can now click on the device or contact to which you want to send the file.
How to share files using the Share button on Mac
Apart from the context menu, you can also share files using the Share button.
- Open Finder on your Mac.
- Locate and select the file you want to share.
- Click on the Share button in the option on the top bar.
- Select the device or contact to whom you want to send that file.
How to share files using drag and drop
- Open Finder on your Mac.
- Locate the file you need to share.
- Open a new Finder window and select AirDrop from the sidebar.
- Now you can drag and drop files from the other Finder window to a contact or device in the AirDrop window.
From Macs, you can send documents, photos, videos, websites, map locations, and more to iPhones, iPads, other Macs, and iPod touch.
How to accept AirDrop transfer requests
When someone shares something with you using AirDrop, you’ll see a notification on your Mac or iPhone. The notification will show a preview of what has been shared, and you can accept or decline it. If you accept it, the content will get transferred to your device.
But if you’re getting it on your iPhone, the content will appear in the app compatible with it. For example, the shared photo will show up in the Photos app. The files shared to Macs however get saved in the Downloads folder.
If you’re sharing something to yourself, such as from your iPhone to your Mac, you don’t need to accept the transfer. Everything will automatically get transferred, given you’re using the same Apple ID on both devices.
How to troubleshoot AirDrop problems
To make sure AirDrop works without a hitch, check that both devices fulfill the following conditions:
- Both devices are unlocked and within 9 meters of each other.
- Both have Bluetooth and Wi-Fi turned on.
- The Personal Hotspot feature is turned off on each iPhone.
- Each Mac was introduced in 2012 or later (except the 2012 Mac Pro) and runs on OS X Yosemite or newer. Some older Macs can use the legacy AirDrop — you can read about them in the “Which devices work with AirDrop” section.
- The iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch is running on iOS 7 or newer.
- Both devices can receive AirDrop requests.
- Block all incoming connections is not enabled in Mac > System Preferences > Security & Privacy > Firewall.
- If AirDrop discoverability is limited to Contacts Only, make sure both of you are signed into iCloud and have each other in your contacts section with Apple ID email address and mobile number.
- While sending files on an older Mac with legacy AirDrop, make sure the recipient has the AirDrop window open.
- If you’re getting random AirDrop requests, change the option to Receiving off/ No one or Contacts Only on your iPhone or Mac.
Alternatives on iOS
Given AirDrop’s deep integration on Apple devices, all third-party AirDrop alternatives fall short on ease of use and overall functionality. But if you’re still somehow having trouble with AirDrop, or are looking to share something outside of Apple devices, the following are decent alternatives to AirDrop.
Xender is a cross-platform file transfer app that allows you to share photos, documents, music, videos, and other types of files. The app can be used on iOS, Android, and any device with a web browser, including Mac and PC. It uses peer-to-peer Wi-Fi to transfer files, so you don’t need internet access.
AirDroid is similar to Xender in a lot of aspects but it packs far more features. You can transfer files both over peer-to-peer Wi-Fi and the internet. AirDroid is free to download and use, but there are some limitations in the free version.
Nearby Share: Android’s AirDrop alternative
Years after AirDrop was introduced on iOS, Google launched its own alternative in the form of Nearby Share in 2020. Nearby Share works on all phones running Android 6.0 or newer. Unlike Apple’s solution that only works offline, Nearby Share can share content both offline and online. It uses Bluetooth, Bluetooth LE, WebRTC, and peer-to-peer Wi-Fi protocols to share content, and automatically chooses the best protocol when you’re sending something. Apart from Android, Nearby Share can also be used with Chromebooks.
Nearby Share can be accessed in the Share menu on Android phones, and you can use it like any other share option. It isn’t the only file transfer service on Android but it’s something that works across devices and manufacturers.
If you’re looking to transfer files between an Android device and a Windows computer, check out our guide on How to Transfer Files between Android and Windows PC.
This is everything you need to know about AirDrop. Do you know of any great alternatives to it? Let us know in the comments section. Meanwhile, if you’re in the market for a new laptop or a smartphone, our best phones and best laptops buying guides can help. Also, we have a great tutorial on how you can use split-screen on Mac.