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AirDrop is the most incomplete Apple technology since the introduction of Apple Maps with iOS 6. The amount of times it simply does not work for absolutely no reason is downright infuriating.
If you’ve ever sat there, puzzled as to why your two shiny Apple devices don’t seem to want to communicate effectively, I empathize. This article is for you.
But First a Warning
I’ve had problems with AirDrop since the technology was introduced in iOS 7 almost two years ago. It’s worth pointing out that AirDrop’s previous incarnation as a pure Mac-to-Mac file transfer tool had worked consistently in my experience, even when transferring gigabytes of movie files.
I’ve banged my head against the metaphorical wall trying to solve these problems for months, with limited success. I can say with confidence that sometimes, no matter what you try, AirDrop simply will not work. I’ve added a section at the end of this article exploring alternatives if you find yourself at the end of your wits.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at how AirDrop should work.
Mac & iOS Requirements
iOS-to-iOS and iOS-to-Mac Transfers
According to Apple, AirDrop between a Mac and iOS device requires the following:
- An iOS device with a lightning port (iPhone 5, fourth-generation iPad or better)
- iOS 7 or later (for best results, update to the latest version of iOS)
- A 2012 or later Mac with OS X Yosemite (10.10) installed.
- Both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth turned on.
There is no need to be connected to the same WiFi network, but you will need to be within roughly 10 meters (30 feet) of the device you are trying to communicate with. You do not need to be signed into the same iCloud account, though you will need to be connected to iCloud in order to limit AirDrop to “Contacts Only”.
Important: In order to receive a file on your Mac you must open Finder and click on AirDrop in the sidebar in order to ready your Mac for a transfer and ensure it’s visible. To receive a file on your iOS device, ensure your device is visible by swiping up from the bottom of the screen to bring up Control Center.
If you’re trying to send a file from a Mac to another Mac, you will need one of the following running OS X Lion (10.7) or later:
- MacBook or MacBook Pro (late 2008 or newer)
- MacBook Air (late 2010 or newer)
- Mac Pro or iMac (early 2009 with AirPort Extreme or newer)
- Mac Mini (mid-2010 or newer)
In my experience, Mac transfers work consistently. If you are having trouble finding an older Mac while trying to send a file, click on Can’t see who you’re looking for? and select Search for an older Mac.
The biggest problem when trying to send files between devices is an inability see the target device. Oftentimes your Mac will see your iOS device, but your iOS device simply refuses to see your Mac. In this case, my iPad Air can see my Mac and transfer files to it, but my girlfriend’s iPad mini Retina flatly refuses.
If this sounds like a problem you’ve encountered, here’s a few things you can try:
In order to receive files, your device needs to be active (not in sleep mode) and visible. Access AirDrop by swiping up from the bottom of the screen to call up Control Center. From here your current AirDrop status will be displayed — you can choose between Off, Contacts Only, and Everyone.
If you’re having trouble, I’d strongly recommend choosing Everyone and leaving it that way — you have to manually accept incoming files from unknown users regardless of this setting.
Restart Bluetooth, WiFi, and Devices
One solution that’s given me the most joy when trying to transfer files to my Mac has been disabling then re-enabling Bluetooth on the Mac, but you may also want to try toggling WiFi and AirDrop itself.
Failing that, restarting both devices can also lead to a solution. Changing wireless network will have no effect.
Despite there being no evidence that your Mac and iOS device need to be connected to the same Apple ID anywhere within Apple’s documentation, many are reporting their AirDrop issues disappear once they have had a fiddle with their iCloud settings.
For some, disabling iCloud Drive on OS X then re-enabling it (System Preferences > iCloud > iCloud Drive) seems to provide a solution. Others report logging out of iCloud on OS X entirely then logging back in solved the issue.
Many who have spent time trying to get Contacts Only working suggest logging out of iCloud and the App Store on both devices then logging in again to solve the issue. Your mileage may vary.
Uppercase Apple IDs
This bug existed in iOS 8.1, and, though it was reported as fixed in iOS 8.2, it’s possible some users are still running older software so it bears repeating. If your Apple ID login has uppercase characters in it (e.g., Tim.Cook@me.com), log out and sign in again lowercase characters instead (e.g., firstname.lastname@example.org).
Your Mac comes with a built-in firewall, which prevents unwanted connections being made to your computer by blocking virtual ports. This can also have a detrimental effect on file transfers, particularly AirDrop.
While I wouldn’t recommend disabling your firewall entirely, if you choose to block all incoming connections, then AirDrop will not work. Head to System Preferences > Security & Privacy > Firewall and click on the padlock in the bottom-left corner (you may need to input a password to make changes).
Next click Firewall Options and ensure Block all incoming connections is not checked. While you’re at it you might want to try temporarily disabling the firewall entirely to see if that enables your transfer to go through unhindered.
Got a Device Your Mac Can See?
This has to be the strangest solution to an issue I have ever written down, but while playing around with two iPads this morning (one iPad Air that can see my Mac and an iPad mini that cannot), I found a way of getting the Mini to see my Mac after all.
With the AirDrop share sheet open on the iPad mini that cannot see my Mac, I tried to share from the iPad Air that can see it. The second my MacBook Pro appeared in the AirDrop field on my iPad Air, it also appeared on the iPad mini share sheet. I could then select and share from the Mini temporarily, but once I stopped trying to share from the Air, I could no longer see it.
Why this works, I have no idea, but it seemed to work pretty consistently when I tried it.
Use Something Else
Until Apple improves AirDrop, you might be tempted to simply not use it. Here are a few alternative methods of transferring files to and from your iOS devices.
iTunes File Transfer
Nobody likes to have to resort to iTunes, but sometimes when you simply need to transfer a file, there’s no other option. Open iTunes and select your device, then select Apps in the menu on the left. Scroll down to the very bottom of the page to find the file sharing section.
Once you’ve chosen an app, you can drag files to the panel on the right to send files or make your selection and choose Save To at the bottom of the screen to download them. If you have checked Sync with this iPhone/iPad over WiFi, you don’t even need to plug your phone in to do this (though transfers will be slower).
VLC for Media
Trying to copy media files to your iPhone or iPad but AirDrop isn’t helping? Download VLC for iOS, turn on WiFi file transfer, and use a web browser to drag and drop any media file (including obscure ones like .FLAC and .OGG) to your device. You can then use VLC to play it. Read more about replacing iTunes with VLC.
If the files you want to transfer are relatively small (or you don’t mind waiting), then you might want to use a cloud storage solution. It must be said that this isn’t the most efficient way of transferring files as you must first upload the file from one device and then download it again on another.
Ironically, Apple’s iCloud Drive might provide the easiest method of doing so. Many apps allow you to save files to iCloud Drive, but it’s arguably more useful for transferring files to your iOS devices. You can put files in iCloud Drive using Finder on a Mac, and access them using an app like Documents 5 on your iOS devices.
What problems have you had with AirDrop and how did you solve them?