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How to Use AirDrop, the Easiest Way to Send Files Between iPhones

April 24, 2014

It’s an iOS 7 headline feature: AirDrop, a way to shoot things from one phone or tablet to another — wirelessly, instantly, easily, encryptedly, without requiring names, passwords, or settings-up. It’s much faster than emailing or text-messaging, since you don’t have to know (or type) the other guy’s address. It’s available on the iPhone 5 and later.

Note: Even though there’s an OS X feature called AirDrop, it’s exclusively for sending files between Macs. You can’t shoot files between iPhones and Macs. 

The kinds of things you can transmit are pictures and videos from the Photos app, people’s info cards from Contacts, directions (or your current location) from Maps, pages from Notes, web addresses from Safari, electronic tickets from Passbook, apps you like in the App Store, song and video listings from the iTunes app), radio stations (iTunes Radio), and so on. As time goes on, more and more non-Apple apps will offer AirDrop, too.

Behind the scenes, AirDrop uses Bluetooth (to find nearby gadgets within about 30 feet) and a private, temporary WiFi mini-network (to transfer the file). Both sender and receiver have Bluetooth and WiFi turned on.

The process goes like this:

1. Find a willing recipient. You can’t send anything with AirDrop unless the receiving phone or tablet is running iOS 7 or later — and is awake. And only recent models work with AirDrop: iPhone 5 or later, fourth-generation iPad or later, any iPad mini, and fifth-generation iPod Touch or later. 

In other words, most AirDrop exchanges begin with your saying, “Hey, do you have iOS 7?”

2. Open the item you want to share. Tap the Share button. If your app doesn’t have a Share button, then you can’t use AirDrop.

When the Share sheet appears, within a few seconds, you see something that would have awed the masses in 1975: small circular photos of everyone nearby. (Or at least everyone with iOS 7. Or at least everyone among them who’s open to receiving AirDrop transmissions, as described below.)

Tip: When you send a photo, the top row of the Share sheet shows your other photos and videos so that you can select additional items to go along for the ride. A blue checkmark identifies each item you’ve selected to send.

3. Tap the icon of the person you want to share with. In about a second, a message appears on the recipient’s screen, conveying your offer to transmit something good — and, when it makes sense, showing a picture of it.

Tip: Actually, you can select more than one person’s icon. In that case, you’ll send this item to everyone at once. 

At this point, it’s up to your recipients. If they tap Accept, then the transfer begins (and ends); whatever you sent them opens up automatically in the relevant app. You’ll know that AirDrop was successful because the word “Sent” appears on your screen.

If they tap Decline, then you must have misunderstood their willingness to accept your item (or they tapped the wrong button). In that case, you’ll see the word “Declined” on your screen.

Excerpted with permission from David Pogue’s “iPhone: The Missing Manual,” Seventh Edition from O’Reilly Media.