The AirDrop Mess on OS X and iOS 8

I recently wrote about my problems with Handoff and Continuity features in Apple’s new operating systems. Many people I know have similar problems, and another feature that causes grief is AirDrop. This allows you to easily send files from one iOS device or Mac to another. You don’t have to open a network share, or sign in; you choose whether you want your device to be available to everyone, or just your contacts, and when you’re near another device – within ten meters – you should be able to share files easily.

You should be able to share files. In practice, this is very iffy.

Right now, I have four devices: an iMac, a MacBook Pro, an iPad and an iPhone. They’re all AirDrop compatible.

The iMac seems to work best: it can see both my iPad and my MacBook Pro:

airdrop.png

The MacBook Pro can see the iPad (and sometimes the iMac shows up for a while, then disappears). The iPad can see the MacBook Pro. And, most of the time, the iPhone can see nothing, and nothing can see the iPhone.

Right now, as I’m writing this, the iPhone can suddenly see the MacBook Pro and the iPad; but not the iMac. The iMac can see all there other devices, but the MacBook Pro still can’t see the iMac. And all these devices are on the same desk, a few feet apart.

I’ve heard from lots of people who have this problem, along with the Handoff and Continuity problems. The only workaround I’ve seen suggested in to toggle Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, which are how AirDrop detects devices and sends and receives files. Nevertheless, I’ve not found that toggling those makes much of a difference. Devices appear and disappear according to the humors.

It’s important to note that for a device to be detected, it must be on and unlocked. At one point, I thought you had to have the AirDrop window visible in the Finder, but that doesn’t seem to be the case any more (I’m pretty sure it was when AirDrop was first introduced).

The thing is, when AirDrop works, it’s great; it’s a quick way to get files from one device to another. But when it fails, there’s no way of knowing why, and no troubleshooting other than trail and error. In the time it takes to toggle Bluetooth and Wi-Fi on two devices, it’s easier to send a file by email, or via a network share.

This is yet another excellent feature in iOS and OS X that just doesn’t work as it should. At a minimum, Apple should have some way of helping us troubleshoot this. There should be an AirDrop Connection Doctor, as there is in Mail. I can’t help but feel let down every time one of these “magical” features fails inexplicably.

Oh, now that I’m at the end of this article… The iMac can see the iPhone and iPad. The MacBook Pro can see the iPhone and iPad. The iPhone can see the iPad. And the iPad can see the iPhone. Go figure.

108 thoughts on “The AirDrop Mess on OS X and iOS 8

  1. I found that Airdrop from my iPhone to my Mac started working when I set AirDrop on my Mac to “Allow me to be discovered by everyone.” If I set it to “Contacts Only”, my Mac disappears from the display of available devices on my iPhone.

    • Thanks for the suggestion. I just tried that on both my Macs; neither of them shows the other. One of them shows my iPhone, but that’s it.

  2. I found that Airdrop from my iPhone to my Mac started working when I set AirDrop on my Mac to “Allow me to be discovered by everyone.” If I set it to “Contacts Only”, my Mac disappears from the display of available devices on my iPhone.

    • Thanks for the suggestion. I just tried that on both my Macs; neither of them shows the other. One of them shows my iPhone, but that’s it.

  3. In recent years it is unfortunately the case that when there is a Mac bug it rarely gets stamped out. It is not coincidental, then, that there are more Mac bugs than ever before, and I go back to 1984.

    • Same time frame as myself. There are more programs now but also more Apple SW Staff and many more ways of interacting with their users. With all their creativity, one would expect them to make things better.

  4. In recent years it is unfortunately the case that when there is a Mac bug it rarely gets stamped out. It is not coincidental, then, that there are more Mac bugs than ever before, and I go back to 1984.

    • Same time frame as myself. There are more programs now but also more Apple SW Staff and many more ways of interacting with their users. With all their creativity, one would expect them to make things better.

  5. Sitting here at the end of 2016 and cannot get AirDrop to work between by Mac Pro Mid 2010 and my iPhone 6. Apple has to put more effort into making their SW work. Simple is better than Windows. Not working is more like Windows. It is like they have no pride in quality.

      • The whole OSX SW situation is sad. Trying to get problems solved by Googling and ending up on forums that can offer simple solutions or exchange hardship stories is a rotten way to use MAC computers. It is not great but better than Windows – not the greatest of reasons.

  6. Sitting here at the end of 2016 and cannot get AirDrop to work between by Mac Pro Mid 2010 and my iPhone 6. Apple has to put more effort into making their SW work. Simple is better than Windows. Not working is more like Windows. It is like they have no pride in quality.

      • The whole OSX SW situation is sad. Trying to get problems solved by Googling and ending up on forums that can offer simple solutions or exchange hardship stories is a rotten way to use MAC computers. It is not great but better than Windows – not the greatest of reasons.

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