How-to: Use AirDrop to share files between iOS devices [Poll]

Screen Shot 2014-02-22 at 11.08.56 PMAirDrop can be a be a quick, simple way to transfer files between iOS devices. It can be especially handy because it is truly a device-to-device transfer that works even when neither device has internet access, although Wi-Fi  and Bluetooth have to be turned on for it to function. In this article I will discuss how to turn on AirDrop and use it to share files between devices.

In Apple apps, any files that can be transferred using the share icon can be sent via AirDrop. This includes photos, videos, iWork documents, notes, contacts, links, directions, and location data. Some third-party apps can also share data using AirDrop. AirDrop for mobile devices is a feature of iOS 7, and can only be used to share files between mobile devices, not between computers and mobile devices.

In order to take advantage of AirDrop, you have to be running iOS 7 on one of the following devices:

  • iPad 4 or later
  • iPhone 5 or later
  • iPod Touch 5th gen

Both iOS devices need to have Bluetooth and Wi-Fi turned on in settings as mentioned above.

To activate Airdrop, access Control Center by swiping up from the bottom of the screen. Confirm that both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are turned on at the top of the panel. T
ap AirDrop, and a menu will appear with the options Off, Contacts Only, and Everyone. Choosing Everyone allows you to share files without using the internet or an iCloud account.


If you choose Contacts Only, you will be prompted to sign in to iCloud, so internet is required. After you login to iCloud successfully, you will only be able to send and receive files from people in your contacts. You can change this setting at any time from Control Center.

Be aware that if you choose Everyone, you might still (mysteriously) be prompted to enter your iCloud password. However if you choose Cancel, you then have the ability to share with everyone.


Share Files or Data
Access an application that is capable of sharing. These include, but are not limited to, Safari, Photos, Maps, Notes, Pages, Keynote, Numbers, iPhoto, iMovie, GarageBand, Photo Booth, and Contacts. Select the files you want to share. For example in Maps, bring up a location or directions. In Contacts, select a card to share. In Photos, use the Select button and choose one or more photos or videos. Once you’ve picked the file you want to share, tap the Share icon. On the sharing menu a round icon will be displayed for each device that has AirDrop turned on and is within AirDrop range of you. Tap the icon of the device you want to send to.

(If you chose Contacts when you activated AirDrop, only devices that are logged into iCloud accounts that are in your Contacts are displayed.)

A prompt to accept or reject the shared file(s) is displayed on the other iOS device.

A sound alert will also play on the target device. This sound can be customized in Settings > Sounds > AirDrop.


When large files such as videos are shared, a circular progress icon is displayed. When a large file transfer is complete, a confirmation is displayed on the receiving device.

A confirmation that file was successfully sent is also displayed on sending  device.


Another benefit of AirDrop is that it provides a way to transfer files and data easily for people who prefer not to use iCloud. Even if you are using iCloud, it is still very useful for sharing individual files through apps that don’t support iCloud sharing. Another benefit is the ability to transfer files and directions between devices in the great outdoors, and areas where Wi-Fi  and cell towers are not ubiquitous.

During informal testing of the transfer rates when on Wi-Fi, we did not see any difference between how long it took to send large files using AirDrop vs. iMessage.

We would like to hear from readers about other situations where AirDrop is being used creatively. Also, please feel free to participate in the the poll below, and let us know if you have taken advantage of this feature.

FTC: We use income earning auto affiliate links. More.

You’re reading 9to5Mac — experts who break news about Apple and its surrounding ecosystem, day after day. Be sure to check out our homepage for all the latest news, and follow 9to5Mac on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn to stay in the loop. Don’t know where to start? Check out our exclusive stories, reviews, how-tos, and subscribe to our YouTube channel


  1. I hope Apple adds push notification support to AirDrop in iOS 8. The requirement that both devices be unlocked (or recently locked) to initiate AirDrop is ridiculous, and it should only be necessary when there’s no Internet connection. The device could make note of which devices are nearby when it’s unlocked, and then compare that list to the push notification Apple sends to see if it’s likely that the device requesting AirDrop is still in the vicinity. If the requesting device isn’t on the list, AirDrop would refuse it, but if it is, AirDrop would initiate a connection, verify it, and then alert the user.

  2. vbGoz (@vbgoz) - 9 years ago

    In my opinion, keeping it on kills the battery.

    • Mr. Grey (@mister_grey) - 9 years ago

      AirDrop does not affect the battery, opinion or no.

    • Tallest Skil - 9 years ago

      You don’t have a clue what you’re talking about.

      • J.Johnson - 9 years ago

        You have to have Bluetooth enabled. Which drains thr battery. He’s right.

      • Tallest Skil - 9 years ago

        No, he claimed nothing about Bluetooth whatsoever. Bluetooth can be turned on only for AirDrop; AirDrop is not what is always on.

    • Yea, bluetooth does drain but its so easy to turn off and on though with Control Center.

    • waytootyler - 8 years ago

      It doesn’t kill the battery. Even if you have wifi and Bluetooth on, Bluetooth goes on LE mode, which uses almost no battery. The wifi may use a /slight/ bit of battery, but not a noticeable amount.

  3. Mr. Grey (@mister_grey) - 9 years ago

    Good article.

    In practice however, I find AirDrop to be hard to use as Apple has basically kneecapped it from the start by setting the default to “only allow people in your contacts.”

    In Apple’s world, and in the business world, this kind of makes sense, but in the “real world” almost everyone I know and certainly everyone I work with doesn’t actually have a lot of contacts in the Contacts app. They certainly don’t have all their friends in there. Even today, most folks don’t keep a good digital contacts file and still rely on memory, business cards and slips of paper with numbers written on them.

    By allowing AirDrop only to people in your contacts, it makes it a certain FAIL about 80-90% of the time, and most people I know simply never discover it because no one is ever in the area that is in their contacts.

    • Bryan Buitron - 9 years ago

      This would be a good argument, if it weren’t for the fact that it takes a very quick swipe of the Control Center to turn it on to everyone. Personally, I’d rather have it set for “Contacts Only” anyways. I’ve had the same cell phone number since ’99 (Yes, 1999, LoL) and don’t give my number out to many people, and wouldn’t usually share photos or other info with people unless they were part of my contacts list.

      • Mr. Grey (@mister_grey) - 9 years ago

        I know it’s not that hard. I’m just saying that I deal with many, many people with their iPhones and iPads each day and when I’m fixing their mail, or setting up their network access I sometimes tell people about AirDrop and almost everyone I do tell, was previously unaware it’s even there. These are all very smart, but non-technical people.

        I think it’s a “discovery” issue, because people hit the sharing button, then if they pick AirDrop, they see … nothing. So they ignore it and share to Facebook and never think of it again for the most part.

  4. Apple needs to come up with a way to integrate Mac with IOS is they plan on making something out of this.

    • rahhbriley - 9 years ago

      Yup. I was really disappointed when I actually realized they couldn’t Airdrop with Mac. That feature was the element I was most excited about before I realized it wasn’t a feature. Have never once used airdrop. And I’m a nerd who likes to do crap like that and have used Airdrop on Mac for years.

  5. PMZanetti - 9 years ago

    AirDrop would be great if it EVER worked when you go to use it. I usually spend the next 20 minutes toggling things on and off on two different devices until it works. In which time I could’ve just emailed the damn file

  6. One day I’ll use this.

  7. For me AirDrop for iOS is a nice feature but it fails a lot of times when i want to use it.

    Like one poster before said, I have to turn on and turn off the devices about 3 times to get it going.

    Then it’s possible in 4 times out of 10 that my iPhone doesn’t recognize the other iDevice although I switched to “All Contacts” on both devices.

    Cool would be if Apple implement the AirDrop feature to work inbetween Macs and iDevices.

    Nice beginning with AirDrop but there is a lot of improvement potential for Apple.

    just my 2 cents

  8. Cheryl Payne Harkins - 9 years ago

    Airdrop is obviously in its infancy and will not be taken seriously until it grows up, is more refined, easier to use and works without wasting time. It has great potential, but must be nurtured and enhanced immediately.

  9. Mike Wheaton - 9 years ago

    AirDrop ONLY works iOS device to device for example iPhone to iPad or iMac to iBook. You cannot AirDrop from your iPhone to your iMac. Apple needs to work on this (this is a big disadvantage)…. AirDrop should be available to the entire Apple eco system regardless of whether running iOS or Mavericks!

    • PMZanetti - 9 years ago

      Explain how it’s supposed to work when neither share the same file system structure or the same logic in handling files.

  10. domonicadams - 9 years ago

    I would love to be able to manage the default Picture easier when others are trying to share with me. Right now it seems to be pulling the pic from the device itself somehow.

  11. titocro86 (@titocro86) - 8 years ago

    I cant believe such a good tool as airdrop can not be used between ios and mac osx. come on there should be a way to do it!!! maybe on the next update ????

    • Mike Wheaton - 8 years ago

      I agree whole-heartedly. 100% Apple will be missing the boat if they can’t get iOS and Yosemite to talk.

  12. To transfer photos from iPhone to iPad, using airdrop is definitely my first choice because it’s fast and easy. But if I need to transfer music or other data like contacts, airdrop doesn’t work. That’s why I chose FonePaw iOS Transfer.

    More info:
    If you want to try it, you can download from Cnet:

  13. Angel2ndclass (@sph7) - 8 years ago

    Air Drop is excellent & I use it all the time to transfer files, photos & other media. It’s very safe and FAST.

  14. oh no!! the tulip magnolia is in full bloom and it is GORGEOUS but i ran out of space on my iPhone because of the video of the white tail deer that have never come up to my house before today, but were all over my backyard this morning… what am i to do?!?! I MUST get a photo of this beautiful tree because it gets cold tonight and turns brown just like it does EVERY year. Spaz over… Air dropped data to iPad and saved the day. Thank you Apple.

  15. Nicolas Martin - 7 years ago

    You might have mentioned where the files are received on the iOS device.

  16. lightfighterblog - 6 years ago

    I’ve found AirDrop to be a very fast way to move files between devices – even when WIFI is not available. But I have encountered a huge flaw using it to move pictures from my iPhone to iPad for editing at the end of the day. Rather than appearing in chronological order as they did on the iPhone, the photos appear in random order after receipt on the iPad (someone suggested that they are arranged more or less by size based on when the transfer completed – uggg). This makes it impossible to easily compare a number pictures taken at the same place and time to determine which is the best.

    Has anyone found a solution to retaining file order after transfer?