Apple introduced a handful of features back in OS X Yosemite (and above) that aimed to make it easier to work with, and switch between, all your Apple devices, Mac and iOS. One of these new features was the ability to AirDrop files from Mac to iPad or iPhone, and from iPhone to Mac. Unfortunately, years on, many Mac users are still finding the feature doesn't work. However, we have enjoyed a few successes, read on to find out how.

Read our Complete guide to macOS Sierra | Top tips for iOS 10

How to use AirDrop: What is AirDrop?

AirDrop is a way to transfer files between devices that arrived on iPhones and iPads with iOS 7. It has existed on Macs for even longer, but Macs and iOS devices were unable to communicate due to differences in the technology required (the iPhone and iPad use Bluetooth in conjunction with WiFi, while the Mac just used WiFi). This difference meant it wasn’t possible to easily drop files from mobile to desktop or laptop. 

AirDrop is an excellent way to share content between two Macs or a Mac and iPhone, or Mac and iPad, in the same vicinity, because it works even if the Macs and iOS devices aren’t connected to the same network. This is because AirDrop creates a quick AdHoc network between the devices, giving you the go-ahead to share files. The AirDrop network is set up when you connect to AirDrop.

In this guide we’ll show you how to set up AirDrop to send files from one Mac to another as well as from Mac to iPhone and vice versa. However, although Apple claims to have made AirDrop work between the Mac and iPad and iPhone devices, unfortunately in our experience these features are not working in the way that we are sure Apple intended. In fact they aren't working at all for some people. For this reason we’ll also look at why AirDrop may not be working, including reasons why you can’t see Macs, iPhones or iPads inside AirDrop.

How to use AirDrop: AirDrop between iPhone/Mac Requirements

AirDrop won’t work on all Macs and all iOS devices, so it may not be a feature you can take advantage of. AirDrop is (apparently) supported by the following Mac models:

  • MacBook Pro (Late 2008) or later, excluding the MacBook Pro (17-inch, Late 2008)
  • MacBook Air (Late 2010) or later
  • MacBook (Late 2008) or later, excluding the white MacBook (Late 2008)
  • iMac (Early 2009) or later
  • Mac Mini (Mid 2010) or later
  • Mac Pro (Early 2009 with AirPort Extreme card, or Mid 2010)

We say ‘apparently’ because it took us a very long time to get AirDrop to work between our 2012 MacBook Air and an iPhone 5s - and then when we did it was entirely unsustainable.

Read: How to use settings in iOS 10 | Here is how to get Continuity to work on older Macs.

How to use AirDrop: AirDrop from Mac to iPhone

We found that AirDrop worked reasonably well when we were sending attachments from our Mac to our iPhone. The Mac recognised the iPhone in the AirDrop finder window. We dragged content onto it and we were alerted on our iPhone and given the option to accept the incoming attachment. 

This is how it should work:

1) On your Mac open a Finder window and select AirDrop.

2) Choose to be seen by Everyone, or only those in your Contacts. To raise your chances of your Mac seeing your devices and vice versa we suggest making sure you can be seen by everyone.

3) Swipe up on Control Centre and turn on AirDrop on your iPhone or iPad.

4) You should see the iPhone in the AirDrop window in the Finder on your Mac and the Mac should show up as somewhere you can AirDrop to on your iPhone or iPad… Our iPhone showed up in AirDrop on our Mac (not every time we tried, but it we did see it there a few times).

5) You can now drop an image onto the icon representing the iPhone. When we did we immediately got an alert on our phone to let us know that an image was incoming.

6) Accept the alert and the image will transfer. You will find the image was filed in your Photos app on the iPhone.

How to use AirDrop: Transfer documents to iPhone via AirDrop

AirDrop doesn't have to stop with transferring images. It is potentially a useful way of dropping documents onto your iPhone as you leave the office. We shared a Pages document to our iPhone and it automatically opened up in Pages when it had downloaded.

We shared a Word doc from our Mac to our iPhone but it was declined (perhaps because we don't have an app that can view it).

We also tried to transfer a Text Edit document - and saw a message suggesting we could download an app from the App Store, along with a preview of the item. When we selected Get App it sent us to a page of results in the App Store including Adobe Reader and some other PDF readers, along with some rather random suggestions such as Fast Player (a video player), we downloaded WPS Office since it seemed to be the app most likely. The next time we transferred that document it opened in the WPS Office app (which includes a handy editing mode).

Our main criticism is that files tended to take a very long time for the file to transfer. That and the fact that it only worked half the time.

You might find that dragging documents into iCloud Drive is more useful, and quicker. (You will need to drop them into the relevant iCloud Drive folder though).

What people really wanted was the option to send files from their iPhone to their Mac - we were looking forward to being able to drop screen shots for tutorials such as this one over to our Macs via the magic of AirDrop. Unfortunately AirDrop is not living up to its promise as you will see if you read on.

Read next: How to transfer photos from iPhone to PC

How to use AirDrop: AirDrop from iPhone to Mac: troubleshooting

Trying to send files from our iPhone to our Mac was disappointing. For a long time we couldn’t detect our mid 2012 MacBook Air in AirDrop on the iPhone at all. We did eventually get AirDrop from iPhone to Mac working, after two days of trying various tricks.

We discovered that a few people were having this same issue, there are Apple forums addressing the problem which many had hoped would be fixed in iOS. Unfortunately iOS 8.1 (the version we tested when we initially wrote the article) didn't appear to fix the issues so we worked through the number of solutions offered in the forums. These include the following:

1) One of the suggestions is to kick start Bluetooth by going to Settings > Bluetooth on the iPhone, and under My Devices find your Mac. When we looked MB Bluetooth was listed as "Not Connected." We tapped it to see if it would connect. After a few "Connection unsuccessful" errors we tried opening Bluetooth on our Mac and Paired the iPhone there. This time Karen Air (the name of our MacBook appeared) so we tried to connect to that. This time we were greeted with: “Connection Unsuccessful ‘Karen Air’ is not supported.” At this point we started to fear that we didn’t have Bluetooth 4.0 in the Mac, but we were able to confirm that we do.

2) Make sure you have the right kind of Bluetooth: To check you have the right version of Bluetooth,  click the Apple menu > Select About This Mac > System Report > Bluetooth > find "LMP Version" and check that LMP Version says 0x6. Anything lower than that is an older version of Bluetooth.

3) Another suggestion was to dissable the Firewall. To do this go to System Preferences > Security & Privacy > Firewall > Turn Off Firewall. Our Firewall was already off, so that obviously wasn’t the solution. We also checked that ‘Block all incoming connections’ wasn’t turned on in Firewall – it wasn’t.

4) Others suggested that they were able to solve the AirDrop issue by to signing in and out of iCloud on both their Mac and iPhone. This didn’t help us.

5) Yet another suggestion was to go into FaceTime preferences on our iPhone and make sure that setting are set to cellular calls. We switched FaceTime to Cellular in the Cellular settings section (Settings > Cellular), and made sure that iPhone Cellular Calls was selected in Settings > FaceTime. It made no difference.

6) Another suggestion is to click on Bluetooth icon in the menu and select send file to device, however when we did so it said the device did not have the necessary services.

Eventually what worked for us was changing the conditions in which we were connecting. We logged onto a 802.11ac network and tried AirDropping between new iMac (the 5K model we had in for review), an iPhone and the same MacBook Air as before. The iPhone and Mac showed up as available for AirDrop on both Macs, and crucially, when we attempted to share an image from our iPhone we finally saw the MacBook Air and the iMac as available.

The fact that we were connecting via a 802.11ac network made us wonder if that was the reason for our success, but now we are finding that (on occasion) the iPhone is now able to share with our MacBook Air via AirDrop even though we are now on a different WiFi network. The moral of the story appears to be: leave the phone on AirDrop mode for a long time and wait patiently for it to show up, you never know, it might.

How to use AirDrop: How to AirDrop from iPhone to Mac

To set up the share from an iPhone to a Mac do the following:

1) Turn on AirDrop on your iPhone. Swipe up on Control Centre, tap on AirDrop and choose Contacts Only or Everyone (as before we recommend Everyone to increase your chances of it working).

2) Make sure that you have an AirDrop Finder window open on your Mac.

3) Find the image you wish to sent to the Mac, click the Share icon (a square with an arrow pointing out of it).

4) You will hopefully see the Mac you wish to share with on the next screen. Give it a few minutes...

5) Tap on the icon for your Mac and the transfer should start. You will see Waiting, then Sending, and eventually the blue line will draw around the icon for your iPhone.

6) The blue line will then circle the icon for your iPhone in the Mac Finder. When the transfer is complete it will appear in your downloads folder.

How to use AirDrop: AirDrop from a new Mac to an old Mac

We also spent some time trying to get AirDrop to work between two Macs – a feature that should work, but wasn’t. We were trying to AirDrop between our 2012 MacBook Air and a 2009 iMac. We followed Apple’s advice for finding an older Mac, as follows:

1) On the sending Mac, click "Don't see who you're looking for" in the AirDrop window

2) Select the option to "Search for an Older Mac."

3) On the receiving Mac, open a new Finder window and click AirDrop in the sidebar

4) You should see the Mac you are trying to share with in the AirDrop window. Just drag the file you wish to share onto it.

The first time we did this the file appeared in the downloads folder of the second Mac. However, it didn’t continue to work so smoothly. After working a couple of times for us, we started getting error messages stating that the other computer hadn’t accepted the transfer – this was annoying because there had been no message on the other computer indicating that acceptance was necessary. Then the older Mac disappeared from AirDrop altogether.

How to use AirDrop: AirDrop between two Macs

Normally, however, there should be no issues getting AirDrop to work between two Macs.

All you need to do, is open AirDrop in the Finder on in both Macs and drag the files from one Mac to another. AirDrop should take care of the rest.

AirDrop for Mac Requirements

Note that two fairly common Macs: The MacBook Pro (17-Inch Late 2008) and the white MacBook (Late 2008) do not support AirDrop.

1) Click on Go > AirDrop from the Finder or open a new Finder Window (Command + N) and click on AirDrop in the Sidebar. A new Finder window opens and at the bottom is an icon displaying the name of your computer.

How to use AirDrop on a Mac

2) Switch to the second Mac and click on Go > AirDrop. You now see both Macs as icons in the AirDrop window in Finder (on both machines). The one at the bottom is the computer you are working on. The other people using AirDrop appear above.

How to use AirDrop on a Mac

3) To send files (or folders) from one Mac to another drag them from the Finder directly to the other Mac inside the AirDrop folder. A pop-up appears saying Do You Want To Send to their computer. Click Send to share the file or folder.

How to use AirDrop on a Mac

4) On the recipient's Mac a pop-up appears to inform them that a file is being shared. Click on Save to accept the transfer (or click on Decline). There is also a Save and Open option to transfer the file and open it immediately. If you click Save the file is transferred to the Downloads folder (inside your User folder).

How to use AirDrop on a Mac

5) To finish the AirPlay session close the AirDrop window on either of the computers. When you close the AirDrop window you stop using AirDrop on that computer. The other Mac is still connected to AirDrop, but you no longer see the disconnected Mac.

How to use AirDrop on a Mac

Why isn’t AirDrop working?

If you're still having trouble with AirDrop your Mac check these steps.

  1. Make sure Wi-Fi is turned on at both computers. The Mac doesn’t have to be on the same networkbut it uses Wi-Fi to transmit the file.
  2. Make sure that both people have clicked on Go > AirDrop, or opened AirDrop in the Finder.
  3. Try moving the computers closer to each other. According to Apple AirDrop is designed to work within a range of approximately 9 meters.
  4. Ensure you're up-to-date on your Mac's software

There are more tutorials for using the new features in iOS and OS X. Here's how to use Handoff: How to switch between your iPhone, iPad and Mac using Handoff | iCloud Drive: How to use iCloud Drive for Mac, iPhone & iPad | Plus we have advanced Yosemite tips and beginners Yosemite tips.