AirDrop, the ad-hoc file sharing service from Apple introduced in OS X "Lion" (10.7), was later adapted to iOS 7 to enable over-the-air transfers of files between like devices. OS X could communicate with other OS X computers, and iOS could communicate with other iOS devices supporting the service.
Since its inception, AirDrop has had a rocky relationship with users, and that continues on today. In theory, the service works by communicating with other devices over Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. In practice, the service will sometimes connect to other devices, but other times it won't connect at all or allow others to discover your device, making the service overall less reliable and forcing users to use SMS or email for stable file transfers.
Since there's no configuration involved in utilizing AirDrop, there aren't any server settings to muck with or other apps in between to tweak. However, there are a few things you can do to maximize your connectivity to other devices.
Let's take a look at some of the things you can do to get AirDrop communicating each time.
1. Check the basics first
AirDrop requires both Bluetooth and Wireless to be turned on. Ensure that both are powered on by checking each service in Settings. Alternatively, swiping up from the bottom of the screen will reveal the Control Center, which has access to both services. You can power them on simply by tapping the icon.
As a quick fix, tapping the Airplane button will disable all communications and place the iOS device in Airplane Mode. Wait about 10 seconds then tap it again to enable the radios, which will force each of the services to restart and refresh their communications.
2. AirDrop must be on for it to work
The second service to check is the AirDrop service itself. Since it can only be used when the Bluetooth and Wi-Fi are on, if those services are powered off, AirDrop will be powered off as well. However, simply turning on Bluetooth and Wi-Fi may not activate AirDrop.
Check the Control Center and tap the AirDrop button, then select Everyone from the list to enable the service, and place the iOS device in discovery mode for other iOS devices to find and transfer files to/from.
3. Contacts Only or Everyone
For added security, Apple recommends selecting Contacts Only from the list. This limits the AirDrop connections that can be made to your iOS device to only those users who are stored in your contacts and have a valid Apple ID registered with their device. For Contacts Only to work, your iOS device must have a valid Apple ID registered, and it must be logged into iCloud as well.
Since security should be of the utmost concern, it's recommended to use the Contacts Only selection whenever possible. With that said, if experiencing difficulty connecting to other iOS devices using AirDrop, it's advisable to use the Everyone selection to rule out any software-related issues preventing AirDrop from communicating.
Smart devices are quite resilient and very power efficient. And while these sophisticated devices have come a long way, they're still prone to the same glitches, freezing, and application hangs as their larger computer counterparts.
When this occurs, the best (and sometimes only) course of action is to hold the power button and slide to power off the device. If the device is not responding, pressing and holding the power and home buttons simultaneously will cause the device to forcefully reboot after about 10 seconds. When either of these processes occur, iOS initializes all the software and system files, and the device is placed in a ready state to accept commands (input) once again.
Truthfully, many iOS issues may be resolved simply by powering down the device, and AirDrop is no exception. AirDrop is a great way to transfer files on-the-go between contacts and acquaintances alike. The service's ad-hoc method of communication is very Apple-centric with its "it just works" philosophy.
The problem with any service is not when it's working, but rather when it's not. AirDrop is still being worked on, with OS X Yosemite (10.10) and iOS 8 both integrating AirDrop further by allowing cross-communication between OS X and iOS devices. iOS 8 is here, while Yosemite isn't due until later this fall, which means that users will need to wait a little longer to reap the benefits of an enhanced AirDrop experience.
Have your experienced difficulty with AirDrop? If so, how did you resolve your problems? Share your experience in the discussion thread below.
Jesus Vigo is a Network Administrator by day and owner of Mac|Jesus, LLC, specializing in Mac and Windows integration and providing solutions to small- and medium-size businesses. He brings 19 years of experience and multiple certifications from several vendors, including Apple and CompTIA.