Leverage AirDrop to transfer files between compatible Macs

Erik Eckel explains how users can take advantage of Mac's AirDrop file-sharing feature on compatible Macs.

Apple earned its reputation for making things easier by, well, making them easier. AirDrop, a new file-sharing feature introduced with Mac OS X Lion, hasn't received the same press as such sister innovations as Mail's Conversations or the Mac App Store. But it's an impressive feature that warrants review.

File sharing made simple

Frequently Mac users need to exchange business-related files. Maybe the marketing director needs to share a presentation or mock-up with a colleague. Or the sales head might wish to pass a client a brochure. Sometimes an executive must transfer quarterly sales data to an investor relations contact while meeting over coffee.

In the past, if we're honest, these files were transferred using email. In a pinch, someone may have dug a thumbdrive out of a purse or attaché.

But what if no Internet connection is available or no one can find a flash drive? With just a little compatibility luck, Apple's AirDrop can save the day.

How it works

AirDrop permits compatible Macs to find one another automatically. No Wi-Fi network is required. Instead, AirDrop leverages Macs' Wi-Fi radios to establish peer-to-peer connections between machines, thereby enabling file transfers as users dictate.

The process is simple. AirDrop-compatible Macs need only click Go and select AirDrop to place their Macs in an AirDrop-ready mode. If the receiving user does not have AirDrop open (AirDrop can also be opened by clicking its entry within Finder or holding the Shift, Command and R keys simultaneously), the feature will not work.

Once AirDrop is opened, users with AirDrop enabled on their Macs within approximately 30 feet of one another will appear within one another's AirDrop windows. Users can then drag and drop files they wish to transfer onto the icon representing the other user.

The originating Mac will ask the user to confirm the user wishes to send the file, which it will name, to the specific user's computer. The sending user can choose Cancel or Send.

The destination Mac will then prompt the receiving user and ask whether the user wishes to receive that specific file from the other user's Mac. The receiving user can choose to Save and Open the file, Decline the transfer, or Save the file. When choosing either Save option, the file will be saved to the receiving user's Downloads folder.

Compatibility requirements

Unfortunately, AirDrop doesn't work with every Mac. Apple states compatible systems must be as new as or newer than the following:

  • MacBook Pro (Late 2008 or newer)
  • MacBook Air (Late 2010 or newer)
  • MacBook (Late 2008 or newer)
  • iMac (Early 2009 or newer)
  • Mac Mini (Mid 2010 or newer)
  • Mac Pro (Early 2009 with AirPort Extreme card, or Mid 2010)

Note, some late 2008 17-inch MacBook Pros and late 2008 white MacBooks do not support AirDrop, as neither do non-Lion-equipped systems. Whenever two users boasting newer Macs running Lion next need to transfer files, however, AirDrop may well prove the easiest method.

By Erik Eckel

Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president o...