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iOS 7 AirDrop: Information sharing without a bump

AirDrop is a Wi-Fi ad-hoc file sharing service, built into iOS 7. It enables information to be quickly sent to another iOS device. While AirDrop isn't perfect yet, it's certainly making sharing files between iOS devices a lot easier than sending them through Mail.

Think of it as an "electronic sneakernet", where two parties just agree to share a file, bring up an AirDrop dialog, and then happily fling files at each other. Now this capability is built into iOS 7 making transferring files as simple as tapping a few buttons.

How to use AirDrop

AirDrop doesn't require you to "bump" your phone or tablet against another device like so many Android phones do. Instead, you easily share files with any device that's on the same Wi-Fi network with you that's nearby and has AirDrop active.* Imagine you are at a meeting with 5 other people who are all on devices running iOS 7 and want to share a Notes document containing a meeting agenda with all of those folks. Here's how you do it:

  1. Make sure that everyone at the meeting has AirDrop set up so that they're discoverable to everyone. This is done by bringing up Control Center with a swipe from the bottom of the iOS screen, then tapping on AirDrop and selecting "Everyone".

  2. Pop into Notes, tap on the note you wish to share, and then tap the share button.
  3. When the share sheet appears, an icon appears for everyone on the same Wi-Fi network who has made their iOS device discoverable. Tap the icon to begin sending.

  4. The recipient is notified of your file transfer with a small dialog that asks them to either decline or accept the transfer.

  5. If they accept, the file is transferred and usually opened in the appropriate app (i.e., Notes). If they decline the transfer, the sender sees the word "declined" below the "face" of the person who they sent the file to.

If you only want to make your iOS device discoverable by friends, family and co-workers, use Control Center to change your settings to "Contacts Only."

AirDrop-compatible apps

At the present time, AirDrop works with the following built-in iOS apps:

  • Notes
  • Contacts (send a business card to another user)
  • Voice Memos
  • Photos (AirDrop lets you preview the photo before accepting it)
  • Safari
  • Passbook
  • Maps
  • Podcasts

I anticipate that more developers will catch on to the utility of being able to send files to nearby users. It's a bit of surprise that Apple hasn't updated the iWork suite for iOS to be able to take advantage of AirDrop, but it wouldn't surprise me to see an update soon that makes it possible to beam Keynote presentations and Pages documents to other users.

Compatibility

So, this sounds pretty good, huh? Well, don't get too excited -- AirDrop doesn't work on all iOS devices. The devices that are AirDrop-savvy are the iPhone 5/5s/5c, 4th generation iPad, iPad mini, and 5th generation iPod touch.

What other capability is AirDrop lacking? It can't send or receive files to or from a Mac. Apple introduced AirDrop for OS X two years ago with the release of Mac OS X 10.7 Lion. To transfer files between Mac and iOS device, you're still going to need a third-party app. I'm a big fan of Instashare (free, US$0.99 in-app purchase to remove ads), which is a cross-platform set of applications that's perfect for sending most file types between your Mac and iOS device. Mike Rose recently took a look at another app -- DeskConnect (free) -- that also offers iOS to Mac transfers, but appears at this time to be much less robust in terms of the apps and file types it supports than Instashare.

I'd much rather see Apple "Sherlock" (build a third-party app's functionality into the OS) Instashare's capabilities so we are able to zap files hither and yon right out of the box instead of having to install and run a third-party app.

Conclusion

I hope that future updates, both to iOS 7 and to third-party apps, make AirDrop even more useful to the Apple world. Right now, it's a great implementation of something that has been needed in iOS since the first iPhone appeared. If developers embrace the ability to share more information through AirDrop, it could well turn out to be one of the most useful features ever created for iOS.

*Note: AirDrop does not require that the sharing devices be on the same WiFi network; it uses Bluetooth and peer-to-peer WiFi to transfer files. We apologize for the error.



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iOS

If developers embrace the ability to share more information through AirDrop, it could well turn out to be one of the most useful features ever created for iOS