How does AirDrop work? The Apple data exchange explained in simple terms

How does AirDrop work? The Apple data exchange explained in simple terms

With AirDrop you can easily share photos, files and links between different Apple devices. We explain how AirDrop works and what you have to consider when using it.

What is AirDrop?

AirDrop is a so-called Wi-Fi ad hoc service from Apple, which was introduced by Apple in 2011. AirDrop makes it possible to exchange files between macOS or iOS devices without external LAN or Wi-Fi connections. With OS X Lion (10.7) AirDrop was available for the first time on the Mac, iOS devices have been there since iOS 7. Since OS X Yosemite and iOS 8, AirDrop also works between Macs and mobile devices.

The configuration and the connection between the devices takes place automatically, so the user does not have to make any further settings.

How does AirDrop work?

AirDrop uses the proprietary WLAN protocol Apple Wireless Direct Link (AWDL), which works in a similar way to Wi-Fi Direct . However, there are three key differences:

  1. With AirDrop, not only WLAN, but also Bluetooth is used as the transmission protocol. Prior to the actual WLAN connection, the immediate neighboring devices are recognized via Bluetooth. The reason: Bluetooth consumes less energy than WLAN, as the AirDrop's readiness to receive can also be activated in the background.
  2. The Apple devices that you can connect to are not displayed using freely selectable device names, but rather using the profile photo of the currently logged in user on the respective device.
  3. The connection to the common ad-hoc network takes place without manual password entry. Both sender and recipient must confirm each transfer.

How fast is AirDrop and what is its range?

According to Apple , AirDrop works between devices that are no more than nine meters apart. The greater the distance between the devices, the lower the transmission speed. At a distance of around 1 meter, AirDrop reaches a speed of 12 to 15 megabytes per second. However, this speed decreases rapidly with increasing distance. A test by showed that at a distance of two meters the data rate is only an average of 3.7 MB / s.

How can I specifically use AirDrop?

And how can you use AirDrop in everyday life to exchange data? We explain it in the guide below


  1. Make sure the device you want to send to is nearby and within Bluetooth and WiFi range.
  2. WLAN and Bluetooth must be activated on both devices. Personal hotspots must be deactivated.
  3. Check in the "Settings> General> AirDrop" menu whether the option "Only for contacts" is set for AirDrop reception on the device you want to send to. If this is the case and you are one of the contacts, then the person must have the email address or mobile number of your Apple ID saved on the contact card for AirDrop to work.
  4. If you are not listed in the other person's contacts, then the AirDrop receive settings must be changed to "For everyone" in order to receive the file.

An iPhone with a U1 chip (iPhone 11 or newer) can find AirDrop contacts even more easily. Image: © Apple 2019

Use AirDrop

    1. If all of the above requirements are met, you can use AirDrop to exchange data between different Apple devices.
    2. To do this, tap on the share button (square with up arrow symbol) in any app from which you want to share content (photos, safari, etc.).
    3. Then tap the "AirDrop" option. If you and the person you want to share content with have an iPhone 11 or later, you can point your smartphone towards the other device. The U1 chip then helps to find the other Apple device more easily .
    4. Then tap the user's profile picture. You can also use AirDrop for transfers between your own Apple devices. If you see a red numbered badge on the AirDrop button, there are multiple devices nearby that you can share with.
    5. If someone shares something with you via AirDrop, a message will be displayed with a preview. You can tap "Accept" or "Decline".
    6. If you tap on "Accept", the AirDrop transmission will be received in the same app with which it was sent. For example, photos appear in the Photos app and websites open in Safari. App links are opened in the App Store so that you can download or purchase the corresponding app.
    7. When you send something to yourself with AirDrop, e.g. B. a photo from your iPhone to your Mac, no option to accept or reject is displayed, the transfer takes place automatically. It is only important that both devices are registered with the same Apple ID.


  • AirDrop is an Apple-exclusive WLAN protocol for direct transmission between two Apple devices.
  • AirDrop requires iOS 7, iPadOS 13, OS X 10.10 or later.
  • For AirDrop, WLAN and Bluetooth must be activated. Personal hotspots must be turned off.
  • The range of AirDrop is around 10 meters, the maximum transmission speed is 12 to 15 MB per second. However, as the distance increases, the speed decreases rapidly.
  • Sending via AirDrop works via the Share menu in different apps such as Photos, Safari and Co.

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