MacMost Now 583: Using Lion AirDrop

The AirDrop feature of Lion allows you to send files between Macs. It works without a shared wifi connection, but requires two Macs that have very recent wifi hardware.

Video Transcript
Hi, this is Gary with MacMost Now. On today's episode, let's look at AirDrop.
So, Airdrop is a new way to transfer files between Macs, if you're using Mac OS X Lion, and it doesn't require that the two Macs be on the same Wi-Fi network, like regular file-sharing. So the way it works, is it uses the Wi-Fi chips and antenna in your Mac, and it looks for other Macs running Lion, and if it finds one, it can create this side channel, it's kind of a second channel to the one that it's primarily using to connect to the network. It'll connect directly from Mac-to-Mac, and because of this it needs to have a Mac with the most recent Wi-Fi chips. So, probably something in 2010 or 2011. Otherwise, you just won't see Airdrop as an option when you look in the finder. Now, if it's capable of having this second channel, then it can communicate directly using Airdrop directly from one Mac to the other, it doesn't have to go through the Wi-Fi network, and the machines don't even have to be hooked up to the same Wi-Fi Network.
So here, if I look in my finder window, I've got AirDrop here on the left. If you don't see Airdrop listed here, and you don't see it under Go, AirDrop, that means you have an older Mac and it doesn't support AirDrop. You have to have the latest Wi-Fi hardware in order for it to support AirDrop, as I said. So, let's go to AirDrop, and it'll look for computers nearby. Now you can see at the bottom here, this is the current Mac I'm using. Up here is another Mac that is nearby; not on my network, just nearby. So, I can actually send files to this. et me go and take this text document here, and drop it over here. And it'll ask me to confirm (I'll say, 'yes') and then it'll say, 'waiting for the other computer to accept', and they'll be another prompt on the other computer. So let's do it the opposite way, here, and let me send a file from the other computer. I'll just set that up here, and I will just drag and drop for the MacBook here. And it's going to ask me to confirm there, you can't see that. Now you'll see the other end of it and you'll see, 'ah, something's been sent'. What do you want to do? Save and open? Decline, or save it? If I save it, it'll go down into the downloads folder, just like if you downloaded something from an email or from Safari.
Now the two Macs need to be very close, probably in the same room for this to work. The reason is, the Wi-Fi networks have to be in range. Now, using regular file sharing, you may be sharing with another Mac that's in another part of the network. A network may span an entire building at work or even a campus at school, and you can share with a computer that's pretty far away. But for this to work, the two machines have to be close to each other. In this way it's kind of similar to Bluetooth file sharing, maybe there's a little bit better distance they can get between them and certainly better speed using AirDrop.
As a matter of fact, AirDrop is kind of similar to Bluetooth file sharing where we're kind of sending a file and somebody else is accepting it. It's nowhere near the capability of regular network file sharing, so if you have that going on in your house or work, continue to use that. One of the big advantages of using regular file sharing is you can connect with another computer, send files to it and it'll appear on the computer, you can even go to another computer and grab files from it. Here it really takes two people: one accepting and one sending, for a file to go. So, if you've got two Macs and you want to find a good way to transfer files between them, stick with regular file sharing, not AirDrop.
I see this being very handy in schools or organizations, or in casual meeting places like coffee shops and such, when you want to send somebody a quick file, and there's no network available for you to do be able to do regular file sharing.
Hope you found this look at AirDrop useful. Until next time, this is Gary with MacMost Now.
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Comments: 26 Responses to “MacMost Now 583: Using Lion AirDrop”

    Doug Brace
    7/25/11 @ 10:12 am

    Do you know of any places the sell AirDrop compatible AirPort/WiFi adapters? Depending on the cost, I’d be interested in upgrading if they are cost effective.

      7/25/11 @ 10:17 am

      No, I don’t believe it is possible to upgrade. You’d have to remove the wifi parts inside your Mac and replace them. Anything is possible, but I’d imagine it would be a huge expense and may still not work as the parts may not be compatible.
      So probably best to stick with standard file sharing, or something like DropBox.

    Doug Brace
    7/25/11 @ 11:07 am

    That’s kinda what I figured. I wasn’t sure how Apple determined what is and isn’t compatible with AirDrop. It would be a matter of determining if they query the wireless LAN adapter during install or base it solely on the exact model of the machine? Because the new “About This Mac” screen tells you the exact model (in my case early 2008 MacBook Pro).

    Robert C.
    7/26/11 @ 3:41 am

    Gary, I really like your videos and tips that you give. I have learn a lot about my mac since I visit this site. Thanks for that!

    A Little off topic here, but I was wondering if you could make a video (or a post) about versions and how they actually work. I use iWork a lot, and it has being a bit confusing since obviously we are not used to not save ever. What confuses me the most is not having Save as… Also if you could explain how Stationery Pads work now with versions (or maybe they are not relevant anymore). I’d really appreciate it.

      7/26/11 @ 7:20 am

      I’ll be getting to Versions in time. Lots of new features to cover. I’ll get to them all. As for Stationery Pads, I don’t see why they aren’t the same. Just “templates” — you can open them to start a new document and then must save them as a new document the first time. But I haven’t tried them under Lion yet.

    7/28/11 @ 9:52 am

    Gary…..somehow I lost the AirDrop icon off of the finder window. Do you know a way to recover it?


      7/28/11 @ 10:50 am

      Was it there originally? Did you ever have AirDrop working? Is AirDrop still listed under the Go menu?

        7/28/11 @ 1:03 pm

        Gary…. I had three computers to install Lion on and the one on the machine with the missing AirDrop was the only one I had difficulties with and had to get assistance from the people at Apple. They ended up diagnosing the initial problems as a bad download that ended up corrupting the hard drive. After erasing the hard drive, downloading and installing Lion again, and restoring User data, everything worked as it should. I just can’t be sure AirDrop was there after installing Lion. AirDrop is not listed under the Go menu, and I just tried the shift-command-R to see if AirDrop appeared. It did not.

          7/28/11 @ 1:08 pm

          Well, for the benefit of others reading this later on: Remember, that if AirDrop doesn’t appear in the Finder it usually just means that your Mac is too old to use AirDrop. You need to have a very recent Mac, 2010 or newer, at least, to have the wifi hardware to support a “side channel” for AirDrop. And if yo udon’t have it, no big deal. Standard file sharing is actually more robust and functional, it just requires you to be on the same wifi network.

            7/28/11 @ 1:22 pm

            Gary… most likely just identified the problem. The computer I was having difficulty with is a 2007 or 2008 model. The other two computers I have where AirDrop works fine are a 2010 iMac and and a 2011 MacBook Pro. Appreciate your solving the mystery !


              7/28/11 @ 1:23 pm

              Ah, I’m sorry. I thought you have said that AirDrop had been working on that machine. No, there is no chance it will work on a 2007/08 model of any Mac line. They didn’t start putting these more advanced wifi chips in until later. So Lion makes it “easy” by just not showing you the AirDrop function at all.

            Steven Klein
            10/31/11 @ 12:18 pm

            You keep saying users “need to have a very recent Mac, 2010 or newer,” to use AirDrop.

            That simply isn’t true, and you’re doing your readers a disservice by not checking with Apple before making this claim.

            I have clients using it on 2009 MacBook Pro models, and I know it works on some 2008 models.

            Apple has an article posted about it here:

            The text below is taken directly from that article:
            If your Mac is the same as, or newer than, the models listed below, then it supports AirDrop.

            • 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)

            * The MacBook Pro (17-Inch Late 2008) and the white MacBook (Late 2008) do not support AirDrop.

              10/31/11 @ 12:45 pm

              I don’t believe that list was available when I made this video. Glad that Apple has clarified which Macs work with AirDrop and which haven’t. The important point I was trying to get across was that it does require a “newer” Mac to work — there were a lot of people at that point in time who were frustrated because they couldn’t get it to work and they didn’t realize this.

    7/28/11 @ 2:00 pm

    I was under the impression that with Lion, sharing files between my iMac, iPad and iPhone would be easy. From this video, it looks like that isn’t what Lion does and that Dropbox will still be the way to go. Am I mistaken about this? I also thought I could park music in my cloud and access it from any of my three Apple devices without having to make it resident on all of them. Not getting the idea I was right about that either. PS: I haven’t upgraded to Lion yet and am becoming ever more dubious about whether there is any advantage to doing so.

      7/28/11 @ 2:12 pm

      I think you are confusing Lion with iCloud. Lion is simply a Mac OS X upgrade. iCloud is a feature that Lion (and the soon-to-be-released iOS 5) will be able to access that allows you to share music and files between your Apple devices. iCloud will be released in the fall.

    7/28/11 @ 2:40 pm

    Aah. Patience is the key! LOL. Thanks.

    Steven Klein
    7/30/11 @ 7:56 pm


    You claim that AirDrop requires “a very recent Mac, 2010 or newer.”

    Apple’s own website lists several 2008 and 2009 models that support AirDrop:

    I haven’t tested it myself, but I know someone who uses AirDrop on his 2009 MacBook Pro, so I’m quite certain you’re mistaken in your assumptions.

      7/30/11 @ 7:59 pm

      Right. Well refer to that list for specifics. I was trying to give people a general idea that it doesn’t work on older Macs. If you works on your Mac, then great. If it doesn’t, then it being “too old” is probably the reason.

      8/4/11 @ 4:50 am

      I have a mid 2009 macbook pro 15″ and Airdrop works fine on it.
      Apple made it very easy to check for compatibility of your machine in the redisigned “about this mac” interface.
      Under WIFI, you have a line that say: Airdrop supported: Yes/No.

      So if you don’t get the airdrop icon but have it supported in the “about this mac” page, you should definitely check at your install. Otherwise….well we’ve been living without airdrop so far and nobody died…
      It’s not such a usefull feature anyway since most everywhere you can use regular file sharing over wifi network.
      Few time you have not access to a wifi network, you still have usb keys….

      It’s cool but not THAT cool to be mad

    Kelly Skinner
    8/8/11 @ 12:20 pm

    Can you use airdrop to send movies purchased from iTunes from one Mac to another? Also, what about sharing books purchased from ibooks?
    Thanks so much!

    8/8/11 @ 3:48 pm

    No. You can just send files using Airdrop. So I guess you can find those files and send them. But Home Sharing is the feature you probably want. As for books, thats a feature of iCloud, so wait a bit. We’ll also probably have the ability to do that for movies too — as long as the Macs have the same owner.

    Ruben Vargas
    8/22/11 @ 8:17 am

    The info on this page and the comments where very helpful. I now know that both my iMac mid 2007 and my Macbook Pro both don’t have the necessary hardware for Airdrop. In seeing how airdrop works I remembered I used to have an application that did exactly the same thing, no setup required automatically detected anyone nearby on the same network. Airdrop goes a step further and finds anyone nearby without the need to be on any network. Anyway it took me a while to find it cause I couldn’t remember its name. I found it, its called DropCopy, it puts a small moveable circle where you can drop your files on your desktop. For those of you like me that AirDrop is not an option, and if you want to transfer files within your network, DropCopy does most of AirDrop can do. You can find it as a free download limited to 3 computers in the AppStore. is the publisher. Hope you find this info also usefull.

    Brian Adamson
    10/15/11 @ 11:37 am

    Hi Gary, Just to let other users of Air Drop know, air drop cannot be used if sharing is checked in system prefs. Apple did not seem to be aware of this.

    Roar Wik
    5/17/12 @ 4:24 pm

    For those who own computers too old for Air Drop, i would recomend an app called Dropcopy which you can find in the App Store. Ther’s even a version for iOS devices which lets you easily send files back and forth to your macs. Dropcopy uses Bonjour.

    Sandesh D§urge
    1/10/13 @ 2:23 am

    Gery , when i transferred file to my macbook pro to imac using airdrop that every time my macbook pro going slow down or going hang for some time , so plz tell me solution?

      1/10/13 @ 6:08 am

      Sorry, I don’t know what could be causing the slow down.

Comments Closed.