AirDrop is one of the best features in the Apple ecosystem. Whether you’re using an iPhone, iPad or Mac, the act of sending files from one device to another is incredibly painless. It’s one of those things that I, as an Android and Windows user, seriously envy about Apple products — especially now that iOS 17 has officially arrived.
iOS 17 brings two key upgrades to AirDrop right now and the promise of a third at some point in the near future. There’s the new NameDrop, which lets you share contact details more efficiently, and the proximity sharing feature that powers it — but also supports the sharing of regular files.
It’s the initiation of the proximity sharing that has piqued my interest the most. Maybe because I'm old enough to remember when the only way to transfer files between iPhones relied on similar apps, bumping devices together to initiate the file transfer.
Those apps are long gone, killed off by AirDrop and other more capable software, but there's way more to it than simple nostalgia for ancient apps.
Proximity-based sharing is a game-changer
Having used the new AirDrop tap for myself, I can tell you that it’s so much more convenient than the normal method. There’s a lot less diving into sharing menus to ensure the files are safely sent to the right person. Just find the file, share via AirDrop and tap your phones together.
That means no more hunting for the right device in the menu — just a simple tap and your file is gone. And I already wish that this was something I could do with Android’s Nearby Share.
Last month, I spent a few days at IFA, the largest tech show in Europe, and naturally the exhibition halls were full to the brim with devices of all kinds — demo products, attendee smartphones, journalist’s laptops and so on.
Needless to say, finding your own devices when you are surrounded by thousands of competing signals was not a fun experience — especially if you need to quickly transfer files from one device to another. Android’s Nearby Share, which also supports Windows, was more or less useless in this situation.
The ability to instantly bring those devices together and automatically send files without the need for cables or seemingly-endless scrolling through menus would have made my life so much easier. I wouldn’t have had to mess about uploading to Google Drive and downloading them to my laptop while relying on terrible convention hall Wi-Fi.
In most instances Android Nearby Share is fine. It’s convenient enough that beaming files from my phone to my laptop is almost effortless, but it can be a pain at times. I'm thinking about the fact my laptop doesn’t like sending stuff back for one reason or another, or situations like the one I ran into at IFA. There's a lot of scope for improvement for wireless file transfer, and Apple has shown Google one of the ways it can do it.
AirDrop has potential for further improvements
We know that upgrades to AirDrop aren’t stopping yet. Apple already announced that AirDrop over the internet would be coming in the near future, allowing people to continue sharing files even if they don’t stay in the same place. (They'll both have to be logged into iCloud for this to work.) But there are still things Apple could do to improve the service, and hopefully prompt Android and Windows to improve their own services in the process.
The first is to actually roll out proximity-based sharing to more devices, rather than just iPhones. There are so many different scenarios when file-sharing is necessary, and not all of them involve sending stuff from one iPhone to another. It’s why we have AirDrop on larger Apple devices, after all.
But the fact a device is larger doesn’t mean it couldn’t benefit from a tap-to-share AirDrop upgrade. There are times when iCloud sync just isn’t appropriate, whether that’s because you don’t want to pay for more storage space, you’d rather keep your files away from a cloud server, or something else entirely. Here’s hoping that WWDC 2024 involves Apple revealing that iPadOS 18 and macOS 15 will be able to benefit from the same AirDrop upgrades as iOS 17.
It’s also about time Apple made it easier to wirelessly share files between Apple and Android devices. I don’t know how many people out there have ever tried transferring files from iPhone to Android, but I can speak from experience that it’s a rather hellish experience.
Then again that may be asking for too much. Apple has always been one of those companies that emphasizes having everything Apple all the time — despite the fact its customers don’t all live in an Apple-shaped bubble.
Considering Apple CEO Tim Cook’s response to the prospect of improving messaging security between iPhone and non-iPhone devices was to suggest that the questioner to “buy [their] mom an iPhone,” I can’t see that happening anytime soon.
But Apple's stubbornness and dedication to its bottom line doesn't mean people should be forced to use third party services for semi-convenient interoperability.
Progress is still progress, no matter how much better a feature could become in future. The fact that Apple isn’t content with leaving AirDrop as it is can only be a good thing. Whether that’s down to the increased convenience for iPhone owners, or the fact it should kick the likes of Google and Microsoft into gear to try and catch up.
Let’s just hope that since Nearby Share is actually available, Google can upgrade the feature with some haste. It took 9 years for the company to release its own AirDrop rival and, frankly, none of us should be forced to wait that long for something so simple ever again.