iOS Tip: Send Files Between iOS Devices with AirDrop

I had a thought experiment today. I wanted to send a PDF file to my girlfriend, who’s away for a few days, so she could read it. She has an iPhone and an iPad, but the only device with a data contract is the iPhone. However, it’s hard to read a PDF that’s scaled for standard pages on an iPhone. I realized that there’s a very simple way to do this using AirDrop, as long as the two devices have WiFi and Bluetooth enabled. Both devices need to be running iOS 7, and only the following devices work with AirDrop:

  • iPhone 5 or later
  • iPad (4th generation)
  • iPad mini
  • iPod touch (5th generation)

First, you need to activate AirDrop. To do this, swipe up from the bottom of the screen on your devices. Control Center displays. Look for the AirDrop section; if it’s not highlighted – if its text isn’t white – tap it. You can choose to activate it for Contacts Only or Everyone; it’s safest to choose the former. If you need to activate it for Everyone later, you can do this.

Start by sending the file by email. The recipient will open the email, then tap the PDF file in the message body to download it. Next, tap the Share button – the square with the arrow leading from it – at the top-right of the screen. In the panel that displays, you’ll see any devices available to AirDrop in the top section. In the screenshot below, I’ve got my iPad set up to receive files by AirDrop, and my iPhone shows my user in the AirDrop section of the screen.

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The receiving device will display an alert asking if you want to accept the file. Tap Accept, then you’ll see a list of apps that can open the file. Tap the one you want to use.

The file will open in the selected device.

A few points. First, depending on the type of file and the apps on your device, you may not have many options. I have several apps that can read PDF files, and they show up in the list. I’m surprised that Safari isn’t listed, but since iBooks can read PDFs, there’s at least one Apple app available.

Some types of files won’t offer any options. If you share a photo using AirDrop, it gets added to your Photos library immediately.

Someone asked my why this is easier than sending emails. There are far fewer taps to send a file via AirDrop than via email, and emails are limited in attachment size, so if I want to send several photos, or a big PDF file, I might not be able to send it by email. Plus you have to wait for the email to be sent and received; with AirDrop, it’s device-to-device, and there’s no upload and download to and from remote servers.

Finally, why can’t you share files between OS X and iOS? This is surprising, since they both have AirDrop. I’d often like to move photos from my iPhone to my Mac more easily than by syncing. And I’d occasionally like to send PDFs to my iPad to read without having to sync or send them by email.

AirDrop can be useful for transferring files across iOS devices, even your own. Even if you’re not connected to a Wi-Fi network, it works seamlessly.