AirDrop Not Working? 5 Tips to Get You Going Again

Fixing AirDrop issues will make sharing easy once again

Two women holding iPhones close together.
Getty Images

AirDrop not working on your iOS or Mac device? Luckily getting AirDrop working properly does not have to be a hair-pulling event. These five tips can get you sharing photos, webpages, just about any kind of data between your iOS devices and your Macs.

01
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Are You Discoverable in AirDrop?

iOS and Mac AirDrop discoverable settings.
iOS (left) and Mac (right) discoverable settings. Courtesy of Coyote Moon, Inc.

AirDrop has a few settings that control if others can see your iOS or Mac device. These settings can block devices from appearing, or only allow some individuals to be able to see you.

AirDrop uses three discovery settings:

  • Off: Your device is not seen by anyone on your local network.
  • Contacts Only: Only those people who are present in your Contacts app will be able to see your device in their AirDrop network.
  • Everyone: All devices that are nearby and have AirDrop enabled will be able to see you your device.

To confirm or change the AirDrop discovery settings in your iOS device perform the following:

  1. Swipe up from the bottom of the screen to bring up the Control Center.
  2. Tap AirDrop.
  3. AirDrop will display the three discoverable settings.

To access the same discoverable settings on your Mac bring up AirDrop in the Finder by:

  1. Selecting Airdrop from a Finder window sidebar or selecting Airdrop from the Finder's Go menu,
  2. In the AirDrop Finder window that opens click on the text named Allow me to be discovered by:
  3. A dropdown menu will appear displaying the three discovery settings.

Make your selection, if you are having problems with your device being seen by others; select Everyone as the discovery setting.

02
of 05

Are Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are Enabled?

iOS and macOS methods for turning Bluetooth on.
Both iOS (left) and macOS (right) let you turn Bluetooth on from the AirDrop panel.

AirDrop relies on both Bluetooth to detect devices within 30-feet and Wi-Fi to perform the actual data transfer. If either Bluetooth or Wi-Fi is not turned on AirDrop will not function.

On your iOS device, you can enable both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth from within the Sharing menu:

  1. Bring up an item to share such as a photo then tap Sharing.
  2. If either Wi-Fi or Bluetooth is disabled, AirDrop will offer to turn the needed network services on. Tap AirDrop.
  3. AirDrop will become available.

On the Mac, AirDrop can enable Bluetooth if disabled.

  1. Open a Finder Windows and select the AirDrop item in the sidebar, or select AirDrop from the Finder's Go menu.
  2. The AirDrop Finder window will open offering to turn on Bluetooth if it is disabled.
  3. Click the Turn on Bluetooth button.
  4. To enable Wi-Fi either launch System Preferences from the Dock or select System Preferences from the Apple menu.
  5. Select the Network preference pane.
  6. Select Wi-Fi from the Network pane sidebar.
  7. Click the Turn Wi-Fi on button.

You can also perform this same function from the Mac's menu bar if you have Show Wi-Fi status in menu bar selected in the Network preference pane.

Even if Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are enabled, it is possible that turning Wi-Fi and Bluetooth off and back on again can fix the occasional issue with no devices showing up in the AirDrop network.

  • On iOS devices, both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth can be turned on or off from Settings.
  • On the Mac, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are available as separate preference panes from within the System Preferences.
03
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Are all the AirDrop Devices Awake?

macOS Energy Saver preference pane.
The Mac's Energy Saver preference pane can be used to control the display and computer sleep time. Courtesy of Coyote Moon, Inc.

Perhaps the most common issue encountered with using AirDrop is the failure of a device to appear because it is asleep.

On iOS devices, AirDrop requires the display to be active. On the Mac the computer must not be asleep, though the display can be dimmed, running a screen saver, or be asleep.

  • On iOS devices press the Sleep/Wake button to awaken your device. If your iOS device is displaying the Lock screen, AirDrop can still function, though you will need to accept any AirDrop notification that appears on the Lock screen.
  • On the Mac, you can awaken the computer by pressing any key, moving the mouse, tapping the trackpad or pressing the power switch momentarily.

You can also use the Energy Saver preference pane on the Mac to prevent the computer from sleeping or to set a longer period before going to sleep.

04
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Airplane Mode and Do Not Disturb

iOS Setting screen
Make sure Airplane mode is disabled. Courtesy of Coyote Moon, Inc.

Another common error that causes AirDrop problems is to forget that your device is in Airplane Mode or in Do Not Disturb.

Airplane Mode disabled all wireless radios including Wi-Fi and Bluetooth that AirDrop relies on to operate.

You can verify Airplane mode as well as change it's setting by selecting Settings, Airplane Mode. You can also access the AirPlane mode setting from the Control Panel by swiping up from the bottom of the screen.

Do Not Disturb in iOS devices and on the Mac can prevent AirDrop from working correctly. In both cases, Do Not Disturb disables notifications from being delivered. This not only prevents you from seeing any AirDrop request, but it makes your device undiscoverable as well.

The opposite is not true, though, while you are in Do Not Disturb mode you can send information via AirDrop.

On iOS devices:

  1. Swipe up from the bottom of the screen to bring up the Control Center.
  2. Tap the Do Not Disturb icon (quarter moon) to toggle the setting.

On Macs:

  1. Click on the Notification menu bar item to bring up the Notification panel.
  2. Scroll up (even if you are already at the top) to see the Do Not Disturb settings. Toggle the setting if needed.
05
of 05

AirDrop Without Bluetooth or Wi-Fi

Ethernet cable
Even Macs using wired Ethernet can use AirDrop. CCO

It's possible to use AirDrop on a Mac without having to use Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. When Apple first released AirDrop, it was limited to specific Apple supported Wi-Fi radios, but it turns out with a bit of tweaking you can enable AirDrop on unsupported third-party Wi-Fi devices. You can also use AirDrop over wired ethernet This can allow many earlier Macs (2012 and older) to be members of the AirDrop community. To find out more, take a look at our article on using AirDrop with or without a Wi-Fi connection.

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