Posted on 11th August 2015 by Russell Harris

Troubleshooting AirDrop issues in OS X Yosemite

airdrop logo

For today’s blog I thought I would mention some options to get the best out of AirDrop file sharing. Since Apple made some hardware and software changes over the past couple of years, sometimes AirDrop discovery and file sharing is not as easy as it can be.

When AirDrop was first released, you could share files between 2 Macs or between 2 devices running iOS (such as an iPhone and an iPad).

The cool thing with OS X Yosemite (along with iOS 8), is that you can still quickly transfer files between your Mac and another nearby Mac or 2 iOS devices, but you can also now transfer files between your Mac and any iOS 8 device!

Why use AirDrop?

Well, it creates a direct wireless connection between your 2 Macs WITHOUT the need for an existing WiFi network. So for any situation where there is no WiFi available, you can still transfer files between 2 Macs wirelessly with minimal setup. Cool huh?

As cool as AirDrop is, many Yosemite users using a Mac made in 2012 and later, (myself included) seem to be having some difficulty discovering other AirDrop devices. So in this blog I have written about my findings and what I’ve tried to make it work better.

Firstly, make sure your Mac works with AirDrop (always a good start!)

Go to the Finder by clicking anywhere on the Desktop or by selecting the Finder icon in the far left of the Dock at the bottom of your screen. Then select the ‘Go’ menu in the Finder menus at the top left of your screen and look for the AirDrop option:

finder menu

If AirDrop is listed, you can do AirDrop! If not, then your Mac doesn’t support it.

AirDrop requires specific software and hardware to function. Here’s a quick breakdown:

  • To use AirDrop between 2 iOS devices: Requires at least iOS 7 and have a Lightning connector.
  • To use AirDrop between 1 iOS device and 1 Mac: The iOS device has to be running iOS 8.0 or later and use a Lightning connector. The Mac has to be running OS X 10.10.0 or later and needs to be a 2012 or newer Mac Mini, iMac, MacBook Air or MacBook Pro, or a Late 2013 Mac Pro.
  • To use AirDrop between 2 Macs: They both need to be a Mid 2010 or newer Mac Mini, an early 2009 iMac or newer, a late 2008 or newer MacBook, a Late 2010 or newer MacBook Air, a Late 2008 or newer MacBook Pro, or Early 2009 with AirPort Extreme Card or Mid 2010 or newer Mac Pro. (Rather a long list that one.)

Along with these above requirements, the 2 devices have to have WiFi and Bluetooth enabled for discovery and communication.

If you need to check what Mac you have, select ‘About This Mac’ from the main Apple menu and it will tell you.

So, let’s now look at how AirDrop should work on a Mac running OS X 10.10.0 or later and the Mac was made in 2012 or later.

You should just need to select the ‘Go’ menu in the Finder menus at the top left of your screen and choose the AirDrop option, or select the AirDrop option in any Finder window sidebar. You should then see the AirDrop discovery window:

airdrop discovery window

As you can see, the default setting for AirDrop on a 2012 and later Mac running OS X 10.10.0 or later is effectively ‘Off’.
You can see the setting above for the ‘Allow me to be discovered by’ option is ‘No One’.
To enable AirDrop, you, therefore, have to select either ‘Contacts Only’ or ‘Everyone’:

enable-airdrop-everyone

You can choose to only use AirDrop with people in your iCloud contacts, or you can allow Everyone (guest access), which will advertise your Mac with any other AirDrop device within range of your Mac.

Worth noting: For an iOS device to appear in this list, as well as the iOS requirements mentioned above, the iOS device needs to be unlocked.

On the bottom right of the AirDrop window is the option to discover an older Mac, which is using the previous AirDrop discovery method.

You can select ‘Don’t see who you’re looking for?’ and then select ‘Search for an Older Mac’. This will then switch your new Mac to using the previous AirDrop discovery method to communicate with a Mac made before 2012 or a Mac running OS X 10.7, OS X 10.8 or OS X 10.9:

search for older mac

Now, onto the techie bits and why all this is happening.

In 2012, Apple started shipping devices with Bluetooth 4.0. Then once OS X Yosemite (10.10) was released, Apple changed how AirDrop discovery worked leveraging the newer Bluetooth technology.
Now, the Macs use Bluetooth 4.0 for discovery, and WiFi for data transfer, the same way iOS performs AirDrop. (This new method can be used with any compatible device running iOS 7 and OS X Yosemite or later).

This new method should perform the same for the user as using AirDrop on OS X Mavericks (10.9) and earlier did, just benefit from transferring files between iOS and OS X. However, it seems to not work like the previous method used by OS X 10.7, OS X 10.8 and OS X 10.9 Macs – where AirDrop used Apple’s Bonjour and personal area networking technology for discovery instead of Bluetooth.

Why AirDrop discovery over Bluetooth is not working as expected could be down to many factors.

However, here’s a few suggestions that have helped me to use AirDrop on a 2012 or later Mac running OS X Yosemite, (you may not need to try ALL of the steps):

  1. After selecting AirDrop, make sure you have selected Everyone from the ‘Allow me to be discovered by’ drop down menu.
  2. Ensure that both WiFi and Bluetooth are enabled on your Mac and the other device you are trying to transfer files with.
  3. Check the distance between your 2 devices. AirDrop now uses Bluetooth discovery and, therefore, is designed to work within a range of approximately 30 feet/10 meters.
  4. Go to the Wi-Fi icon in the main menu and turn WiFi off and then back on again.
  5. Option/Alt click the WiFi icon in the main menu and select to disconnect from any existing WiFi network:
  6. Go to the Bluetooth icon on the main menu and turn Bluetooth off and then back on again.disconnect WiFi network
  7. Unplug your Ethernet cable if you have one connected, so your Mac is not connected to ANY wired or wireless network.
  8. Open System Preferences on your Mac and select Security & Privacy. Select the Firewall tab and check that your Firewall is OFF, or if it is enabled check that it isn’t causing your Mac to block communication. (For example, AirDrop will fail if you have enabled the ‘Block all incoming connections’ setting).
  9. Restart your Mac, then when your Mac has restarted, log back into your user account and select the ‘Go’ menu in the Finder menus at the top left of your screen. Now choose the AirDrop option to initiate AirDrop and see if this helps.

If these tips don’t help, a last resort can be to force AirDrop to use the previous AirDrop discovery method even if both Macs are a newer 2012 or later Mac running OS X Yosemite.
Therefore, as listed above for how to AirDrop with an older Mac, once you have the AirDrop window open, on the bottom right of the AirDrop window is the option to discover an older Mac which is using the previous AirDrop discovery method.

You can select ‘Don’t see who you’re looking for?’ and then select ‘Search for an Older Mac’. This will then switch your new Mac to using the previous AirDrop discovery method.
Perform this same action on the other newer Mac and once both Macs are running the older AirDrop method they should find each other and data transfer can commence.
I have sometimes found that this is the ONLY way I can get AirDrop to work on a 2012 and later Mac running OS X Yosemite.
The main issue with downgrading your AirDrop technology to the original version by selecting ‘Don’t see who you’re looking for’ is that you will no longer be able to discover iOS devices or 2012 and later OS X Macs unless they have also downgraded their AirDrop method too.

Apple has a fairly detailed OS X AirDrop support document, which may also help you get the most out of this feature.

I hope that helps any of you that are having issues with AirDrop in OS X Yosemite.

If these suggestions doesn’t get AirDrop working for you, perhaps Apple will release AirDrop enhancements in an update for OS X Yosemite, or maybe the release of El Capitan (OS X v10.11) later this year will have newer AirDrop capabilities.

Similarly, if you have found other ways to improve AirDrop performance, perhaps you can comment on this blog and share your experiences to help the rest of us!

Disclaimer:

While the author has taken care to provide our readers with accurate information, please use your discretion before acting upon information based on the blog post. Amsys will not compensate you in any way whatsoever if you ever happen to suffer a loss/inconvenience/damage because of/while making use of information in this blog.

These features were tested using OS X Yosemite v10.10.4 which was the latest Mac OS release at the time of writing.