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AirDrop Works Only on Certain Macs

Mac OS X 10.7 Lion’s new AirDrop feature lets you copy files between two Macs without requiring an active Wi-Fi network, or that both machines be on the same network. It’s quick, secure, and nifty — but only if both people have sufficiently new Macs. During Lion beta testing, it was clear that some Lion-capable Macs couldn’t summon the right mojo to use AirDrop, which requires relatively recent Wi-Fi chips.

Apple’s Tech Specs page for Lion provides the first full accounting of which machines have AirDrop enabled. Here’s the rundown, although you can click over there, too:

  • 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 other way to know whether AirDrop works? If it appears as an option in a Finder window’s sidebar under the Favorites list.


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Comments about AirDrop Works Only on Certain Macs
(Comments are closed.)

Bonnie Barber  2011-07-20 16:31
Is AirDrop similar to DropBox? are there storage limitations?
Douglas A. Brace  2011-07-20 16:41
AirDrop is a form of ad-hoc file sharing. No data is transferred to the Internet in order to send/receive the file. This is what makes it different from Dropbox.
Ron Kraus  2011-07-20 17:37
Yeah, that was disappointing finding out that my early 2008 iMac was too old to use AirDrop. Three year old machines are now obsolete? Also, had some problems with Mail and Safari after upgrading to Lion. After installing a Java upgrade everything seems OK now.
Anon Y Mouse  2011-07-20 17:53
No, it does not make your 3 year old iMac obsolete. That said, I'll bet your iMac doesn't have a Thunderbolt port, or come with an SSD, did it? Apple adds new capability all the time, and not every feature of any new OS is going to work with anything but the latest technology. Rather than complaining that you can't use AirDrop (I agree it's a disappointment...I can't use it with my 16 GB, 8-core, 4-drive, 5 TB Mac Pro either...) enjoy all the other great things Apple has given you for $29.95!
Ron Kraus  2011-07-20 20:32
I understand hardware changes, but this is software and shouldn't all of these new features that have been touted work on relatively new, Intel-based machines?
Ron Kraus  2011-07-20 19:46
Anyway, I don't need it because Dropbox works fine for me.
Glenn Fleishman  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-07-20 20:04
It's a weird situation. It's one thing to say you could get some display feature only if you had a newer Mac. Another to say a marquee feature simply isn't available to some percentage of users with otherwise capable machines.

Apple will probably field a lot of complaints—and ignore them.

The other option would be to have not offered this feature at all because it didn't work everywhere. Clearly, they decided that wasn't a good move for the future, as more and more people have machines capable of using it.
No, AirDrop requires the Wi-Fi hardware to support a separate standard called Wi-Fi Direct (ratified in October 2009, previously named Wi-Fi P2P). It is not just software.
Glenn Fleishman  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-07-22 19:30
It's not Wi-Fi Direct, Apple confirmed for me a while ago. It uses some (or all) of the same underlying technology in the chips, but it is not compatible. (Or at least that's what they said. I can test that assertion now.)
David S.  2011-07-21 05:49
I'd love to know exactly what it is about AD that requires this newer hardware. All Intel C2D and later Macs support 802.11a/b/g/n, AD's just a network file-sharing facility.

I don't recall any extra networking hardware being mentioned when those newer machines were released. What extra n/w mojo does AD need and why?
Glenn Fleishman  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-07-21 07:22
There's a specific feature that allows simultaneous WLAN (infrastructure) and PAN (personal area networking) in the silicon. This can be done with difficultly without dedicated silicon, but it's not reliable enough for production.
Chuck Shotton  2011-07-21 09:33
This makes no sense at all. What it does is makes AirDrop a virtually worthless feature. There is no technical reason why it cannot fall back to Bonjour and traditional TCP or UDP based file transfers in the absence of newer WiFi chip sets.

What is so magic about ad hoc file sharing that it would make sense to exclude participants on a wired network, or a multi-zone WiFi network, or even Bluetooth? This smells like the work of summer interns...
Glenn Fleishman  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-07-21 10:18
Oh, it's ridiculous. This should be a drop-in replacement/complement for AFP. Instead, it's a "what the hell" that works only when it works. The interface is horrible, too.
AirDrop uses a variation of Intel's Wi-Fi Direct protocol. It doesn't use a LAN or a WLAN at all; rather, it creates an ad-hoc network, and anyone within N feet is automatically detected. If multiple machines are on a LAN, then just use regular file sharing and Public/Drop Box folders.
Chuck Shotton  2011-07-22 03:31
That's even more useless than I thought. So *if* I have appropriately modern Apple gear, and *if* I use WiFi as my networking medium, and *if* the other person I want to share a file with is in range of my machine, and *if* they have a similarly modern machine, THEN I can use this "new" feature to send them a file, which I could have probably already done much faster by dropping a file on their Bonjour user ID in my iChat window or emailing it to them.

Nice job, Steve. Definitely meets your high standards for "joy to use" and "simple".
Glenn Fleishman  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-07-22 10:18
It's insane to me that Apple would implement a marquee-advertised feature that isn't available to all users in a consistent and expected way. Try DropCopy. Works over all medium, has good licensing terms, requires a little monkeying around to get the way you want it.
Has anyone seen a list with more specifics (like serial numbers) for compatibility? I have a MacBook purchased in July 2008. Is that late 2008?
one would think if it is working, you would be late july. if its not working perhaps not.
Glenn Fleishman  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-07-21 22:24
Punch in your actual system model and you can get the spec. Apple annoying uses labels like "late 2008" instead of a date or model number. July is probably not late 2008, by which they usually mean September or later.
in lew of setting up a PAN, can't they allow older macs to setup over existing wifi? anybody know if this is possible? i feel bad for people who have a newer mac and older one in the same house.
Glenn Fleishman  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-07-21 22:24
It's not possible in the way Apple chose to implement this feature, which relies on a particular bit of circuitry available only in later-generation chips that the company adopted for its computers at different points in time by model.
littlechristy  2011-07-22 00:35
Abolutely disgusted that a two year old mac mini will not support air drop.
Doctor Fedora  2011-07-29 00:49
I am LITERALLY just THROWING UP ALL OVER THE ROOM because a feature was advertised that I CAN'T USE, EVEN THOUGH I PROBABLY WOULDN'T HAVE ANYWAY. NOW I have to GO GET ANOTHER BUCKET after I was made VIOLENTLY ILL because my old MacBook doesn't have a multitouch trackpad and I COULDN'T USE MOMENTUM-BASED SCROLLING
Glenn Fleishman  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-07-29 09:26
Warning: This feature may cause nausea, shortness of breath, and sarcasm.