Until recently, the words “iOS file transfer” were crazier than “fast dial-up” or “cutting-edge flip phone.” AirDrop, a Mac OS feature set to arrive on iPhones and iPads with the release of iOS 7, will finally bring some validity to the nonsensical term by “leveraging the core strengths of Apple’s unified ecosystem,” as one ReadWrite blogger puts it. But the question remains, can Apple make AirDrop as easy to use in the mobile space?
Mac users have enjoyed sharing files between their laptops and desktops since AirDrop made its debut in OS X 10.7. Now, thanks to iOS 7, Apple owners will be able to do the same with the fourth generation iPad, iPhone 5, iPad mini and any iDevices released from here on out.
Early previews of AirDrop reveal the feature works a lot like its OS X counterpart. The mobile version maintains the clean, attractive interface, while ditching the irritating configuration steps that make file transfer a pain in the thumbs on competing products. This YouTube video from iDeviceMovies illustrates just how easy it is to send a photo, website and App Store listing in quick succession.
In addition to AirDrop, iOS 7 allows developers to experiment with peer-to-peer connectivity. This opens up many possibilities, including high-end multiplayer gaming in the same room over an ad hoc network or two music apps on separate iPads exchanging audio in real-time.
One iOS architect, Conrad Stoll, is excited about the possibilities of this new programming framework. “Peer-to-peer connectivity is a really powerful capability that developers will have to find creative uses for. It definitely unlocks a whole range of apps that would’ve been much more difficult to build before.”
As great as AirDrop will be for everybody with a portable Apple device, the feature isn’t without its limitations. Cross-platform support is obviously a no-go, meaning you’ll have to rely on your email app to send your Android and Windows buddies a file. The same goes for desktop-to-device compatibility within the Apple product line, but that shouldn’t discourage mobile users too much.
Stoll believes AirDrop has the potential to be more useful on mobile platforms than PCs. “In Mac OS, you have to go to a specific UI and drag something onto a person’s icon. On iOS it’s a bit more natural, where it’s just another option on the Share sheet when another compatible device is in range.”
Expressing a contrary viewpoint, iOS architect Kevin Harwood believes the AirDrop system leaves something to be desired. He notes that developers will have to give users the option to use AirDrop from the Share menu, rather than integrating it within their apps.
Given this disparity of opinion, it’s hard to say exactly how users and developers will take to AirDrop until the iOS 7 update hits devices. No matter what, AirDrop has to be better than Apple’s current mobile file-sharing program (a.k.a nothing).