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iOS 7 feature focus: AirDrop simplifies speedy local file transfer

post #1 of 45
Thread Starter 
With AirDrop, Apple has implemented a useful, robust and simple file sharing feature that has, until iOS 7, been largely the domain of third-party apps.

AirDrop


Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of features focusing on iOS 7's new and notable features. AppleInsider will be publishing additional articles highlighting brand new additions such as App Store auto-updates and individual caller blocking, as well as enhancements like the revised Camera app.

As one of the highlights of iOS 7, AirDrop brings "no setup" file sharing functionality first seen in OS X to Apple's mobile platform, offering users an easy and seamless way to transfer digital assets between compatible devices. Importantly, the protocol uses a hybrid Bluetooth and Wi-Fi communications solution that provides for both speed and security.

Like many Apple inventions, AirDrop streamlines a process already in wide use, in this case file sharing. Previously, iOS users had to swap photos, video, and other data via email, iMessage or apps that supported larger file transfers. Adoption of AirDrop may make these workarounds a thing of the past.

The technology



It should be understood that AirDrop is a proximity-limited technology, meaning that it will only work when two or more users are near each other. This is illustrated by the requirement that a compatible device, which will be limited to the iPhone 5 or later, fourth-generation iPad, iPad mini, and fifth-generation iPod touch, have both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi enabled.

When AirDrop is activated, it uses Bluetooth to scan for nearby devices that are advertising discoverability. User can elect to be seen by everyone, only by contact, or not at all if the feature is turned off.

AirDrop
Sending side interface as seen on an iPad mini.


Once a connection is established via Bluetooth, an ad-hoc Wi-Fi network is created to link the two devices together, allowing for faster transfer speeds. Basically, Bluetooth is used for discovery and token setup, while the more robust Wi-Fi protocol is leveraged for transfers.

Rooted in patents



At least some of Apple's AirDrop technology has its root in patents previously covered by AppleInsider, including a filing for a proximity-based solution that automatically transfers media when a nearby device is identified.

More recently, Apple was awarded a patent for an NFC-based cross-platform data transfer system very similar to AirDrop. Instead of using Bluetooth to initiate the device handshake and authentication, the patent relied on near field communications. Like AirDrop, however, the end result is the creation of an ad-hoc wireless network over which files can be transferred.

The process



As with any iOS feature, AirDrop has been simplified with every day users in mind. Once a picture, video, or other sharable asset is selected, it takes only two steps to send the file to a waiting friend's device.

AirDrop
Accepting an AirDrop transfer on an iPhone 5.


As seen above, we selected a video file to move from an iPad mini to an iPhone 5. Tapping on the "share" icon at the bottom left of the screen brings up the sharing interface, which is split into four rows: content to be shared, AirDrop, share-to apps like iMessage or Mail, and remote media options like AirPlay.

With AirDrop, users only need to be concerned with the top two rows. Since we selected a video from the Photos app, other images and clips appear alongside as scrollable thumbnails. Users can choose from other photos in a library and send multiple files in a single AirDrop session. Each selected picture is ticked with a blue checkmark.

Sending involves a simple tap on another user's iCloud avatar, which should pop up in the AirDrop row directly below the selected content when a device is in range. If the default AirDrop instruction graphic appears instead, it either means the other device is not configured correctly, is out of range, or is not discoverable.

As previously noted, the recipient device must be awake, have AirDrop activated and both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi switched on. If a sender's information is not entered into the receiving device's contacts list, "Everyone" must be selected in the AirDrop settings menu, which can be accessed from Control Center.

AirDrop
Various AirDrop discoverability states.


On the receiving end, a pop-up pane will appear notifying the user that a friend is attempting to share a file. This window will, in most cases, have a preview of the image or video being sent and options to accept or decline. Refusing a transfer will cause a red "Declined" message to appear under a on the sender's device, while accepting will show the text "Sent" in blue.

Results



In our testing, AirDrop worked flawlessly. Wireless connectivity was solid and we encountered no errors or problems shooting files back and forth. Transfer speeds were fast thanks to the peer-to-peer Wi-Fi connection, and connecting to other devices was seamless. It should be noted, however, that the implementation is currently limited to first-party apps like Photos and Contacts and a few third-party titles that pushed out updates after iOS 7 was released.

AirDrop
Incoming AirDrop alert on lock screen (left) and setup pane.


Obviously, the usefulness of AirDrop depends largely on how iPhone, iPad and iPod owners share and manage their stored content. Some choose to email or send iMessages, while others like syncing to cloud services.

Despite being an iOS 7 feature, AirDrop is only compatible with Apple's latest devices, as previously mentioned. In addition, it will be up to developers to implement the sharing service into their software, though integration could theoretically support almost any type of file as long as both devices have the same app.

Use cases may be limited at this time, but Apple has paved a way for developers to integrate fast and easy file sharing at the system level, meaning one embedded solution can be called upon to handle all transfers.

Perhaps more importantly, AirDrop for iOS lays down the groundwork for future projects. It is not out of the realm of possibility that a cross-platform version of AirDrop may be in the works, especially given a nearly identical feature bearing the same name first landed on OS X.
post #2 of 45
Activation Server down for an hour, how about making that news? Unacceptable Apple.
post #3 of 45
Nothing new, iPhoto had this since day one...for photos that is.

But yes, really great to see this get extended to any file on my phone. Oh wait: "It should be noted, however, that the implementation is currently limited to first-party apps like Photos and Contacts."

Hmm, 'kay. Well, maybe with 7.0.1 then.

What's with the downloadgate whiners today anyway?
post #4 of 45
Quote:
Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post

As with any iOS feature, AirDrop has been simplified with every day users in mind. Once a picture, video, or other sharable asset is selected, it takes only two steps to send the file to a waiting friend's device.

Sounds cool. I have not tried iOS 7 so I'm wondering what other sharable assets are able to use AirDrop. Maybe iWork documents or contacts which have always offered to share by email. 

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post #5 of 45

"It should be noted, however, that the implementation is currently limited to first-party apps like Photos and Contacts."

 

This isn't accurate.  AirDrop works right now with Evernote and Vimeo.  Perhaps you should extending your testing to those 3rd party apps and include that in your article.  I think readers would be interested.

post #6 of 45
I've been having trouble getting it to work with my iPhone 5 and my wife's iPhone 5. We have it set to "contacts-only", and of course we're both in each other's contacts. Half of the time, her phone doesn't even show up in the list of available devices when I try to send a file (and we're in the same room).

Opening the options up to "everyone" doesn't change a thing. We both have Bluetooth enabled and we're connected to a dual-band Wi-Fi N router.

In the past week that we've been running iOS 7 GM, I've only been able to get it to work one or twice.
post #7 of 45
Quote:
 Despite being an iOS 7 feature, AirDrop is only compatible with Apple's latest devices...

THIS is a bummer as there is likely no technical reason it's not supported on all iOS devices that support iOS7.  Although it does appear to require iCloud.

 

Jailbreak "fix" for this in 3... 2... 1... ?

post #8 of 45

The reason why AirDrop is limited to those particular devices is because it requires WiFi Direct for the actual transfer.  Meaning, the ability for two WiFi devices to connect directly to each other, rather than joining the same network.  This allows AirDrop to work even if you are out in the middle of the ocean with no WiFi networks, Internet connection, etc.  The WiFi component Apple was using before the iPhone 5 didn't support WiFi Direct, which is also the issue with iPads before the 4 and the mini.


Edited by dcompiled - 9/18/13 at 3:22pm
post #9 of 45
Quote:
Originally Posted by Mazda 3s View Post

I've been having trouble getting it to work with my iPhone 5 and my wife's iPhone 5. We have it set to "contacts-only", and of course we're both in each other's contacts. Half of the time, her phone doesn't even show up in the list of available devices when I try to send a file (and we're in the same room).

Opening the options up to "everyone" doesn't change a thing. We both have Bluetooth enabled and we're connected to a dual-band Wi-Fi N router.

In the past week that we've been running iOS 7 GM, I've only been able to get it to work one or twice.

 

Sorry, this may be an obvious question, but you and your wife both have separate iCloud accounts, yes?  I know a lot of families that share one, and if you are both logged in to the same iCloud account, that would probably not work for AirDrop transfers.  The router shouldn't matter, as long as you have bluetooth and wifi turned on for your phone, both have different iCloud accounts and are logged in, and both have AirDrop turned on in Control Center.

post #10 of 45
Quote:
Originally Posted by dcompiled View Post

Sorry, this may be an obvious question, but you and your wife both have separate iCloud accounts, yes?  I know a lot of families that share one, and if you are both logged in to the same iCloud account, that would probably not work for AirDrop transfers.  The router shouldn't matter, as long as you have bluetooth and wifi turned on for your phone, both have different iCloud accounts and are logged in, and both have AirDrop turned on in Control Center.

We have separate iCloud accounts and we both have Airdrop enabled.
post #11 of 45
Quote:
Originally Posted by Mazda 3s View Post


We have separate iCloud accounts and we both have Airdrop enabled.

 

Wow, that sounds like a really annoying bug then.  My wife is installing iOS7 later today… I'll be testing out AirDrop more extensively when she does.  I'll post here if I encounter any similar problems or ideas for solutions...

post #12 of 45
Quote:
Originally Posted by Eriamjh View Post
 

THIS is a bummer as there is likely no technical reason it's not supported on all iOS devices that support iOS7.  Although it does appear to require iCloud.

 

Jailbreak "fix" for this in 3... 2... 1... ?

 

I would think the technical reasoning behind this is that all of the supported devices are the only devices supporting Bluetooth 4.0 (with the exception of the iPhone 4S and 3rd gen iPad). Probably an incentive to upgrade, too.

post #13 of 45
Quote:
Originally Posted by dcompiled View Post

The reason why AirDrop is limited to those particular devices is because it requires WiFi Direct for the actual transfer.  Meaning, the ability for two WiFi devices to connect directly to each other, rather than joining the same network.  This allows AirDrop to work even if you are out in the middle of the ocean with no WiFi networks, Internet connection, etc.  The WiFi component Apple was using before the iPhone 5 didn't support WiFi Direct, which is also the issue with iPads before the 4 and the mini.

Was this the same reason why AirPlay was limited to Macs after 2011? I only ask as my 2010 MBP wasn't able to use Airplay but AirParrot, a third party app, enabled it. So I wondered if a similar work around might be possible?
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post #14 of 45
"It is not out of the realm of possibility that a cross-platform version of AirDrop may be in the works, especially given a nearly identical feature bearing the same name first landed on OS X."

Well...yeah. 'AirDrop" has been in OSX for a long time. I rather expected this iOS7 implementation to be compatible with it immediately. Guess I'll soon test it.
post #15 of 45
Originally Posted by hydr View Post
Activation Server down for an hour, how about making that news? Unacceptable Apple.

 

I suppose your server can handle 400,000,000 devices updating simultaneously, then.

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post #16 of 45
Quote:
Originally Posted by digitalclips View Post


Was this the same reason why AirPlay was limited to Macs after 2011? I only ask as my 2010 MBP wasn't able to use Airplay but AirParrot, a third party app, enabled it. So I wondered if a similar work around might be possible?

 

From what I remember reading, the technical limitation preventing AirPlay on pre-2011 Macs is based on feature Intel added to CPUs in 2011:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intel_Quick_Sync_Video

 

While it's possible to do AirPlay encoding in software (like AirParrot), it can be heavy on the CPU and doesn't have the minimal performance hit that Apple's chosen implementation does, since Apple's implementation leverages hardware features that make the video transcoding trivial for the CPU.  As you can see from the Wikipedia article, Intel introduced QuickSyncVideo in their processors starting in January 2011.  That seems to be the reason why native Mountain Lion support for AirPlay mirroring only goes back to 2011 Macs. 

post #17 of 45
AirDrop works perfectly for me on both my mini and iPhone 5 (sadly my iPad 3 and iPhone 4 were left off the party invite list). I do have a question, though, that I thought you smart people might be able to answer...

To utilize AirDrop, one needs to leave Bluetooth active at all times. I've always left Bluetooth turned off as I have no reason to use it, and I'd imagine there's got to be some sort of battery drain. So, my query is: Is there a penalty for leaving Bluetooth on, battery-wise?

I can always turn it on/off when I feel the need to do the AirDrop thing, but I'm wondering if I should stop worrying and simply leave Bluetooth up and running all the time.

Thanks! (And, by the way, in my opinion, iOS 7 is hideous... it's actually unbelievable how ugly this thing is. Sheesh.)

~Huck
post #18 of 45
AirDrop works perfectly for me on both my mini and iPhone 5 (sadly my iPad 3 and iPhone 4 were left off the party invite list). I do have a question, though, that I thought you smart people might be able to answer%u2026

To utilize AirDrop, one needs to leave Bluetooth active at all times. I've always left Bluetooth turned off as I have no reason to use it, and I'd imagine there's got to be some sort of battery drain. So, my query is: Is there a penalty for leaving Bluetooth on, battery-wise?

I can always turn it on/off when I feel the need to do the AirDrop thing, but I'm wondering if I should stop worrying and simply leave Bluetooth up and running all the time.

Thanks! (And, by the way, in my opinion, iOS 7 is hideous%u2026 it's actually unbelievable how ugly this thing is. Sheesh.)

~Huck
post #19 of 45
Quote:
Originally Posted by Huck View Post

AirDrop works perfectly for me on both my mini and iPhone 5 (sadly my iPad 3 and iPhone 4 were left off the party invite list). I do have a question, though, that I thought you smart people might be able to answer%u2026

To utilize AirDrop, one needs to leave Bluetooth active at all times. I've always left Bluetooth turned off as I have no reason to use it, and I'd imagine there's got to be some sort of battery drain. So, my query is: Is there a penalty for leaving Bluetooth on, battery-wise?

I can always turn it on/off when I feel the need to do the AirDrop thing, but I'm wondering if I should stop worrying and simply leave Bluetooth up and running all the time.

Thanks! (And, by the way, in my opinion, iOS 7 is hideous%u2026 it's actually unbelievable how ugly this thing is. Sheesh.)

~Huck

 

Yes, there definitely is a battery cost for bluetooth.  I've seen different reports of exactly what that cost is from different testers.  You might want to try an app like this to see what effect it has on your own device / OS configuration: https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/id446751279

post #20 of 45
How is the quality of the video/photo? I know that when you "message" a video to someone it just KILLS the quality.

Does it transfer in it's original quality?
post #21 of 45
Quote:
Originally Posted by s!ke View Post

How is the quality of the video/photo? I know that when you "message" a video to someone it just KILLS the quality.

Does it transfer in it's original quality?

 

It transfers full (original) quality.

post #22 of 45

Update has been removed from iPad. Says "6.13 is up to date" under software update.

Bummer, wanted to play with it.

post #23 of 45

Does iOS AirDrop work with the AirDrop on Macs?

 

Edit: Ok found out it doesn't.


Edited by murman - 9/18/13 at 6:09pm
post #24 of 45
So is it just me, or does anyone else wonder why this only works with iOS devices??

I have AirDrop right there in the sidebar of Finder windows on my iMac.. Why no Mac to iOS transfers??


Sorry, just read ALL the posts.. I guess there is a reason why it doesn't work...
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post #25 of 45

Here’s a better, overarching question. Why isn’t AirDrop “always on"?

 

Why do I have to have a Finder window open TO AirDrop for me to even show up to anyone else… who also have said windows open? Idiotic.

 

It should be right-click, AirDrop, list of people on the network to which it can be AirDropped, boom. A Notification Center notification pops up; [name] wants to send you [filename] from their computer/iOS device/[computer name]. Accept, Reject, or iMessage as options.

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post #26 of 45
Quote:
Originally Posted by dcompiled View Post
 

 

Sorry, this may be an obvious question, but you and your wife both have separate iCloud accounts, yes?  I know a lot of families that share one, and if you are both logged in to the same iCloud account, that would probably not work for AirDrop transfers.  The router shouldn't matter, as long as you have bluetooth and wifi turned on for your phone, both have different iCloud accounts and are logged in, and both have AirDrop turned on in Control Center.

 

That would be a silly requirement, don't you think? To have to have separate iCloud accounts. I have both an iPhone and and iPad. One person, one iCloud account. It would kind of defeat the purpose of iCloud to have separate accounts on my two devices. And just as silly to not be able to use AirDrop to transfer files between my two devices.

post #27 of 45
Quote:
Originally Posted by dcompiled View Post
 

 

Yes, there definitely is a battery cost for bluetooth.  I've seen different reports of exactly what that cost is from different testers.  You might want to try an app like this to see what effect it has on your own device / OS configuration: https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/id446751279

 

Just as one point of reference, I leave Bluetooth on all the time because I use that rather than wifi for the hotspot feature to tether my iPad to my iPhone. When my iPad isn't connected and the iPhone's BT is just sitting there waiting for a connection, there is no noticeable drop in battery life. BT on, but in active, seems to be quite energy efficient. At least for me in that scenario, which may (or may not) be similar to sitting there waiting for an AirDrop connection.

post #28 of 45
Quote:
Originally Posted by LMGS View Post

So is it just me, or does anyone else wonder why this only works with iOS devices??

I have AirDrop right there in the sidebar of Finder windows on my iMac.. Why no Mac to iOS transfers??


Sorry, just read ALL the posts.. I guess there is a reason why it doesn't work...

 

Maybe theres some sort of legal or security reason, we can already drag a lot of types of files via itunes onto a device, not always the other way around though and definitely not for all file types, not even for the photos I just took, what could be the reason behind that one?! Apple wants us to use iPhoto? I hate iPhoto, so that's lame. Will Mavericks bring Airdrop compatibility? Hope so, but it probably won't, sigh.

post #29 of 45
I
Quote:
Originally Posted by Mazda 3s View Post

I've been having trouble getting it to work with my iPhone 5 and my wife's iPhone 5. We have it set to "contacts-only", and of course we're both in each other's contacts. Half of the time, her phone doesn't even show up in the list of available devices when I try to send a file (and we're in the same room).

Opening the options up to "everyone" doesn't change a thing. We both have Bluetooth enabled and we're connected to a dual-band Wi-Fi N router.

In the past week that we've been running iOS 7 GM, I've only been able to get it to work one or twice.

I also had a hello of a time activating properly.

Followed the easy to understand instructions and couldn't get it to work on either phone.

Was working with and AT&T worker who is also a friend so we know what we are doing.

When I put us on the same wifi network it finally worked. Maybe it's related to servers?

Kinda like Siri?

Once we connected to same wifi it was flawless but before then we turned it on and were both under "everyone" discoverability.
post #30 of 45
Quote:
Originally Posted by Eriamjh View Post

Quote:
 
Despite being an iOS 7 feature, AirDrop is 
only compatible
 with Apple's latest devices...
THIS is a bummer as there is likely no technical reason it's not supported on all iOS devices that support iOS7.  Although it does appear to require iCloud.

It does work on all devices that support iOS7, see here, bottom of page. The article is just misleading with its "Despite being an iOS 7 feature, AirDrop is only compatible with Apple's latest devices"
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tallest Skil View Post

Here’s a better, overarching question. Why isn’t AirDrop “always on"?

Why do I have to have a Finder window open TO AirDrop for me to even show up to anyone else… who also have said windows open? Idiotic.

It should be right-click, AirDrop, list of people on the network to which it can be AirDropped, boom. A Notification Center notification pops up; [name] wants to send you [filename] from their computer/iOS device/[computer name]. Accept, Reject, or iMessage as options.

That is indeed how I think it should work. But I think they may have it configured it this way because of laptop users; it would probably drain the battery faster if it was always scanning the network to see who has the AirDrop feature.
post #31 of 45
Quote:
Originally Posted by Huck View Post

To utilize AirDrop, one needs to leave Bluetooth active at all times.

That's not true; the moment you want something to AirDrop it will automatically enable Bluetooth
post #32 of 45
yet the biggest fail is that you can't air drop files to your mac despite the macs having the air drop feature for quite some time now..
post #33 of 45
Quote:
Originally Posted by bluski9 View Post

yet the biggest fail is that you can't air drop files to your mac despite the macs having the air drop feature for quite some time now..

Several people want this, but what kind of file would you want to send from your phone to the desktop? Wouldn't it be a file you can already access on your desktop? Be it through iTunes file sharing or iCloud?
post #34 of 45

In the Network System Preference in Mavericks is something new: Thunderbolt Bridge.

 

Presumably since it's in the Network panel, it is IP over Thunderbolt. And since there are no Thunderbolt-speed consumer routers (that I know of), it must be point to point. If it's "speedy local file transfer" you want, that will redefine the meaning the of the term. And put together with one of those Corning cables...

post #35 of 45
Quote:
Originally Posted by PhilBoogie View Post


It does work on all devices that support iOS7, see here, bottom of page. The article is just misleading with its "Despite being an iOS 7 feature, AirDrop is only compatible with Apple's latest devices"
That is indeed how I think it should work. But I think they may have it configured it this way because of laptop users; it would probably drain the battery faster if it was always scanning the network to see who has the AirDrop feature.

 

This is not correct. AirDrop does not support the iPhone 4, iPhone 4S or iPad 3rd Gen, even though these devices support iOS7.

post #36 of 45

disregard..

post #37 of 45
Quote:
Originally Posted by PhilBoogie View Post


Several people want this, but what kind of file would you want to send from your phone to the desktop? Wouldn't it be a file you can already access on your desktop? Be it through iTunes file sharing or iCloud?

Some people don't put everything in the cloud or use itunes match for one reason or the other, so at times it's easier to be able to send a photo or a music file, a keynote/pages file through airdrop..

post #38 of 45
Quote:
Originally Posted by dcompiled View Post

From what I remember reading, the technical limitation preventing AirPlay on pre-2011 Macs is based on feature Intel added to CPUs in 2011:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intel_Quick_Sync_Video


While it's possible to do AirPlay encoding in 
software (like AirParrot), it can be heavy on the CPU and doesn't have the minimal performance hit that Apple's chosen implementation does, since Apple's implementation leverages hardware features that make the video transcoding 
trivial for the CPU.  As you can see from the Wikipedia article, Intel introduced QuickSyncVideo in their processors starting in January 2011.  That seems to be the reason why native Mountain Lion support for AirPlay mirroring only goes back to 2011 Macs. 

Gotchya, thanks. I always wanted to know that back story. My MBP i7 can play 1080p with air AirParrot to AppleTV from .mkv no problem but probably only because it is a high end MBP of its era. It doesn't even get the fan going I am happy to say. It still works fine with 10.9 dev 8 BTW.
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post #39 of 45
Quote:
Originally Posted by PhilBoogie View Post

It does work on all devices that support iOS7, see here, bottom of page. The article is just misleading with its "Despite being an iOS 7 feature, AirDrop is only compatible with Apple's latest devices"
That is indeed how I think it should work. But I think they may have it configured it this way because of laptop users; it would probably drain the battery faster if it was always scanning the network to see who has the AirDrop feature.

Sadly iOS 7 doesn't bring Airprop to older devices, my iPad 2 and iPhone 4S don't have it. My Wife has iPad 3 and iPhone 5 supposedly do but its not showing up as an option, I assume because no other device is in range that can share with her. She can't use it between her own devices it seems.

from the page: "AirDrop is available on iPhone 5 or later, iPad (4th generation), iPad mini, and iPod touch (5th generation) and requires an iCloud account."
Edited by digitalclips - 9/19/13 at 3:17am
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post #40 of 45
Air drop. I think Dilger made fun of this style option on Zune with people running around San Fran trying to find another Zune user to send stuff too. Bluetooth is a battery drainer on laptops not connected to the wall power. So now we need to be running two data paths (Blurtooth and WiFi) to transfer data. Not exactly magical. More Rube Goldberg in my thought. And yes I have nothing but Macs, iPhones, and iPads in my house. And yes I got in and downloaded iOS 7 to my "5" yesterday afternoon. Hate "white" screen on "Notes". Going blind typing on it.
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