Inside Mac OS X 10.7 Lion: AirDrop limited to modern Macs

Posted:
in macOS edited January 2014
Mac OS X 10.7 Lion introduces a new feature in the Finder named AirDrop, designed for easy file sharing between nearby systems. However to use AirDrop, you'll need a Mac incorporating hardware support for the new feature, which involves Mac models built no earlier than late 2008.



Supported Macs



Apple lists a series of Mac models that support AirDrop in a knowledge base article on the subject. Supported models include:



13 or 15 inch MacBook Pro models starting with Late 2008 (MacBookPro5,1) models (aka the Unibody design)

17 Inch MacBook Pro starting with the Early 2009 (MacBookPro5,2) model (aka the Unibody design)

11 or 13 inch MacBook Air from Late 2010 (MacBookAir3,1) models (the revised version offered in two sizes)



13 inch aluminum MacBook models from Late 2008 (MacBook5,1) (aka the Unibody design)

13 inch White MacBook models from Early 2009 (MacBook5,2) (aka the plastic Unibody design)



iMac Early 2009 (iMac9,1)

Mac Mini Mid 2010 (Macmini4,1) models (new flatter case design)

Mac Pro Early 2009 with AirPort Extreme card or Mid 2010 (MacPro5,1)



Earlier models can run Mac OS X Lion, but do not support AirDrop because they lack the WiFi hardware features to discover other machines. Apart from using AirDrop, these Macs will have to use Bluetooth file transfers or simply join the the same IP network (using Ethernet or WiFi) as the other systems they want to share files with, and use conventional file transfer protocols such as AFP, FTP, WebDAV, iChat file transfers or email attachments.



How AirDrop works



As noted in an earlier article, AirDrop has nothing in common with DropBox, a cloud-based file sharing service more akin to iDisk. Instead, AirDrop allows users to discover nearby users and share files with them directly, without needing to configure a common WiFi network.



For users who are already on the same network, it's long been possible to set up File Sharing, exchange account information and then perform file transfers. However, this involves some relatively complex technical understanding that many users find confusing, despite Apple's efforts to simplify things.



The concept of infrastructure mode networking is similar to meeting people on Facebook, where everyone logs in and can exchange messages easily, even with new people. The problem with this kind of networking, however, is that it requires a sophisticated central entity managing the network, accounts, and all of your shared messages (the job FaceBook does).



If you don't have an established network, you're now in the position of being at a party in a room full of strangers. You'll need to approach people and exchange pleasantries in person, something you won't need the infrastructure of a system like FaceBook to do. Of course, to do this, you'll need to all speak the same language, you might need an introduction, and others will have to want to talk to you.



That type of "ad hoc" networking can already be done between systems using a protocol like Bluetooth, which can introduce two devices and support simple file transfers. Bluetooth is rather slow however, and involves a layer of security that involves a PIN exchange. WiFi is much faster, but users typically use it in "infrastructure" mode, which assumes that you have a central base station negotiating the network transaction for you (and, like Time Capsule, perhaps also providing a shared disk).



Lion's new AirDrop makes basic file exchange between nearby users as simple as Bluetooth, as fast as WiFi, and as easy as drag and drop, with layers of security and personalization that combine with Apple's easily understandable user interface to make a conceptually complex task easy to initiate even for non technical users.



Three similar solutions



There's already a couple emerging standards aiming to do what AirDrop does. The developers of Bluetooth (which functions like a wireless USB link) have released Bluetooth 4.0, which speeds up Bluetooth file transfers by initiating a connection over Bluetooth and then switching to WiFi to actually send the data.



The developers behind WiFi (which is expressly designed to provide wireless networking rather than being intended to support wireless peripherals like Bluetooth) have codified WiFi Direct, a new protocol that allows a WiFi enabled device to act more like Bluetooth on the side: finding other devices, establishing a temporary secure link, and then supporting direct file transfers or printer connections, for example.



Apple's AirDrop isn't based on either protocol, but works similar to WiFi Direct. It allows Macs (and likely in the future, iOS devices) to discover nearby systems capable of AirDrop, negotiate a secure ad hoc connection via WiFi (even if both systems are already connected to different WiFi base stations), then presents a simple interface that depicts each discovered user, allowing for files to simply be dropped on an icon to begin a transfer. The receiving user only needs to accept the transfer. It's as simple as shaking hands with a stranger.







AirDrop vs Bonjour



Note that Apple's Bonjour technology (formerly called Rendezvous) does something different: it helps systems on the same local (infrastructure mode) network to advertise and discover available services (such as shared printers, iTunes or iPhoto libraries, or Apple File Server shares), without having to manually configure a centralized DNS to allow finding what's available.



AirDrop works a bit like Bonjour without an existing network, enabling discovery of non-networked systems available and willing to set up a temporary connection. AirDrop's technology is currently used solely for file transfers in the Finder, but it is potentially useful for a variety of tasks (including printing or trading contacts), especially on mobile devices.



It appears AirDrop acts like a Bonjour for SSID (WiFi network name) advertisements which other WiFi interfaces can browse and connect to, as opposed to the traditional Bonjour role of AppleTalk-like IP DNS advertisements on an established network.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 54
    tallest skiltallest skil Posts: 43,399member
    And... what if you install a newer AirPort card into an older machine?
  • Reply 2 of 54
    asciiascii Posts: 5,941member
    One day it will be very popular. For now, it just won't occur to people that you can transfer files just by sitting two machines next to each other. They won't even look for the feature, they will go and get a thumb drive out of habit.
  • Reply 3 of 54
    solipsismsolipsism Posts: 25,726member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by ascii View Post


    One day it will be very popular. For now, it just won't occur to people that you can transfer files just by sitting two machines next to each other. They won't even look for the feature, they will go and get a thumb drive out of habit.



    I think you're right about this being an afterthought.
  • Reply 4 of 54
    This was the one feature I was really looking forward to, but find out that it is only usable on new Macs. Of course, my Mac is not one of the ones this works on. It's a shame that when Lion was being demonstrated, the hardware limitations were glossed over.
  • Reply 5 of 54
    mazda 3smazda 3s Posts: 1,607member
    Doesn't work on my wife's 2009 MacBook Air. That sucks
  • Reply 6 of 54
    brucepbrucep Posts: 2,823member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Mazda 3s View Post


    Doesn't work on my wife's 2009 MacBook Air. That sucks



    huh

    it should work







    9
  • Reply 7 of 54
    tallest skiltallest skil Posts: 43,399member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by brucep View Post


    huh

    it should work



    No, that MacBook Air isn't one of the models listed.
  • Reply 8 of 54
    mazda 3smazda 3s Posts: 1,607member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by brucep View Post


    huh

    it should work







    9



    Nope doesn't work. Installed Lion on my wife's MBA (I was actually looking forward to this feature so we could quickly share files), and couldn't find her machine on my 2010 MBA using AirDrop. Then I couldn't find any references to AirDrop on her MBA.



    That's when I did a Google search and found out her machine wasn't supported.



    That's what I get for assuming that a relatively new Mac with 802.11n would support AirDrop
  • Reply 9 of 54
    tallest skiltallest skil Posts: 43,399member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Mazda 3s View Post


    That's what I get for assuming that a relatively new Mac with 802.11n would support AirDrop



    Macs from 2006 had 802.11n...
  • Reply 10 of 54
    mazda 3smazda 3s Posts: 1,607member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Tallest Skil View Post


    Macs from 2006 had 802.11n...



    Hence relatively new



    All the other 2009 era Macs get Air Drop.
  • Reply 11 of 54
    dcorbandcorban Posts: 58member
    I used Airdrop on two late 2008 MacBooks. I tried to copy over a 1GB video file. It was slow as hell for some reason. It was going to take an hour. I cancelled the copy after a few minutes. I have no idea why it was so slow. I would assume it would use .11n to transfer, but it was slower than that. I would think it would take 15-30 minutes at most. The machines were literally inches away from each other.



    Both computers are connected to the same .11n wireless network. I wonder if it was sending the data through the access point instead of directly?



    *edit* Strange, I just tried it again and now it says it will take 22 minutes. Hmm.
  • Reply 12 of 54
    patranuspatranus Posts: 366member
    lets see what the community comes up with to see if there is a way to enable this feature.
  • Reply 13 of 54
    tallest skiltallest skil Posts: 43,399member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Patranus View Post


    lets see what the community comes up with to see if there is a way to enable this feature.



    It's a hardware capability. The community can come up with putting newer AirPort cards in older computers.
  • Reply 14 of 54
    l008coml008com Posts: 163member
    That's a pretty long article that never actually explains how airdrop works.
  • Reply 15 of 54
    nagrommenagromme Posts: 2,834member
    That?s too bad. I guess it?s like how the newer AirPort/TC hardware can run dual networks at the same time. Older models can?t. Seems like the WiFi chips in Macs must have seen a similar upgrade at some point. Great software application for an obscure hardware feature, I must say!
  • Reply 16 of 54
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by l008com View Post


    That's a pretty long article that never actually explains how airdrop works.



    Though not in detail specifically to AirDrop it did however made comparison between existing technologies. BTW, this article was written to let people know the compatibility and not to explain in great detail. Perhaps you could do some independent further reading like smart people/intellectual would do. DED mentioned about WiFi Direct and Bluetooth 4.0. That would be a start.
  • Reply 17 of 54
    frugalityfrugality Posts: 410member
    Suck.
  • Reply 18 of 54
    willymewillyme Posts: 3member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by dcorban View Post


    I used Airdrop on two late 2008 MacBooks. I tried to copy over a 1GB video file. It was slow as hell for some reason. It was going to take an hour. ..... The machines were literally inches away from each other.



    You don't want the computers to be too close to each other. Have the machines a few meters from each other and see if it makes a difference.



    Quote:
    Originally Posted by dcorban View Post


    Both computers are connected to the same .11n wireless network. I wonder if it was sending the data through the access point instead of directly?

    *edit* Strange, I just tried it again and now it says it will take 22 minutes. Hmm.



    That could be part of the problem, but it was my assumption Airdrop bypassed the router. Another possible reason could be that Airdrop requires setting the hardware into *p2p mode in place of *infrastructure mode. If you were sending data on the internet the hardware might have been switching back and forth between the two modes. To test this, turn off your router and try again.



    When working you should be able to maintain close to 10 MBytes/sec transfer rate. This results in the file taking 2 minutes to transfer. At 22 minutes something is wrong.



    *Note, a lot has changed with 802.11 so this might or might not apply.
  • Reply 19 of 54
    tribalogicaltribalogical Posts: 1,182member
    Two things came quickly to mind (well, three, but the third is a bit off-topic…):



    1. My first thought was regarding AirDrop connections to iOS devices. Aside from file transfers, I use my iPad as a remote controller/instrument for composing/producing music… Apps like TouchAble to remote-control Ableton Live, and many others, most of which are dependent on having a "server utility" running on the desktop to aid in the connections. Since CoreMIDI support was added to iOS, many can now use an ad-hoc WiFi network directly via an Audio-Midi Setup session, no extra utility required… but it's still a few more hoops to jump through than I'd like…



    Since AirDrop essentially emulates a 'temporary ad-hoc network', it seems it could do the same job as the current ad-hoc network arrangement, just minus all the setup part? I hope AirDrop support gets added to iOS, and we can replace the ad-hoc network setup steps… just "plug and play" networks as you need them...



    2. Security. Bluetooth isn't too bad, I haven't heard of devices getting hacked over an open "invitation" port on Bluetooth. So maybe it isn't any less secure using Bonjour/AirDrop? I turn off the SSID broadcast on my WiFi network, and also run in stealth mode… I prefer not to invite casual hackers by revealing my network… maybe over-paranoid, but there it is.



    I just wonder how long it will be before someone hacks open an AirDrop connection? Are there any potential "holes" there? I might not want to walk around publicly announcing my connected machine everywhere I go...
  • Reply 20 of 54
    nvidia2008nvidia2008 Posts: 9,262member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Tallest Skil View Post


    And... what if you install a newer AirPort card into an older machine?



    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Tallest Skil View Post


    It's a hardware capability. The community can come up with putting newer AirPort cards in older computers.



    True, but the modification may be cumbersome or costly just to get AirDrop



    Quote:
    Originally Posted by l008com View Post


    That's a pretty long article that never actually explains how airdrop works.



    Amazing, isn't it. The first question everyone is asking would be how the heck does it simultaneously access the infrastructure (base station) network while also making a "custom" ad hoc network.



    The second question is what is the hardware that is required to do this? I think people will be rifling through the tear downs of all the models and maybe looking at the chips used.



    I lucked out, got a new MBP 13" 2010 model at a bit of a discount just as the MBP 13" 2011 models came out (hence the lower price on the 2010 models). Sure, only a 2.4GHZ Core 2 Duo but I got mah' Nvidia 320M not Intel Craphics and Lion 64bitness is purrrring along. And AirDrop too! Woot.
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