Why is Apple’s AirDrop becoming more and more difficult to use?

In 2013, at a time when smartphones were sprouting and growing, Apple released a blockbuster at the WWDC Developer Conference: iOS 7 with a new design language was officially launched! This marks the iPhone's biggest innovation and upgrade.

Craig Federighi, Apple's senior vice president of software engineering, with his iconic white hair and handsome image, after ridiculing other manufacturers' cumbersome file transfer methods, also excitedly announced that AirDrop has officially landed on iPhone. The audience burst into applause.

From now on, Apple users no longer need to worry about Apple ID, no pairing, no network, and no data usage. Just turn on AirDrop and you can transfer any file to your friends.

In an era when the iPhone was far ahead in market share, AirDrop was almost unrivaled. Its transmission speed is so fast and the experience is smooth, just like its name "air delivery". And the phrase "I'll AirDrop the photos to you" is becoming more and more accepted by everyone.

In the past few years, AirDrop has become the "white moonlight of Apple's ecosystem" in the hearts of Apple fans. The unprecedented experience seems to herald a bright future of interconnection.

He was stunning when he debuted, and he was both famous and controversial.

With the rapid growth of the global iPhone scale, this method of sending files without authentication and with ultra-low threshold has gradually begun to expose some problems, especially in terms of user privacy and security.

The first is the security issue. Hackers claim to be able to obtain users' private data through AirDrop, making AirDrop a vulnerability in the black industry chain that allows "iPhone to open the door."

In a public demonstration from Google's Project Zero team, dozens of iPhones were remotely controlled directly through AirDrop. For less than $100, engineers can create a cracking tool that can control a nearby iPhone with one click and read your photos, emails, text messages and other data.

As the big brother in the industry, Apple has been actively patching various protocol vulnerabilities caused by AirDrop, but the security issue seems to have never been fundamentally solved.

▲ Demonstration from Project Zero security researcher Ian Beer

In addition to security issues, a more troublesome time bomb also followed: Apple originally set AirDrop to be open to everyone by default in pursuit of a touchless experience.

Due to the popularity of iPhone, a new form of mass harassment called "cyber flyers" soon emerged. Many innocent passers-by began to frequently receive prank pictures from unknown sources, and even sexual harassment content.

In New York, because there are so many perpetrators of AirDrop sexual harassment, several New York City Council members jointly sponsored a proposal: one year in prison and a $1,000 fine! The AirDrop harassers must be punished.

In 2021 alone, more than 500 cases occurred in Japan, and Japanese netizens even directly named this new type of hooligan "AirDrop idiot."

A man who was caught AirDroping and was being investigated by police admitted that he did it because he wanted to see the embarrassed reactions of girls. Although the police have repeatedly attacked, due to the strong anonymity of the function itself, law enforcement is extremely difficult, and many perpetrators are still at large.

Apple also noticed a series of things that happened due to AirDrop being too convenient, and immediately updated the iOS 16.2 version.

The new version completely turns off AirDrop's default setting of opening to everyone and changes it to force closing after 10 minutes to prevent the continued spread of harassment.

The problem seems to be solved, but has word of mouth returned?

After a series of privacy, security, and sexual harassment incidents, AirDrop is still moving forward.

In the latest iOS 17, AirDrop has added a new feature called NameDrop – two iPhones can quickly exchange users' iCloud business cards by touching each other. (Apple Watch also supports it).

The transmission of the new version is also more intelligent. Even if the two devices are accidentally separated, the files can still be transferred through the mobile network, effectively avoiding failures.

Everything seems to be evolving faster and better. However, it seems that a new problem has arisen: it is starting to become unstable!

At first, there were only complaints from individual netizens in communities such as Reddit or Quora. Some Chinese netizens also complained: "Do you feel that AirDrop has changed from being easy to use 5 years ago, to being usable 3 years ago, to being difficult to use 2 years ago?" , became unusable.”

Soon, the negative comments spread. Everyone was surprised: it seems that AirDrop is indeed not as stable as before! ?

The complaints became louder and louder, and netizens began to accuse: "In the past, hundreds of high-definition pictures could be uploaded, but after just a few dozen pictures, there was no response when clicking on them, and they often failed by default!"

Someone in the crowd also shouted: "Do the people in charge of AirDrop want to short Apple!?"

More and more complaints have appeared on various video websites and Apple forum communities. Netizens have brainstormed and compiled the "Twelve Sins" that have long troubled everyone with AirDrop. I wonder which of the following have you encountered:

  1. A large file gets stuck halfway and then fails directly. No error will be reported even if the data is lost;
  2. Even if they are contacts of each other, they cannot find each other. Only by restarting can the other party be found;
  3. If you send a picture or video, it will either always show "waiting" or it will be rejected inexplicably after submission;
  4. The mobile phone and computer cannot find each other, or the transfer fails when you click on it, and you can only send files between mobile phones;
  5. There was no response when passing it for the first time, but when passing it for the second time, it showed that the first time failed;
  6. The MacBook was connected to the mobile hotspot halfway through, but the hotspot was lost and the delivery failed;
  7. The function of Pengpeng only plays cool animations but does not transfer files;
  8. It's obviously a contact but I can't find it. I have to make it visible to everyone;
  9. I won’t tell you whether the transfer was successful or not. Looking back, I found that the file was not sent successfully at all;
  10. Photos shared in iCloud still failed to be transferred after waiting for a long time;
  11. After connecting to CarPlay, AirDrop is disabled and cannot be re-enabled until it is restarted;
  12. After uploading 100 photos, it was found that only 80 photos were uploaded, and the whereabouts of the missing photos became a mystery.

▲ A progress bar that predicts failure

▲ Familiar transmission failure interface

In short, the success rate of AirDrop has begun to become abstract, metaphysical, and confusing.

Because of their dissatisfaction with AirDrop, hypertensive netizens also made Apple’s other wireless ecological products bear the burden of joint complaints:

  1. When copying and pasting between iPhones and MacBooks across devices, it gets stuck in circles, with a basically 90% failure rate. Copying and pasting text is also very slow. Every time I rush to paste something, I have to wait for most of the day;
  2. A window pops up to share the Wi-Fi password with friends, but the Wi-Fi password has never been successfully sent;
  3. On my MacBook computer, I can see my phone’s hotspot Wi-Fi, but I can’t connect to it;
  4. The companion function between MacBook and iPad has never been successfully turned on. It is either stuck or completely unavailable.

Don’t doubt that it is acclimatization caused by the domestic network environment. It's not just us. In recent years, complaints about "Why is AirDrop so buggy?" can be heard almost all over the world. Basically, the problems encountered by everyone are almost the same.

▲"How to Fix Broken Mac AirDrop Function 2023"

▲《Fix Mac system stuck AirDrop immediately! 》

Although AirDrop is still functional most of the time, "metaphysical" glitches have caused some users to feel confused and anxious. After all, it's so smooth when it's easy to use, but it's crazy when it falls off the chain, and sometimes you can't find the pattern of the problem at all.

Some netizens commented: In fact, there are rules, that is, it is fine if you are just playing around, but if you want to transfer files urgently, there will be problems.

▲ You are responsible for voting, I will not guarantee delivery

To this day, there are still many Apple users whose iPhones cannot be found on their computers, couples who cannot find each other's AirDrop, and texts copied on their phones cannot be synchronized on their computers.

It can be said that those who have never encountered AirDrop failure are the chosen ones. Many netizens began to sigh sincerely: Apple's AirDrop was really useful five years ago!

In the past few years, under Apple's "special training", everyone has learned to consciously turn on and off Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and even mobile phone hotspots, or turn the AirDrop button on and off, off and on… Sometimes you can even search by shaking your phone. It’s time to reach the other party…

Hey, is it because my belief in fruits is not pure enough?

Apple: Oops! I have worked very hard on wireless!

Whether it is a mobile phone, computer or iPad, when you are face to face, as long as Bluetooth is on and Wi-Fi is on, files can be transferred seamlessly. However, the function that seems to be clearly stated in one sentence, but behind it, relies on the wireless technology cornerstone that Apple has accumulated in the past ten years.

When we peeled off the technical shell layer by layer and tried to understand the working principle of AirDrop, we slowly began to sigh: AirDrop really carries too much!

The technical principle of Airdrop can be explained in the simplest way: Use Bluetooth to find the other party and build a temporary Wi-Fi bridge to complete the file transfer. However, the actual use of this step alone is not as simple as imagined.

Experienced weak current engineers and network engineers always have a mantra: "Any wireless thing must not be as stable as wired", because various problems may be encountered in a wireless environment: Bluetooth or Wi-Fi signals are unstable, equipment Too long distance, device power management settings, iOS bugs, etc. may cause AirDrop transfer failure or slow speed.

▲ Every failed AirDrop transfer requires at least sixteen communication steps.

Just when the Apple team solved the basic communication problem, a new test came again – there were too many devices to manage!

From iPhone 5 to iPhone 14, with different iOS versions, Bluetooth modules, and Wi-Fi mechanisms, there are hundreds of hardware combinations alone. This does not include the iPad series that also need to be taken care of, and there is another MacBook product line with MacOS system.

Engineers not only have to spend their time on new features for new devices, but also take care of the compatibility of old devices. Naturally, the stability of AirDrop is as unstable as the Jenga game in the middle and late stages.

Well, these previous problems were all solved through the Apple engineering team working overtime. Here comes the next problem: AirDrop’s second and third brothers also want to squeeze in.

Although Apple has not disclosed the implementation of AirDrop, through the reverse engineering of many engineers, it has gradually figured out the technologies that communication between many devices relies on, mainly Apple Wireless Direct Connection Protocol (AWDL) and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). and Wi-Fi, the troika, protect AirDrop.

Of course, in addition to this, there are a large number of new hardware and new protocols such as Apple's own Bonjour and UWB chip technology, which are silently supporting them. Due to space reasons, no additional introduction will be given.

▲ An explanation of the communication principles of Apple’s wireless functions unearthed through reverse engineering by overseas institutions

Through the combination and upgrading of these three carriages, Apple has to continuously improve these protocols, and at the same time, it also plays more and more with wireless network technology. It has opened its imagination and slowly derived a huge network starting from AirDrop. "Seamless ecology".

Cross-device copy and paste, accompanying, relay and other functions were born. It has gradually developed into an all-star function family bucket called "Continuity" that includes more than ten wireless functions.

Although Apple continues to optimize its various proprietary communication protocols, various new features inevitably begin to compete with AirDrop for resources.

This core troika originally only needed to take care of AirDrop, but now it has to start walking on thin ice to direct the protocols so as not to interfere with each other. They also have to consider the priority of resources to whom, and finally match the different radios in each country and region. policy, and deal with signal noise interference.

At every Apple conference, a series of new wireless features will be launched, and Apple’s list of requirements is getting higher and higher: now it needs to be able to search for Apple Watch, and a new spatial positioning chip will give AirDrop a sense of direction. , by the way, you also need to check everyone’s avatar names in the iCloud address books of both parties…

Nowadays, Apple has a group of top product managers with few professional engineers left. In terms of hardware, they have to deal with the various iPhones, iPads and MacBooks they have launched. In terms of software, they have to develop a huge wireless family ecosystem, and every year Fancy new features must be added constantly.

Even if you have three heads and six arms, you can probably only sigh and wonder where you can go…

Now that I think about it, when I was complaining that the 20G video shot by my iPhone was interrupted, it was a little bit difficult to understand me…

Apple has never lacked innovation in the field of human-computer interaction. They have always been proud of "simple, intuitive and reliable". These three simple words, when faced with the "small function" of AirDrop, are also Begins to be challenged and questioned.

But no matter what netizens say, Apple is still working hard to realize its technological ideals today, struggling to find a balance between "innovation" and "reliability."

This reminds me of a line from the movie "The Weather Man":

Do you know that the harder thing to do and the right thing to do… are usually the same thing?
Nothing that has meaning is easy. Easy doesn't enter into grown-up life.

Did you know that what is difficult to do and what should be done are often the same thing?
Nothing meaningful will be easy. After all, there is no such thing as easy in adult life.

The greater universe is included within human beings themselves.

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