When I first started using a Mac, there was no built-in file sharing – you copied files to a floppy disk and went to another computer, a process known as the "sneaknet". But the 90's was an exciting time for more than just grunge music, and the Mac finally got built-in file sharing with System 7 so you can find a Mac, connect it, see the shared folders, and drag things in and out of the Finder.
This is a file sharing model that has been largely intact through all the changes in the Mac platform. Today I can open a browser window, find a local Mac, give it a password (or sign in as a guest), and see a subset of the files as if it were an external disk on my Mac.
But something fun happened back in 201
AirDrop's interface is easier because you do not mount any volumes – you only change individual files. (AirDrop is still a drag-and-drop process on Mac, but on iOS everything is done out of the sharing interface.) AirDrop is easier than setting up file sharing and more stylish than sending you email or a family member file ( and waiting to make the tour up to your email server and down again). It bypasses the complexity of your local network and connects directly via Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.
Over the years, Apple has continued to improve AirDrop. In the past year, I have completely abandoned my old method of transferring large files (mostly podcast project audio tracks) between my Mac and my iPad. I have previously connected a cable and used the file sharing features that are built-in lumpy in iTunes. Now I'm just using AirDrop. When I airdrop gigantic audio files to the iPad, the transfers are fast, and iOS does just the right thing and offers to open the files in a compatible app, including Ferrite, my optional podcast editor. It couldn't have been easier.
Well, that's not right. The could be easier. When I complete a podcast project, I will transfer the archived Ferrite project file to my Mac, where I can archive it for backup and long-term storage. AirDrop is an easy way to do it, but only if I'm within 10 or 15 feet of my Mac Mini server, living in a corner of my garage. I end up going into the garage and standing on the server until AirDrop ends.
This made me think: AirDrop is well established and easy to use, and especially on iOS, a far better alternative to traditional file sharing. (Let me also point out that Apple has refused to support traditional file sharing in iOS, even though you can access it through a third-party application such as FileExplorer.) So why not extend it to include cases where the devices are on the same local network but not nearby?
What I advocate is an extension of AirDrop that not only searches for nearby devices, but also offers devices that are AirDrop compatible and live on your local network. I can appreciate that the transfers cannot be so fast and there are security issues that need to be worked out, even though I'm not sure security issues are more complicated than using AirDrop at a crowded conference or cafe. Apple has already built in layers of permissions, including the ability to simply transfer files to your own Apple ID or Apple IDs to people you've added to your contact list, and a requirement that you accept all requests for transfer from others people.
My day needed some great media files that were stored on the iMac. I told her to go out of the MacBook into the garage and stand there while we transferred the files. It seemed completely unnecessary. Why couldn't she go back to her bedroom and get the files over our local network? Why should I set up file sharing on the iMac for a one-time file transfer?
With AirDrop, Apple has achieved an easier way to send files around. By doing so, it has made traditional file sharing seem old and fussy. So my modest suggestion to Apple is to take AirDrop and expand its power. Let people in homes and offices use it to drop files to each other, even if they aren't lucky enough to sit right next to each other. Apple, you did your job and you did well. I have completely accepted AirDrop. But now I want more.
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