How to Access AirDrop in the iOS Control Center

AirDrop hides in Control Center. Here's how to find it

What to Know

  • Go to Control Center > Wireless Controls > AirDrop.
  • To AirDrop a file, tap Share and select a nearby device in Tap to share with AirDrop.

This article explains how to find and use AirDrop settings on iOS devices running iOS 12 or iOS 11.

How to Find AirDrop Settings in Control Center

AirDrop is easily one of the best-kept secrets on the iPhone and iPad. You can use it to transfer photos and other documents wirelessly between two Apple devices — iPhones, iPads, iPod touch devices, and Macs.

So why haven't more people heard about it? AirDrop originated on the Mac, and it's slightly more familiar to those with a Mac background. Apple hasn't pushed it in the same way the company publicized other features over the years, and it certainly doesn't help that the switch is hidden in the iOS Control Center.

Apple's Control Center is different from the old one, but it's pretty cool once you get used to it. Some of the buttons are small windows that can expand, which is a clever way to add more settings in Control Center and still fit it them on one screen. Another way of looking at it is the redesign hides some settings, and AirDrop is one of these hidden features. 

  1. Open Control Center by swiping down from the top right edge of the screen on iPhone X or later or by swiping up from the bottom edge of the display on iPhone 8 and earlier.

  2. Locate Wireless Controls, which is the button with four icons on it, including an airplane and the Wi-Fi symbol. Firmly press and hold the button to expand it.

  3. Tap the AirDrop icon in the expanded window and select one of the options in the small window that opens. They are Receiving Off, Contacts Only, and Everyone.

    iPhone screenshots showing how to turn on AirDrop

Which Setting Should You Use for AirDrop?

The three choices you have for the AirDrop feature are: 

  • Receiving Off. This is a Do Not Disturb setting. You can still send AirDrop files and data to others, but you won't show up as an available destination for anyone nearby, and you won't receive any AirDrop requests.
  • Contacts Only. Your device only shows up to people you have in your iPhone address book.
  • Everyone. Your device shows up on all nearby devices. AirDrop's range is similar to Bluetooth, so that's probably anyone in the room with you.

It is usually best to leave AirDrop set at Contacts Only or to turn it off when you aren't using it. The Everyone setting is great when you want to share files with someone who is not in your contacts list, but you should turn it off after the files are shared.

How to AirDrop a File

You use AirDrop to share images and files via the Share button.

  1. Tap an image in the Photos app or a document in the Files app, for example.

  2. Tap the Share icon to open the sharing screen. The icon resembles a box with an arrow coming out of it.

  3. In the Tap to share with AirDrop section, tap one of the nearby devices to send the image to that device.

    Screenshots of an iPhone with the Share button and AirDrop-accessible devices highlighted

If you are sending the photo or file to one of your own devices, the transmission is immediate. If you are sending it to the device of another user in the room, that person is notified that you are attempting an AirDrop and must approve the process.

For AirDrop to work, both devices must have Wi-Fi and Bluetooth turned on. Neither device can have Personal Hotspot turned on.

How to Find AirDrop Settings on an Older Device

Although AirDrop was introduced in iOS 7, if you have an iPhone or iPad capable of running iOS 11 or iOS 12, you should upgrade your device. New releases not only add new features to your iPhone or iPad, but they also patch security holes that keep your device safe.

However, if you have an older device that is not compatible with newer versions of iOS, the AirDrop settings are even easier to find in Control Center because they aren't hidden. Just swipe up from the bottom edge of the screen to reveal Control Center.

The AirDrop settings are just below the music controls on an iPhone. On the iPad, the option is between the volume control and the brightness slider. This puts it at the bottom of Control Center in the middle.

More Hidden Secrets in the iOS Control Center

You can use the firm-press method to expand other buttons in Control Center. The music button expands to show volume controls, the brightness slider expands to let you turn Night Shift on or off, and the volume slider expands to let you mute your device.

Perhaps the coolest part of Control Center is the opportunity to customize it. You can add and remove buttons to personalize Control Center for how you want to use it.

  1. Go into the Settings app.

  2. Choose Control Center.

  3. Tap Customize Controls.

  4. Remove features from Control Center by tapping the red minus button and add features by tapping the green plus button.

    Screenshots of an iPhone showing how to customize Control Center
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