How to Transfer Files Between an iPhone and a Mac

From AirDrop to Email to iCloud Drive, here are 5 ways to get that file to someone else

What to Know

  • To transfer files with AirDrop, select file > share sheet > AirDrop > your Mac.
  • To transfer files via email, select file > share sheet > Mail > address email > Send.
  • You can also transfer files by syncing, and with iCloud Photos or iCloud Drive.

There are many free, built-in ways to easily transfer files on Apple devices. This article covers five of the best ways to transfer files from an iPhone to a Mac.

How to Transfer a File Between an iPhone and a Mac

Since they're both made by Apple, the iPhone and Mac share many technologies that make it easy to move files back and forth. Sure, you can buy extra software to transfer files, but with so many good built-in options, there's not much need. This articles focuses on moving files from an iPhone to a Mac, but these options can help you transfer files in the other direction, too,

Use AirDrop to Transfer Files from iPhone to Mac

AirDrop is Apple's wireless file-sharing technology. If your iPhone and Mac are physically close to each other, AirDrop is fast and super easy. Here's what to do:

  1. AirDrop needs to be enabled on the iPhone as well as AirDrop needs to be enabled on the Mac.

  2. Select the files you want to transfer from iPhone to Mac.

    These screenshots show transferring a picture from the Photos app, but the process is the same for any app that supports AirDrop (not all third-party apps do).

  3. Tap the share sheet (the box with the arrow point up).

  4. Your Mac may show up as the first option in the top row. If so, tap it to transfer the file. If not, tap AirDrop.

  5. Tap the icon for your Mac to transfer the file.

    Image preview, AirDrop, and MacBook Pro highlighted in Apple Photos

How to Use Email to Transfer Files from iPhone to Mac

For as long as we've been able to attach files to emails, email has been good for sharing. Most email accounts limit the size of file attachments (about ~25MB is a rule of thumb), but if your file is small enough, follow these steps:

  1. Select the file (again, we're using a photo, but any app that supports emailing files works this way).

  2. Tap the share sheet.

  3. Tap Mail.

  4. In the To: field, add your email address (make sure this email is set up on your Mac).

  5. Tap the send button.

    Image preview, Mail, and Send icon in Apple Photos
  6. On your Mac, open the email and download the attachment (if you're using Mail, click the paper clip > Save All > choose where on your Mac to save the file).

    Paperclip and Save as highlighted in Mac Mail

How to Sync Files from iPhone to Mac

In the early days of the iPhone, the only way to transfer files to a Mac was to sync your iPhone to your computer. That may not be the most common method used anymore, but it still works.

Not all apps support this kind of file transfer, so not every file on your iPhone can be moved this way.

  1. Connect your iPhone to your Mac via USB (you can also connect via Wi-Fi).

  2. Open a new Finder window (on Windows, open iTunes instead and skip to step 4).

    New Finder Window in the Apple Menu on a Mac desktop
  3. In the Locations section of the sidebar, click your iPhone (you may need to expand Locations by clicking it).

    iPhone highlighted in Mac Finder window
  4. Click Files.

  5. This shows apps on your iPhone that can transfer files to your Mac. Click each app's down arrow to see its files.

    Down arrow highlighted in a list of iPhone apps that can sync files in Mac Finder
  6. Drag and drop the file you want to transfer onto your desktop or elsewhere on your hard drive.

    Dragging files from an iPhone to a Mac in Finder

How to Transfer Photos from iPhone to Mac with iCloud Photos

If you just want to transfer photos, use iCloud Photos. With this built-in feature, your pictures and videos are uploaded to the Photos area of iCloud and then downloaded to any Mac (or another device) connected to the same iCloud account.

  1. On the iPhone, enable iCloud Photos by going to Settings > Photos > move the iCloud Photos slider to on/green.

    Photos and iCloud Photos slider in iPhone settings

    If you've got a lot of photos and videos, and this is the first time you're enabling iCloud Photos, the upload to iCloud may take a while.

  2. On the Mac, open the Photos app and click Photos > Preferences.

    Preferences in the Mac Photos menu
  3. Check the box next to iCloud Photos. Now, any photo or video on your iPhone will be automatically uploaded to iCloud Photos (this happens in the background, so there's nothing you need to do). Next time you check the Photos app on your Mac, the picture or video will be waiting for you.

    iCloud Photos checkbox highlighted in Mac Photos preferences

How to Use iCloud Drive to Transfer Files from iPhone to Mac

Apple's iCloud makes syncing all kinds of files between devices really easy. Here's what to do.

For this kind of transfer, you need to save files to your iPhone's Files app. This is an option in many apps, including pre-installed Apple apps like Numbers and Keynote, and third-party apps like Microsoft Word and Excel. Make sure you saving files from those apps to Files and you'll be all set.

  1. To transfer files using iCloud, you need to sync with iCloud Drive. Start on the iPhone by tapping Settings.

  2. Tap [your name] > iCloud > iCloud Drive > move the Sync this iPhone slider to on/green.

    Apple ID and Sync this iPhone toggle highlighted in iPhone Settings
  3. Next, enable the same kind of syncing on your Mac. Click the Apple menu > System Preferences.

    System Preferences in the Apple menu on a Mac
  4. Click Apple ID.

    Apple ID highlighted in the Mac System Preferences Window
  5. Click iCloud.

  6. Check the box next to iCloud Drive.

    iCloud Drive checkbox in Mac System Preferences
  7. Open a new Finder window and expand the iCloud section in the sidebar.

  8. Click iCloud Drive. All the files synced from your iPhone are present. Click the download icon to complete the transfer to your Mac.

    iCloud Drive highlighted in the Mac Finder window

Syncing files between devices using the cloud isn't limited to iCloud Drive. You can also transfer files with Dropbox, Google Drive, and similar services, though the exact steps for each platform differ.

  • How do I transfer files between iPhones?

    You can transfer files between iPhones using iTunes or iCloud. Alternatively, you can set up a new iPhone with an old one's data. To move single files from your iPhone to a friend's, use AirDrop.

  • How do I transfer files from an Android to an iPhone?

    To transfer files from an Android to an iPhone, use the Move to iOS app. For cross-platform apps, install the app on your iPhone and log into the same account you used on Android. You can't transfer apps. 

  • How do I transfer files between two Macs?

    To transfer files between two Macs, connect the computers, then open the Migration Assistant tool on both devices. On the new Mac, choose From another Mac for the transfer method. On the old Mac, choose To another Mac. MacOS also supports AirDrop.

  • How do I transfer files from my Mac to an external hard drive?

    To back up your Mac to an external hard drive, connect the drive and go to System Preferences > Time Machine > Select Backup Disk > Use Disk. Check Back Up Automatically for regular automatic backups.

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