Notes on iCloud Disappointment And AirDrop Discoveries

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I’ve got an iPad Air 2 and an iPhone 5S with me on this vacation, and I’ve also signed up for a one-week travel pass that provides “unlimited” data (800MB per day). I wanted the data in order to keep in touch with family back home, but it was also supposed to be a way to get files synced between my iPhone and iPad. I’d go out for the day, take photos and notes on my iPhone, and then write up journals in the evening on the iPad. The problem I encountered, however, is that iCloud absolutely sucks when you’ve got spotty connections.

I could not, for the life of me, get iA Writer Pro or Drafts to sync properly on this trip. This was a pain because my text was written on the iPad, but my pictures were on the iPhone, and I could only ever seem to upload images (for sharing) directly from the iPhone’s 3G connection. I knew my iPad was tethered properly to the iPhone because emails and iMessages do trickle in slowly, but relying on iCloud to sync simple text files just never worked out. I tried resetting devices, toggling iCloud sync on and off, and force quitting apps in order to try to jolt the service back to life. I banged my head against the problem for about 30 minutes and then thought about alternate solutions.

AirDrop was the first thing to come to mind, since it relies on Bluetooth to find another device, and then uses Wi-Fi to quickly complete the file transfer over an ad-hoc network — no fancy Internet connection needed. The issue with AirDrop is that establishing a connection can occasionally be an iffy proposition. I made sure that BT and Wi-Fi were activated on both devices, and also made sure AirDrop was on, but my iPad simply couldn’t see my iPhone. This was incredibly frustrating because my iOS devices are incredibly capable machines that can track my steps, function as navigation systems, and take incredible photographs — but because they lack any kind of USB ports, SD card slots, or exposed file systems, it can be an unbelievable pain to get a simple text file from one device to the other…even though the devices are right beside one another.

After a lot of trial and error, here is my checklist for reliably getting AirDrop to work for your devices:

  1. Make sure your devices are newer than an iPhone 4S or an iPad 2, or AirDrop won’t work at all.
  2. Swipe up to activate Control Center and make sure BT and Wi-Fi are on.
  3. Make sure AirDrop is set to Contacts Only or Everyone.
  4. Make sure you’re not tethered to another device, since tethering effectively cancels the ability to AirDrop.
  5. If your iOS device still isn’t showing up, toggle Bluetooth on and off. This seems to jolt the device into broadcasting its availability properly.

The thing is, once you actually do get AirDrop working, it does feel like magic. I transferred text files wirelessly from the iPad to the iPhone, and I sent 40 pictures over from my iPhone to the iPad for editing. iCloud, on the other hand, feels like it needs a lot more work to become a reliable syncing method. ICloud has always been a bit of a black box of mystery, but on this vacation it was a useless black box of mystery that I wanted to kick open.

I’ll likely switch my data back to Dropbox for any app that offers me the option, and I’ll only stick with iCloud for apps and services where there’s just no other choice (e.g. iCloud Photo Library, Drafts).

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