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Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Dan Moren

Adventures in troubleshooting AirDrop

Note: This story has not been updated for several years.

The downside of technology that’s indistinguishable from magic is that when it doesn’t work as expected, it often feels like we have to resort to mystical incantations1 to fix things.

A couple weeks back I noticed that AirDrop on my iPhone wasn’t working as expected: whenever I opened the Share sheet to send a photo over to my laptop, no devices showed up as available destinations. I was irritated, but busy, so I just used some other, less convenient form of file transfer, deciding I would save troubleshooting for another time.

That other ended up being today, when I hit my breaking point. I use AirDrop a lot to send screenshots from my iPhone to my MacBook Air, and it annoyed me that I was having to resort to kludgier solutions.

The plot thickened when it seemed that though no devices showed up in the iPhone’s Share sheet, the iPhone itself shows up in AirDrop from my Mac and my iPad.

So I turned to the troubleshooter’s best friend, Google, and typed in my mystical incantation to see what the all-powerful Internet hive mind suggested. Here are the suggestions I found, all of which I tried:

  • Turning the iPhone’s Wi-Fi off and on again.
  • Turning the iPhone’s Bluetooth off and on again.
  • Turning both the iPhone’s Wi-Fi and Bluetooth off and on again.
  • Turning AirDrop Off and on again.
  • Turning the iPhone off and on again.
  • Hard restarting the iPhone (holding down the Home button and Sleep/Wake button).
  • Resetting the Network Settings.2
  • Logging out of my iCloud account and back in again.3

Just now, as I was writing out this list, I realized I hadn’t tried to force-quit and restart the Photos app, so I did that. And weirdly enough, that seemed to make AirDrop work again–at least for now.4

Yet I still can’t be entirely sure that that’s what actually fixed it, and I think this is one reason that we’ve been having, of late, this discussion about the declining quality of Apple’s software.

When things don’t work as expected, it’s a) incredibly frustrating, because we are so used to them not only being functional, but working well, b) the number of troubleshooting tools at our disposal is fairly limited, especially on iOS, and even if you’re a pretty tech-savvy individual, and c) oftentimes when we do get things working again, we don’t even understand why.

All three of those factors taken together make the technology, which can feel magical at the best of times, instead seem downright capricious. Especially because as humans, we take these random events personally, sensing an unfounded animus that leads us to conclude that this broken thing is targeting us, specifically and maliciously.

The black-box aspect of modern technology is a double-edged sword: we rave about when things “just work” and rail when they just don’t work. But then again, maybe that’s all part of the deal we made to get a little more magic into our lives.

  1. My mystical incantations usually involve a lot of swearing. 
  2. No, but I did have to re-enter a bunch of Wi-Fi passwords, so that was great. 
  3. No, but geez that’s a pain these days. Among other things, it prompted a redownload of all of my photos via iCloud Photo Library. 
  4. Deep sigh. 

[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Mastodon at or reach him by email at His latest novel, the supernatural detective story All Souls Lost, is now available for pre-order.]

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