Using AirDrop is one of the easier ways to share files between Macs since its debut some time ago in OS X, but many Mac users have discovered that new Macs can’t seem to find old Macs with AirDrop, and older Macs with older versions of OS X can’t seem to locate new Macs with modern versions of OS X. Additionally, sometimes Macs can’t find iOS devices with AirDrop too. Fortunately, there’s a very easy solution to this, so if you find that AirDrop is not working in OS X between two different OS X versions or between different Mac models, you’ll likely be able to use a little-known compatibility mode to AirDrop files between the Macs regardless of their hardware and OS version.
If you find that AirDrop is not working at all, not discovering other Macs or iOS devices, or AirDrop won’t find a particular other device or Mac, try this out, it will almost certainly resolve the issue and discover the AirDrop target.
How to Use AirDrop Compatibility Mode Between New Macs & OS X and Older Macs
You must start this process from the new the Mac that has a later version of OS X.
- Open a Finder window and choose “AirDrop” as usual on the new Mac to attempt to search for available AirDrop devices and Macs, assuming it’s an older Mac you’re looking for it won’t show up at all
- Click the small text question “Don’t see who you’re looking for?”
- A little pop-up box will appear saying “To share with someone using iOS, ask them to open Contro lCenter and turn on AirDrop. On a Mac, ask them to go to AirDrop in the Finder.” – click the “Search for an Older Mac” button underneath this text
- Wait a moment for the older Mac and OS X version devices to appear as available AirDrop file sharing targets
Now you can use AirDrop to share and copy files back and forth between Macs as usual, and the new Mac with newer versions of OS X will also appear on the older Mac with older versions of OS X.
For this walkthrough, a brand new Retina MacBook Pro running OS X 10.11.2 El Capitan was trying to reach an older MacBook Air with OS X 10.9.5 Mavericks, which initially showed no response and neither appeared in one anothers AirDrop target machine list. With the compatibility mode option turned on with the new Mac, AirDrop instantly works and becomes visible for both Macs.
Do keep in mind that you’ll want to turn off the compatibility mode feature if you intend on using AirDrop to copy between new Macs and OS X versions again, as keeping the ‘older Macs’ support enabled seems to prevent the new versions of OS X and new Mac hardware from finding other new Macs and OS X releases. In other words, this trick goes both ways; turn it on for new Mac to old Mac support, and turn it off for new Mac to new Mac support. This even works with much older Macs too that used this method to enable ethernet support for the AIrDrop protocol.