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While Bluetooth and Airdrop are both file transfer technologies, they differ in transfer speed, technologies, and usage. While Airdrop uses both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi to transfer files at great speeds, Bluetooth is much slower but consumes less battery.
If you use an iPhone, you most probably use Bluetooth very frequently. iPhones no longer come with dedicated headphone jacks, and there are only two options for audiophiles: you can either use an adapter, give up your charging port, or use a Bluetooth headset.
If the latest trends are anything to go by, people are increasingly choosing the latter option for its convenience. But while almost everyone uses Bluetooth constantly, not many people know how the technology works.
Bluetooth appears to be ridiculously simple, given how easy it connects and how convenient it is. Digging deeper, however, you’ll be surprised at the amount of information it must process in the background before authorizing a connection.
Two Bluetooth devices can communicate using radio waves across specific frequencies. These radio waves are incredibly efficient on your battery, but they don’t allow for transfers of large volumes of data at once.
Most of your devices already use Bluetooth, even if you’re not paying attention. You can connect your phone to your computer with Bluetooth to transfer files or use the cellular data from the phone via Bluetooth tethering.
There are two Bluetooth technologies, but the one on your iPhone is known as Bluetooth LE, famous for its battery efficiency. However, it’s a tad slower than the other Bluetooth standard.
Airdrop doesn’t bring new technology to the table. Instead, it combines previous technologies with flaws to remove their flaws and make them work better and more efficiently.
Airdrop uses Bluetooth and Wi-Fi Direct to make transfers possible. This isn’t very surprising, as you’re always required to enable your Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connections whenever you need to transfer a file over Airdrop.
It’s possible to send a file over Wi-Fi alone using Wi-Fi Direct or over Bluetooth alone, but they have very obvious flaws. From the previous section, you can already tell that the major flaw of Bluetooth is its unbearable speeds.
Wi-Fi solves the speed problem but takes more toll on the battery. To use Airdrop conveniently, you must leave it enabled. When you leave it enabled, your phone will always be listening for potential connections, ready to send data packets containing your hash to anyone willing to transfer a file.
While that process will work very well on Wi-Fi, you’ll see significant battery drains. Nobody has managed to find a way to make Wi-Fi Direct as efficient as Bluetooth with battery, not even Apple.
For efficiency, Apple uses Bluetooth for this process. After initiating the connection, however, Airdrop will automatically switch to Wi-Fi Direct for sending the file. This strikes a balance between energy efficiency and speed, making Airdrop excellent.
If you’re trying to transfer files between two devices running iOS, iPadOS, or macOS, Airdrop is your best bet. However, Bluetooth is best for tasks that you do continuously like carrying music to your Bluetooth speakers to initiating Airdrop connections.
Since you’ll need to enable Bluetooth to send a file over Airdrop, it’s quite easy to think Airdrop works on the same technology like Bluetooth. While most people like to refer to Airdrop as Apple’s version of Bluetooth, nothing can be further from the truth.
While Airdrop uses the help of Bluetooth to make it work, most of the file transfers happen over Wi-Fi Direct, a Wi-Fi protocol that allows two devices to connect via Wi-Fi without a third-party router.
Wi-Fi Direct has a connection protocol that lets a device find other devices in the vicinity and connect to them without the help of Bluetooth. However, it can’t be described as efficient, as it’s very hard on battery life.
Bluetooth, on the other hand, is also capable of transferring files, just like Wi-Fi Direct. However, it has a major flaw which is in its speed. Unlike Wi-Fi, Bluetooth is unbearably slow in file transfers, making it only capable of light tasks like carrying audio.
In short, Wi-Fi is a crazy fast technology, but you’ll be paying for its speed with your battery. Bluetooth, however, is an efficient technology, but its speed is slower than anyone will want to use.
To aggregate the efficiency of Bluetooth and the speed of Wi-Fi, Apple created Airdrop. Thanks to Apple’s excellence, Airdrop was carefully crafted to be both efficient and fast, making it a superior option to most other technologies on the market.
When you try to share a file over Airdrop, Bluetooth only helps to initiate the connection. Initiating the connection here means that Airdrop will notify nearby iPhone users through Bluetooth, and they’ll send their hashes back over Bluetooth.
When you find and approve the recipient, Airdrop automatically switches to Wi-Fi for the rest of the transfer. If you keep your Airdrop on after the transfer, your device will continue to listen for nearby iPhone users trying to share a file.
If the transfer was made over a Bluetooth connection, you may have to wait for hours to complete it, and if your phone listens for new connections using Wi-Fi, you’ll be needing a new battery every other day.
In short, even though you’ll need to turn on your Bluetooth to use Airdrop, they’re still not the same. While Bluetooth is more efficient for connecting to devices that receive little amounts of data for extended periods, Airdrop is better for large transfers.
If you’re trying to send a huge file, you’ll want to do it the fastest way. With an iPhone, you have two main options out of the box: Airdrop and Bluetooth.
While Bluetooth is much older than Airdrop, they’re leagues apart in speed. Airdrop is the better option when you’re transferring large files, and it’s not even a close call.
Bluetooth LE, the version of Bluetooth on all iPhones has a transfer speed that maxes out at 2Mbps. This speed is barely enough to carry high-definition audio and to make things worse, many external factors will interfere, making it almost impossible to reach this speed practically.
To get an idea of how slow Bluetooth is, here is a practical analogy. If you’re transferring a 2GB file at the maximum Bluetooth speed will take almost 2 hours and 30 minutes. Given that a very high-quality movie will be around that size, that speed is unbearable.
Airdrop, on the other hand, makes use of Wi-Fi for data transfers. It’s pointless to demonstrate how fast Wi-Fi can be, as it’s the technology that handles your web browsing, online gaming, and video streaming.
In short, Airdrop is significantly faster than Bluetooth, and it’s also easier on your battery. If you care about speed while transferring any file, you should always try to send it via Airdrop.
While Airdrop uses Bluetooth and Wi-Fi to make file transfers, it’s still very different from Bluetooth. Both technologies have different pros and cons that make them feasible in different situations.
Bluetooth is much slower than Wi-Fi, but it’s easier on your battery. The perfect use case for technology, like Bluetooth, is a headset, which requires the transfer of small packets of data over a long period.
Airdrop, however, focuses mostly on speed. It uses the Wi-Fi Direct technology to make transfers, making it several times faster than Bluetooth. While it’s not very practical for connecting devices like speakers, it’s the best option for large data transfers between iPhones.
It’s also important to know that Bluetooth and Airdrop aren’t competitors. They both have their specific use cases, and neither will be leaving your iPhone anytime soon.