AirDrop is a wireless file-sharing feature introduced to Apple devices and computers with iOS 7 and Mac OS X Lion, respectively. Using Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, or mobile data, two users can transfer a wide variety of files hassle-free — no cables, external application, or file uploading services required. This process works wonderfully and is a staple among operating systems’ features today. However, sometimes photos get saved to an unusual location. Other times, they get corrupted if the transfer fails halfway, or issues with storage and/or iCloud arise. Finally, they may fail to save at all. In all those cases, knowing how to recover AirDrop photos is pivotal.
1. Find misplaced AirDrop photos
In a lot of cases, all you must know is the answer to the question, “where do AirDrop files go on smartphone or computer?” The situations we mentioned above aren’t unexpected. However, they are in no way common. Thus, it comes down to files that aren’t in their usual location, or not knowing where they are in the first place. Before you do that, we propose you double-check you allowed the transfer to occur. Many people assume the procedure finishes in the background, while the opposite is true — you’ll get a window prompt asking you to accept the transfer. To check, do the following:
- Go to Settings, then tap on General.
- Select AirDrop from the secondary list of options.
- Make sure there’s a checkmark in front of Contacts Only or Everyone, depending on whom you’re accepting images from.
A great thing about Apple iPhone and iPad is that each file type has a pre-installed application suitable for it. Therefore, once accepted, photos will be visible within the Photos app unless you chose a different default one. Check both the Photos folder, as it will usually appear on top, or the Album one. Another thing to note is that, if the person sends a photo from the folder with the same name as yours, such as Camera Roll, AirDrop can place it there automatically.
The situation is similar on Mac desktops, laptops, and Mini computers. Except instead of a common app, you have a default folder. To be more specific, the Download folder within the “Users” folder, found in your “Library” (keyboard shortcut: Command + Option + L). You can also likely find the folder under “Favorites” in the Library, making the procedure easier.
Check My Photo Stream
This is a nifty feature not many people turn to in times of crisis. Yet, it’s incredibly powerful, as it automatically uploads up to 1000 of the latest pictures on your iPhone or iPad, Live Photos excluded. It works like iCloud, which we’ll mention below, but has a separate library and a 30-day limit for recovery. You can recover AirDrop photos from one of these locations:
- iPhone/iPad (iOS 8 and up): Go to Photos > Open Albums > Enter My Photo Stream.
- Mac: Open your Photos folder. Click on My Photo Stream under “Library” in the left sidebar.
- Windows: Click the Start menu and search for “iCloud Photos”. Go to the Downloads folder.
2. Recover AirDrop photos from iCloud
We will assume you haven’t manually erased photos after you received them. That’s a separate issue that requires the retrieval of deleted images from the iPhone. Regardless of whether the problem stems from RAM overload after sending too many photos at once (we suggest keeping it in the 50-100 photo range) or a hardware/software problem, iCloud can save the day. It’s a built-in cloud backup feature that saves a duplicate version of all your photos. Unfortunately, Apple doesn’t let you pick and choose which files you need by default. Instead, you have two options:
Perform a factory reset
This is a radical step we demonstrated under method 3 of our guide on recovery of deleted emails from iCloud. It requires you to wipe all data on your Apple smart device, then start anew to let files sync. We propose disconnecting from the Internet until you’re ready to download them. That’s because files that are gone on your smart device can get automatically erased through an iCloud sync, achieving the opposite effect.
Use third party iCloud data extractor software
We advise caution with this technique and recommend you only use it as a last-case scenario. There are third-party programs or applications that, once given access to your iCloud account, scour the storage and let you select the type of files to recover. That way, you neither need to reset your device to factory settings nor wait for the entire iCloud storage to sync.
We will neither suggest a particular program nor demonstrate the steps. They’re easy to find and results vary — what worked for us may not work for you. Therefore, you may combine two or even three reputable software of this type. The procedure is straightforward, too. You log in with your Apple ID, select the file type, and browse through results after the scan finishes.
3. Look for AirDrop images without a backup
The two methods above assume you’ve either misplaced photos or can retrieve them from a cloud backup. When that isn’t the case, you’d be lost without data recovery software for iPhone. Although not a magic wand, they can inspect your storage for fragments of images, put them together, and let you have them back assembled. For more details and specific instructions, check our article on restoring recently deleted photos. More specifically, the section titled “Recovering Deleted Photos With a Data Recovery Software”.
However, this type of software has an additional role to play with AirDrop. Remember how, when you had to accept a photo or multiple photos, there was a little preview? While we’re grasping at straws here, in a desperate attempt to locate images, even a thumbnail can be a life-saver. The scan will unearth them as well, so in case you fail to restore full-size images, a lower resolution will have to do.