7 Ways to Transfer Files Between iPhone and Mac

There’s more than one way to transfer data between your iPhone and Mac. Though most services rely on the cloud, you’ve got a few choices when it comes to moving files like photos, videos, or documents that don’t all require an internet connection.


Related: How to Transfer Chrome Tabs Between iPhone, iPad, and Mac


Transfer Wirelessly with AirDrop

AirDrop is Apple’s wireless file transfer protocol that works locally between Apple devices like the iPhone, iPad, MacBook, and desktop Mac. You can access AirDrop from the Share menu on both mobile devices and computers. On an iPhone or iPad, hit “Share” then tap on the “AirDrop” icon from the list of services, followed by the destination.

AirDrop a file from iPhone

On a Mac, you can right-click on a file then choose “Share…” followed by “AirDrop” and the destination you want to send the file to. You can send multiple files in either direction, though we’ve noticed things seem to go a little smoother when you break up especially large transfers (multiple video files, for example).

Share file to iPhone via AirDrop from macOS

Files received on a Mac can be saved to the Downloads folder, on an iPhone you will need to specify an app to use to open (and save) the file. If only one app is compatible, the file will open automatically.

AirDrop is the easiest and fastest way of sending a file assuming everything goes to plan. Unfortunately, this method can be a little temperamental. We’ve got a list of things you can try if AirDrop isn’t working the way it’s supposed to.

Move Data Over a Cable with Finder

If AirDrop isn’t working and you’d rather use a trusty physical wired connection instead, grab your iPhone charging cable and connect it to your Mac directly. Make sure you’ve hit “Trust” on each device if prompted, then launch Finder and click on your iPhone in the sidebar and select the Files tab.

Finder file transfer interface for iPhone

From here you can drag files into the window and then drop them “into” a relevant app to place the file in that app’s data. You’ll be able to access this on your iPhone using the relevant app or using the Files app on the “Browse” tab.

To copy files from your iPhone, expand an app folder then click and drag the file to a destination of your choosing.

Upload to iCloud (then Download)

You’ll get 5GB of iCloud storage when you sign up for an Apple ID, but there are some good reasons to upgrade your iCloud storage. Chief among them is the ability to back up your device automatically to the cloud and store media like photos and videos on Apple’s servers, saving space on your local device.

If you’ve got some spare iCloud storage available, why not use it as a traditional cloud storage platform? On an iPhone or iPad, access this using the “Share” menu then pick the “Save to Files” option. From here, navigate to your iCloud storage (keep tapping the “Back” arrow until you see “iCloud Drive” listed under “Locations”) and choose where to save the file.

Wait for the file to upload. On your Mac, open Finder and click on iCloud Drive in the sidebar. Navigate to the location in which you just saved the file, and you can now open it, move it, copy it, and do whatever you like. You can also upload files from your Mac in this way, by navigating to an iCloud Drive folder in Finder.

Browse iCloud Drive to upload or download files from Mac

From here, open the Files app on your iPhone and use the “Browse” tab to find the file you uploaded. You can now open it in a compatible app, move it to a folder of your choosing, or share it elsewhere right from your iPhone or iPad.

Use an iCloud Drive Alternative

If you use a third-party cloud storage service like Google Drive, Dropbox, or OneDrive, you can also use this service to upload and download files. The instructions will vary depending on the service you use, but it shouldn’t be too hard to work out.

To upload or access files from your iPhone or iPad, you’ll need the corresponding app from the App Store. Google Drive, for example, has an “Upload” option under the plus “+” icon which allows you to select “Photos and Videos” (to move files from your Photos library) or “Browse” (to use the Files app picker to specify another type of file).

Upload a file to Google Drive using the iPhone app

With the file uploaded, use the corresponding app on a Mac or web interface to access it by navigating to the location in which you saved it. Repeat this process in reverse to upload from your Mac, clicking and dragging a file into place then finding it using the corresponding app for iPhone or iPad.

If you have enabled iCloud Photos Library, new photos will be uploaded automatically from your iPhone or iPad when you have a Wi-Fi connection and enough battery to do so. These will then be available on your Mac, using the Photos app. Sometimes you may need to open the Photos app on your iPhone, scroll to the bottom of the “Library” tab then hit “Sync Now” to manually force media to sync.

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The same should work for uploading media from your Mac. Click and drag a photo or video into your Photos app (or use File > Import… in the menu bar) to add it to your library. Wait for it to upload, then access it on your iPhone or iPad.

You can use this method of transfer with HEIF images, HEVC videos, JPEG, PNG, GIF, and both RAW and TIFF files.

Some Third-Party Apps Support Wi-Fi Transfer

Some apps support wireless transfers using a standard web browser. A good example here is VLC, which allows you to transfer video files directly to your device’s local storage from a Mac (or another computer) using a desktop browser. With the app running and “Sharing via Wi-Fi” enabled, access the web interface at the specified URL using your Mac’s web browser and then drag and drop files.

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Get an iPhone-Compatible Flash Drive

You can also transfer files manually to a flash drive which can connect to a Mac and iPhone or iPad. On a Mac, this works like a standard flash drive: plug it in, launch Finder, select the USB stick from the location in the sidebar, and copy files to or from it.

On an iPhone or iPad, you’ll either need to use the Files app (where supported) or an app designed by the manufacturer. If you use Files, the flash drive will appear in “Locations” on the “Browse” tab. You can use it like any other location (for example, iCloud) to save or retrieve files.

If you use a manufacturer’s app, you might find there are some simple one-touch operations available to you as well, like backing up your Photos library to the flash drive in one touch. These drives are built with both a Lightning connector and standard USB (either Type-A or Type-C), like the SanDisk 256GB iXpand Flash Drive Go, to make transferring files between devices a relatively painless affair.

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SanDisk 256GB iXpand Flash Drive Go

iPhone-compatible Flash Drive

$55 $58 Save $3

With a Lightning connector on one end and a standard USB Type-A connector on the other, use the SanDisk iXpand Flash Drive Go to make backups or transfer files between an iPhone or iPad and Mac or Windows computer.

More Ways to Share

If you mostly want to share with other people rather than devices, consider setting up an iCloud Shared Photos Library with friends or family. You can also collaborate on Notes, maintain shared Reminders lists,¬†automatically share health data, and even share what you’re watching or listening to.

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