How to easily transfer files between nearby smartphones
Transferring photos and other files between nearby smartphones should be easy, but it isn’t. There are different ways to do this, and the best one depends on the types of smartphones you’re transferring files between.
This is particularly tricky because many of these methods are not interoperable. Android, iPhone and Windows Phone have their own ways of sending files and they don’t like to talk to each other.
Any Android device running Android 4.1 or later with an NFC chip inside can send files via NFC using Android Beam. Simply open the photo or other file, tap the phones next to each other, and you’ll be prompted to wirelessly “broadcast” the file to the other phone.
It works great for sending photos quickly, but it can’t send all types of files. It is also very limited. iPhones don’t have built-in NFC hardware, so they can’t participate. Windows Phone and BlackBerry devices have NFC hardware, but Android Beam can’t send files with them, it’s Android or nothing.
Windows Phone devices can send files to each other with NFC, so you’d be lucky if you could find someone else with a Windows Phone.
Bluetooth file transfers
Smartphones typically have built-in Bluetooth hardware, and Bluetooth can be used to wirelessly transfer files between nearby devices. It seems like a solution that would work on all smartphone platforms. However, while Android supports Bluetooth file transfers, Apple’s iPhone does not.
Fortunately, Windows Phone 8 and BlackBerry support Bluetooth file transfers, which can theoretically work on all modern smartphone platforms except iOS and devices that haven’t been upgraded from Windows Phone 7.
On Android, you’ll need to open the file you want to share, for example, view the photo in the Gallery app, tap the share button, and then select the Bluetooth option. You will be prompted to set up Bluetooth pairing between the two devices.
Share to Dropbox or other service
This is why the methods based on the material are incompatible between the devices – just present, they are not compatible with an iPhone if one of them is between you and you have an iPhone – you probably want a kind of service online.
Chances are one or both of you are already using Dropbox. If you’ve uploaded the file to your Dropbox app (on Android you can even automatically upload photos you take to your Dropbox account), you can share a link to the file so the other person can upload it directly from their Dropbox account.
Email the file
What’s the only way to wirelessly send a file to someone else’s smartphone and receive it without the need for a dedicated app, regardless of what smartphone they’re using? There should be a standard that makes this easy, but there isn’t, so the answer to the question is email. Emailing a file is the only way to share a file with anyone else using any smartphone, no third party app needed.
Simply launch the email app on your phone, attach the file, and send it to the other person’s email address; they will receive the file in their phone inbox.
It’s a shame that, after all the fancy software we’ve developed, email is still the most reliable way to send files.
Apple may refuse to support standards like NFC and Bluetooth file transfers, but they are working on their own local area file transfer solution for their upcoming iOS 7.
The AirDrop feature will show you other iPhones in your area and allow you to share files and other data with them. Unfortunately, this is an iPhone-only feature, so iPhones will still be cut off from Android, Windows Phone, Blackberry, and everyone else when it comes to local wireless file transfers.
Of course, there are a wide variety of other options for transferring files. You’ll find plenty of third-party apps that let you transfer files wirelessly in each smartphone platform’s app store, but you’ll usually need to be running the same app as the other person if you go this route.
Neither of the above methods is particularly ideal for large files, such as if you want to copy your music collection to a nearby phone. In situations like these, you can simply connect your phone to a computer, copy the files to the computer, then connect the other person’s phone to the computer and copy the files to the other phone.
Image Credit: Ed Yourdon on Flickr