I went home last week and did everything one normally does over the holidays: I got together with my family and, in the spirit of Christmas, grilled my teenage cousins about what apps they’re using on their iPhones.
They named two of the usual suspects, Snapchat and Instagram. They laughed in my face when I asked what they thought about Facebook. “It’s for mums,” one explained to me.
Insightful, but not out of the ordinary. Then my 13-year-old cousin asked me if I knew what AirDrop was.
AirDrop is a feature on newer-model Apple devices. It uses WiFi and Bluetooth to let you transfer any kind of file — photos, videos, phone contacts, and even Map locations — from one person or device to another nearby.
The most-used app during school hours with these kids at their New Jersey school isn’t Snapchat or Instagram. In fact, it’s not an app at all. These teens are now using AirDrop, a feature built into their iPhones, to send pictures to each other during class. When I asked why they didn’t just use Snapchat instead, since it’s essentially the same thing, I was informed that they’re actually very different.
AirDrop is superior, my cousin declared, because unlike with Snapchat, you don’t need anyone’s username to send something to them. She also said that this is what makes AirDrop better than texting: you don’t need anybody’s phone number. As long as you have AirDrop enabled on your phone, anyone nearby can send you a file. Plus, she told me some schools have blocked Snapchat, so AirDrop is essentially a workaround. And unlike Snapchat, where you’re limited to pictures and video taken in the app, with AirDrop you can send anything you already have on your phone.
I pointed out that not everyone uses an iPhone. They countered by saying nearly everyone in their school has one. When I pressed for specific examples of what they’re sending through AirDrop, my 11-year-old cousin told me that kids in his class send the following: funny selfies; useful information, like a homework check that has all the right answers listed on it (I guess it’s easier than just passing it around the room); and memes. I asked what he meant by memes (it was also a little weird having a thoughtful conversation with an 11-year-old about memes). Here’s one he referenced, in case you’re wondering what middle schoolers laugh at in 2015.
Is AirDrop going to be a Snapchat killer? No way. But I don’t think this was ever a use-case Apple intended for this feature, so it’s interesting to see it being used like this by innovative kids.