When not to use Apple’s Mail Drop file transfer service

If you have a large file you need to share with several people, go a different route.

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Apple’s Mail Drop is a feature that ties the Mail app with iCloud, letting you send large attachments. Instead of packaging the attachment with the email message, Mail uploads the file to iCloud and includes a link in the email message. The upload doesn’t count against your iCloud storage total, and is only stored for 30 days.

Apple explains of Mail Drop’s limits on a support page, and notes just in passing, “The recipients might not be able to access your attachment if the link has an excessive amount of downloads or high traffic.”

Macworld reader Ken seems to have run aground on his proviso. He sent a 1GB movie file to about 25 to 30 people via Mail, which uploaded and managed the movie via Mail Drop, but he said after a few recipients had viewed it, the rest were told no more downloads permitted. Since Apple doesn’t specify a limit, this is obviously frustrating.

There are a number of alternatives that should be less irritating.

  • Use iCloud Drive. Even if you have just the free 5GB flavor, you can upload files and then obtain a public link to share a file. Apple doesn’t note any restrictions on sharing, but I’m sure it prevents whatever it consider excessive downloads. However, it’s likely much higher than with Mail Drop, because these iCloud Drive files count against your iCloud storage.

  • Use Dropbox. Dropbox has a robust free flavor, and any file can be shared with a public link. It has limits, too, but they aren’t low by any report I can find nor my experience.

  • For smaller groups of recipients, you can use an online transfer service, like WeTransfer, which has a free flavor for up to 2GB of files and up to three recipients.

  • Use a cloud-based storage system if you need to send out file links regularly. Amazon S3, Backblaze B2, and Google Cloud let you set up accounts that only charge you fees based on active storage and downloads. Some services include some free transfer as well. The storage fees are tiny. Backblaze B2, for instance, is half a cent a month per gigabyte stored and one cent per gigabyte downloaded, with the first 10GB each month free. They might seem to complicated for a non-techie user, but paired with the file-transfer software Transmit from Panic or the no-cost CyberDuck, it’s easy to drop in account credentials and use a cloud service as easily as the Finder.

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