I have a decade old, 2nd Gen iPod (a huge white and silver brick) that arguably beats my iPod Touch in two key built-in features. The first is that it is much faster to transfer music to because it supports FireWire, (but that’s a rant for another time). The brick’s second excellent feature is the ability to mount on my Mac and act just like an external hard drive.
While it doesn’t seem like iPhones/iPods will be supporting FireWire any time soon, a slew of third party app developers have addressed the need to use your Apple mobile device as a wireless portable drive. Nearly all of them function in the same manner so I’ll walk you through the app that I personally use and then present a number of alternatives.
My HD app of choice is Air Sharing. It’s wonderfully simple to use and has never given me a single problem (the bonus is that I got it free as part of a temporary sale). It’s now $2.99 but definitely worth dropping the few bucks if you can see yourself using your iPhone frequently as a portable drive.
When you open Air Sharing you are taken to an icon view of the folders and files on your drive. The interface is nearly exactly like that of the OS X Finder so Mac users should feel right at home. Tapping on a folder will take you into its contents: another thumbnail view of the files in the folder. Simply tap a file to preview it in the app.
Air Sharing lets you view a huge range of supported file formats including iWork documents, MS Office documents, PDFs, JPGs, HTML pages, various text files, and audio/video multimedia files.
The big benefit that new technology has over my old 2nd generation iPod is the ability to access your device over the air, eliminating the need to plug anything in. The first step you’ll want to take to connect to your Apple device is to open up the settings screen (tap the little wrench icon) to set your security.
As you can see, I have “Sharing Security” turned on. This simply puts a username and password on the device so no one can connect to your device without your permission. I highly recommend that you implement this simple but effective security measure.
Next, go back to the main application screen and tap the little Wifi icon in the bottom center. This brings up a number of options for connecting to your device via Bonjour or IP address. On your Mac, bring up Finder and hit ⌘-K to bring up the “Connect to Server” options (alternatively, you can use your Mac or PCs browser).
In the first window, type in the Bonjour or IP address and hit connect. If you’ve placed security on the device as outlined above, type this information into the second screen and hit “Connect.”
That’s about all there is to it. Now your device will pop up in the Finder and you’ll be free to drag files to and from it. Be sure to save the address in your favorite server list so you don’t have to type it in every time. The entire process only takes a minute or so and isn’t really much more of a hassle than plugging something into a USB port once you get used to it.
The huge benefit that Apple handhelds have over your typical portable hard drive is the fact that you can browse, view, interact with and share the files right on the storage device. The downside of course is that your storage space is limited to the free capacity on your phone.
As I said above, Air Sharing tends to be the app I use the most for this kind of thing (after Dropbox, discussed below). However, there are plenty of different options out there for you to choose from so I encourage you to take a look at a few of the apps below to see if there are any you might like better.
Also check out – Air Sharing Pro
Good, but not quite there
Air Sharing is (at this time, at least), superior to its competitors FileMagnet and Stanza. It doesn’t require a server-side application to transfer files to the handheld device, and its PDF reader supports implicit bookmarking. That means you can read a long PDF document, quit, and when you come back to it, still be at the same page. All PDF formatting (italics, page breaks, bolding, etc.) is preserved (which is a feature the makers of Stanza consider unnecessary), so Air Sharing is the clear winner there, too.
But as a document reader, it still suffers from too many of the drawbacks of similar utilities. The reader screen is surrounded by wholly unnecessary gray borders that cut into the already-minimal iTouch/iPhone viewing area. There’s the gray wireless/time/battery bar at the top, reducing screen area still further. And at the bottom, there’s the biggest gray bar of all, holding two pretty much useless “up” and “down” arrows. The iTouch/iPhone photo viewer makes use of the entire screen, so there’s no reason a document viewer can’t do the same thing. Worst of all, each time you scroll up or down, a big gray “<nn> of <nnnn>” page-number display obscures about one-eighth of the top left of the screen. Okay, it goes away after a couple of seconds, but it’s very annoying, not needed, and you can’t turn it off.
Scrolling is up-and-down only; the more natural right-to-left page-style scrolling isn’t supported, even as an option.
There’s no way to jump to a specific page, either. The only way to get to a given page is to scroll there, one. Page. At. A. Time. Not a big deal for a small document, but if you’re reading a long PDF ebook or magazine, it gets very tedious, very fast.
Air Sharing gets full marks for its innovative and effective way of transferring files to the handheld device without special serverside software. But as a reader of the transferred documents, it still needs:
1: Explicit bookmarking, so the user can manually choose which page will be bookmarked. Multiple bookmarks would be nice, too.
2: Full-screen viewing, without borders, bars or page-number displays cutting into the viewing area. Again, the iTouch/iPhone photo viewer can do this, and it’s even more important for document reading.
3: An option for horizontal scrolling.
Of the three file-transfer and document-viewing utilities I’ve mentioned, Air Sharing is the clear winner. But until the features I’ve outlined above are added, I can only give this utility three stars. Avatron has come up with a great method for transferring files, and now they need to put equal effort into the interface for viewing them. That would make Air Sharing a truly five-star program.
So Far a Great App!!!
I have been in need of a files app and have been in the process of reading reviews of all the File app’s out there and this came up today and I love it more than the rest!
– Has very detail directions on how to use it!
– Looks to have the most foramts supported
– No lag on large documents.
– FREE at least for the first two weeks!
– Can navigate file menu easily !!!!!
– Easily transer documents!
– Password Protect
– Options to show hidden files
-THE LIST GOES ON….
– I just bought Folders app (greatly disapointed with folders app) but this app should have come sooner!!!!!! (will not mark off any stars for this)
Very nice start!
I have downloaded the following types of files with the following degrees of success:
Microsoft Word files show up beautifully and pretty much retain their formatting. Also lovely in landscape (uses the accelerometer).
PDF files: gorgeous. You can pinch and spread to read those tiny letters in landscape.
Microsoft excel: very nice. of course you have to use the landscape orientation to see a lot of it, and also the pinch spread to see smaller numbers and cells.
Powerpoint: a big file (672 KB) is slow to open up. Seems to need to work very hard to get that thing posted. But once its there, it renders just beautifully.
Keynote: The keynote file, for some reason, only displays the first page with a red banner in the corner that reads “thumbnail”. I am still investigating to see what may be happening, but the original is the full presentation, not the alias or anything. So this may be an issue for wiser heads than mine.
Overall this is a spectacular idea! The only thing that of course would be even better, is that you could actually edit the documents once you got them on the phone! Of course that would be “paid” functionality.
One thought, though, the up and down arrows should advance the document one page at a time by the page break. RIght now it only goes about 3/4 down. I can use a finger stroke to get to specific lines, but the up and down arrows seem to scream for a “page by page” function.
Other than that, BRAVO!!!!!