Apple iPad, Day 15: Working With Files on the iPad

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30 Days With the iPad: Day 15

In order for the iPad 2 to be functional as a primary computing device, it has to be able to work with files. I need to be able to create files, save files, copy files from other devices, print files, and send files as email attachments. However, the iPad doesn't have a typical file and folder system for storing data, so for today's installment of 30 Days With the iPad I am going to try and figure out how to work with files and data on the iPad.

When I worked with Ubuntu Linux on the last 30 Days series, the lack of--or irrelevance of--file extensions took some getting used to, but at least the files and folders were still in their traditional hierarchy.

The iPad treats files more like a necessary evil. The iPad has mechanisms in place to enable apps to work with files, but most feel like workarounds that were added as an afterthought the first time someone fired up an iOS device and said "Cool, but where do I store files and how do I access them?"

You can share files with specific apps while tethered to a PC using iTunes.
iTunes File Syncing

The native method for addressing the file issue in iOS is to handle it on a sort of app-specific basis and sync them from within iTunes. When the iPad is connected to my PC and syncing with iTunes, I can click on the Apps tab, and scroll down to view a list of the apps that are capable of file sharing. Then I can add files to each one.

The problem is that each app is like an island unto itself, so if there is a file that I want to use in DocsToGo, and maybe Pages, or perhaps print using the Epson iPrint app, I may have to add it to each one. It certainly seems like it would be more efficient to have one central file repository on the iPad where I can copy these things and any apps that need the file can access it and share the one copy instead of each app having its own.

Like I said, the native method of dealing with files in iOS is clumsy and unintuitive. It's like Apple added it under duress, and wasn't interested in making it an enjoyable experience.

The GoFlex Satellite is its own Wi-Fi hotspot and has an iPad app to access the data.
Wireless Drives

I decided to take a look at using external storage. This is yet another area, though, where the iPad doesn't really just work with the common tools and storage devices most people own. There are some duct tape and chewing gum methods of using USB drives or SD memory cards, but they have limited application, or require jailbreaking and extensive hacking to accomplish. Besides, being technically able to connect with those devices doesn't make the iPad any better at navigating them or working with the files they contain.

There is a new breed of external hard drives cropping up, though, that are Wi-Fi hotspots in and of themselves, and can share data wirelessly. Drives like the Kingston Wi-Drive, and the Seagate GoFlex Satellite are designed specifically for storing and streaming content with iOS devices.

I have a 1TB Iomega drive attached to my Linksys wireless router so it can be accessed by all of the PCs in my home. That is the drive we do frequent backups to, and it contains the collective music library of the family.

Unfortunately, I can't find a way to get the iPad to "see" the drive even though its available on a wireless connection, and even if I did the iPad would probably not know how to access or use the data it contains. So, I picked up a GoFlex Satellite instead.

Frankly, with a 64GB iPad, I don't really need the additional 500GB of storage for day to day use anyway--I have plenty of music and a handful of HD movies stored internally and shouldn't need more than that while on the go. But, for an iPad-only post-PC era solution, a drive like the GoFlex Satellite may be necessary as a means of growing beyond the limitations of the iPad itself for long-term file storage.

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