Date:1 November 2010
Getting all your media on to Apple’s tablet can be tricky. Here’s how
By Anthony Verducci
During the past few decades of personal computing, moving files to our computers has been a fairly straightforward process. We’ve stashed them on a drive – be it floppy, zip or USB – and then plugged the drive into a computer. The machine recognises the drive and, a few drags and drops later, the files are copied.
But Apple’s iPad is a different sort of beast, with remarkably few gateways for files to pass through. The device has no USB jacks, and users typically need to use Apple’s proprietary 30-pin jack to shuttle files to the tablet. And to do that, they need to go through iTunes. In other words: our decades of drag-and-drop training don’t apply to the device.
This reliance on iTunes as a gatekeeper presents a significant problem: the software doesn’t do a very good job of handling many common types of files. Despite continual updates from Apple, iTunes still feels like it was only designed to get music (and maybe the occasional movie) on to iPods – not to shuttle PDFs, text documents and huge numbers of photos to an iPad. For many of these tasks, iTunes can feel woefully inadequate.
And that’s not the end of the iPad’s file problems. Once you’ve moved a file to the tablet, it can be tough to find it and do what you want with it. This is because, unlike just about every PC ever made, the iPad has no user-accessible system of folders that you can employ to organise and open files. Instead, files tend to exist within the bubble of an individual app and can be accessed only from within that app. Despite all this, you actually can get almost any type of file on to your iPad – you just may need to go around iTunes.
First things first. There’s one very easy way to shift smaller files to your iPad: e-mail them to yourself. You won’t want to do this with massive files, or a massive number of small files, but sending yourself a single photo or Word document as an attachment and then opening it on the iPad is quite simple.
For pictures, open the e-mail, hold your finger against the image for a second and select the “Save Image” option that pops up. The iPad will save the picture in its pre-installed Photos app.
If you open a text attachment from within the iPad’s Mail program, a button will appear at the top right of the screen that says “Open In . . .” Tap it and then select a program. (If you want to edit text documents on your iPad, we recommend Apple’s Pages, a R75 word-processing app. If you just want to read the document, the GoodReader at one-tenth of that price is adequate.) But be careful: because the iPad shuttles separate copies of the document to each app that you open it in, changes made to one version of the file will not show up in any others.
Unfortunately, using e-mail as a gateway to the iPad is unwieldy and impractical for large – or large numbers of – files. To handle these cases, you need another approach.
Photographers rejoice: photos are the one area in which Apple has given us a hardware bridge to the iPad. The company sells a product called the iPad Camera Connection Kit (about R220), which allows users to easily offload large numbers of pictures to an iPad. The kit comes with two dongles that plug into the iPad’s 30-pin dock connector. One of the adaptors acts as an SD memory card slot; the other gives you a USB jack for plugging in cameras directly. When a camera or memory card is connected, the iPad automatically opens the Photos program and allows users to pick which pictures they want to offload. This is especially useful for travellers who are looking to pull photos from their cameras, but are travelling without a fully fledged laptop (the photos can be transferred to a computer later by syncing it up with the iPad). One caveat: even though the Camera Connection Kit can give the iPad a USB jack, it is one with limited functionality. Although it can also handle some USB keyboards and headsets, it does not recognise USB storage devices (I tried).
A number of third-party apps are designed to link your iPad to either online storage services or your home-base computer. These programs typically allow you to gather and open all sorts of files. One of the most powerful is Air Sharing HD, a R75 iPad app that tricks your computer into thinking your iPad is an external drive, allowing you to easily drag and drop files on to it. The best part is that it’s done over Wi-Fi, so you don’t even need to plug the iPad into your computer. There’s also Dropbox, a free app that works in conjunction with the cloud-based storage service (2 GB of storage is free, 50 GB is R75 a month). You can play all sorts of media files from within the app. Still, this one has some kinks to be worked out – it crashed when I tried using it to push large movie files to my iPad.
If you need to pull large numbers of PDF, zip or CBZ files (that last one is commonly used for digital comic books), I suggest CloudReaders. This free app is very easy to use and allows you to pull these files from a computer either over Wi-Fi or by using a USB cord to sync the tablet with iTunes. If you do it over Wi-Fi, the app gives you a URL to type into your computer’s Web browser. Go to the address and follow the instructions on pulling the files from your computer and sending them to your iPad. If you want to use CloudReaders over USB (the faster method), go to the Apps tab within the iPad section of iTunes, click on “FileSharing” and then select “Cloud- Readers.” From there, you can move these files directly to your iPad from within the familiar confines of iTunes.