I took some pictures on my iPad. Then I used iTunes to sync with the Mac. I even specified iPad back up. But when I went looking for them on my Mac, the iPad Camera Roll pics were no where to be found. I was sure I did something wrong because that’s how I got photos from Mac to iPad. It turned out that getting pics from the iPad required me to use iPhoto for the transfer to the Mac.
This illustrates the key difference between a traditional computer, and the way files are organized in iOS. On a Mac or PC there is common storage that all software can access. In iOS files are organized around apps. Each application and its files are grouped together like high school cliques. When an app gets built from the ground up, one way to guarantee that files can move to/from iOS devices is also create software for the computer it syncs with. Now back to my photos.
Suddenly iPhoto is valuable to me for two reasons: I can work on pics, and I can move pics off of the iPad. That’s not a huge deal, except Photoshop and Gimp do not move any iOS files. Apple “baked in” this iOS capability. Pictures and the iOS apps that use them benefit by having hooks in related software on desktop/laptop machines. It encourages a kind of microcosm based around a file type, in this case photos.
The iPad Camera isn’t the only app that creates or uses pics. For example, there are often prompts to take a screen shot of completed puzzles, rewards, etc. in game apps. Those pics are sent to the Camera Roll. Camera Roll to iPhoto becomes a file transfer path for these other apps. So instead of building a direct path between the device and computer on an app by app basis, developers can instead piggyback an existing, common path in a file type ecosystem. For example, audio files could leave via iTunes.
One of the most common transfer paths found in any app are email and social media. But these won’t help folks who work with large files because email and social media apps limit file size.
There is yet another way to wrangle data in iOS, bringing our total number of schemes to three:
(1) Direct file management with purpose built software for device and computer
(2) Pass files to another app that already has a transfer path
(3) Third party file management software such FileApp and DiskAid
It is worth noting that a device wide solution – one that approximates file management on a Mac/PC – requires that you connect to a traditional computer and run software on BOTH ends of the sync cable. I should also admit that I haven’t used this approach personally, so I don’t know how well it compares to the drag-and-drop file transfer with which most of us are already familiar.
Apple’s iCloud service is notable because it allows file storage in a second location without having a traditional computer present. But any remote storage – iCloud or a competitor – requires wireless data transfer, which can be pricey and can restrict where you are able to access it, especially for WiFi only devices. To work on an iOS device instead of a computer, wireless is your only option for backing up. Don’t be confused though: iCloud isn’t designed for you to move any file you want. No, it is designed for full device backup along with some data synchronization between devices and computers [Macworld iCloud article]. Regardless whether you use wireless remote storage or sync with a host computer, the decentralized iOS file structure forces you to take one of the three paths to/from devices.
It seems iOS inherits an awful lot from the iPod – a device designed for music playback, not music creation. The iPhone and iPad follow that perspective of consumption rather than production. If one primarily watches / listens / reads, the file management system makes it relatively simple to get data on the device. But to compose, shoot, record, edit, process, etc., iOS forces professionals to figure out how to move data off of the device. Which is the best path for backup in a given scenario? How should files be passed along to other collaborators? Which path works well for distributing finished work to clients and consumers? The answers will vary depending on the paths that have been built or co-opted by the app developer, access to a computer, and access to a wireless network.
See Also: The Right Tools for the Job, a series that compares Desktop, Laptop, Tablet, and Handheld.
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