With the apparent death of the floppy drive in the mid-1990s, there were a number of replacement technologies that competed for the title as heir-apparent. These included:
** ZIP Drive, a magnetic drive that held 100MB in the beginning and grew to 250MB;
** Magneto Optical Drive, a rewritable optical disk that held 128MB to about 2.3GB for the 3.5” version whilst the bigger 5.25” version held 650MB to 9.2GB (I personally owned a 230MB MO Drive, thinking that it was the best at the time; boy was I wrong…)
** SuperDisk, a storage drive technology that could read both floppy disks as well as optical disks with a similar enclosure to the floppy and held 120MB or 240MB; and
** CD/ DVD, optical media that had huge success as a medium from the late 1990s to early 2000s, but starting to lose momentum due to its unreliability and cumbersome nature of having to burn a disc.
Right now, the current king of removable storage has to be the USB Flash Drive/ Hard Drive. These devices vary in size from the early 64MB to the current so many number of GBs depending on how much cash you spend.
However, in my opinion, all these technologies are not the best form of portable storage because I still have to physically carry a separate gadget to bring along my data. I initially thought that with Internet based storage that it would be the solution, but due to the slow speed of the web it only worked for files below 100MB. I really wished that there would be a device that I would carry around all the time, and had the ability to store my portable data.
And then mobile phones with removable storage arrived; these things aren’t bad, but had one major flaw: the computer that I want to get files from/ to have to have the right card reader. With so many types of removable flash cards (Memory Stick/ SD/ etc), chances are that these cards won’t fit in the reader.
However, with the iPhone/ iPod Touch Software 2.0, this all changed; a new category of applications allowed the use of my device as a portable storage. The reason why I think portable storage has changed for the better is due to the fact that WiFi is as common as USB, and because I always have my iPhone with me. This means that I always have a few GB with me, depending on how much music/ video I sync with iTunes. With this new category of applications, it allowed me to easily carry files with me.
Currently, there are a number of applications that have this functionality, plus a few extras. In my opinion, there are three that stands out: Air Sharing, MobileFiles Pro, and WiFi Disk. All three have their strengths and weaknesses. Rather than reviewing the three separately, I thought it more appropriate to compare.
One of the first released in this category, this application served a very simple mission of letting me carry files on my iPhone/ iPod Touch, and for certain files I can view them on my device. It also has various options, such as password security, the ability to turn off file sharing, photo slideshows, public access, and some network changes.
Using this application is very simple; once the iPhone/ iPod Touch is in the same wireless network as the computer that I want to transfer files from/ to, I can log in either via a browser or via the Finder on my Mac. If I use the Finder, the iPhone/ iPod will show the content of the device just like any other USB drive/ CD/ hard disk on the Finder. I can open, edit, copy, delete or modify files as I wish, just like any other drive. Should I use the web interface, it acts like any web based storage solution; I’ll be given links to open files on the device, and a link to upload files just like any other web based solution.
On the phone itself, the application provides a very simple interface to access my files. I can read files natively supported by the iPhone/ iPod Touch, and delete files as I wish. It is very straightforward, just like any other list based iPhone/ iPod Touch application, so I was able to navigate my files and folders very easily.
One of the biggest advantages of this app is that it is so simple to use; I didn’t need any explanations. Once I got the computer to link to the device, I was working away. There was no hassle, no fuss and the interface on either the Mac or the device was intuitive enough for all to understand. I cannot find any fatal flaws to this application; the only gripe that I could think of is that this application is too simple and only offered one function, although it does this function very well.
- Simple, clean interface
- Best integration with Mac
- The app can be too simple, when compared to other competitors
- No Editing
This is an application that I very much looked forward to, because it comes from a big vendor, and that I’ve used QuickOffice’s products on other platforms so I had quite high expectations.
This application offers the basic function of allowing me to carry files with me on my iPhone/ iPod Touch. Upon loading the application, I can choose either to start the WiFi connection to browse the device on my Mac via Safari, or to browse the files on the iPhone/ iPod Touch itself. The browsing of files on my Mac is very familiar, like Air Sharing or any other online file services. With the browsing of files on my iPhone/ iPod Touch, however, is when MobileFiles Pro comes good; one of the distinguishing features of this application is the ability to edit and save changes for Excel files.
This feature is well implemented; viewing takes advantage of the accelerometer, i.e. with the turning of the device in portrait or landscape the screen would switch the spreadsheet correspondingly. Tapping on the cell will review the content of the cell in the toolbar, whether it’s just numbers or formulas. The formulas adhered to the ones on Excel, so all the familiar functions worked.
It also for the first time allows the changing of fonts and/ or the format of the fonts, as well as the format of the content in the cell on an iPhone/ iPod Touch. Aside from these simple functions, the application also allows me to insert or remove rows/ columns. Overall, these functions are implemented in a very easy to understand interface that allows me to access them with relative ease.
The second distinguishing feature of MobileFiles Pro is the integration with iDisk on MobileMe. Having linked my own iDisk to MobileFiles Pro, it pretty much worked the same as with browsing files locally on the iPhone/ iPod Touch. I can also create new Excel files or modify existing files saved on my iDisk. Although the function is implemented very nicely, please note that this function is only recommended with a WiFi connection; using 3G is just painfully slow.
- Excel editing with excellent access to simple spreadsheet functions
- MobileMe integration
- Big name developer, so reliability is not an issue
- Browser only access on the desktop
- The most expensive out of 3 apps at $9.99
This third application was referred to me; I only got to know more about this app when I read the description on iTunes, and having had some time to play with it.
Again, this application offers the basic function of letting me store any type of files on my iPhone/ iPod Touch, which I can also view on my device. Within the file browser, I can view the list of files by name, size or date, as well as copying/ moving files between folders on the device, and also to rename any files I wish. It also comes standard with functions such as password protection and the ability to keep my iPhone/ iPod Touch out of sleep mode for long transfers of files.
Another unique feature is the ability to view the files via FTP, in addition to the web browsing mode. This allows both my Mac and my Windows notebook to browse the device in the Finder/ Windows Explorer. However, due to the inherent slow speed of the FTP protocol, it just isn’t done as nicely compared to the complete integration of Air Sharing; although for Windows users this is the only choice.
The killer feature of this app is the creation and editing of text files. This caught my attention immediately, as I always thought this function is an important one which the platform does not have built-in. After checking it out, it’s pretty much the same as the built-in Notes application from Apple. However, it gives the user the added ability to change the encoding of the text files for other languages, as well as the ability to find and replace, just like a typical word processor.
Concerning this function, I must say that it isn’t as well implemented compared to the Excel editing of MobileFiles Pro. Yes, I understand that because it only edits .txt files, hence there is no need for fancy functions such as fonts and styles. However, why not allow the application to edit and create at least .rtf files, which the iPhone/ iPod Touch can also natively recognize?
- Simple, clean interface
- .Txt files editing, with Find/ Replace functions and encoding support
- Has FTP access in addition to browser access on the desktop
- Stability issues when opening large PDF files
- Only edits .txt and html files
Honestly, the more I explored these three apps, the more I questioned myself on the decision to do this piece. I initially thought that these three apps were very similar in that they allowed the iPhone/ iPod Touch to work as a flash memory device over WiFi. Having played with these three applications however made me think different, and I really cannot comment on which of the three is best.
If I looked solely at the core function of these apps, the ability to make the device as a wireless file depository, I’d have to say that Air Sharing was the best. It gave the best and most simple user interface and that it did its job reliably and very well. Also, it gave me the best experience when browsed on my Mac, as it allowed a connection via the native Finder interface on my Mac, which allowed me the easiest and most simple interface on my desktop; I personally hated the web interface on MobileFiles Pro and WiFi Disk, although I understood from a development perspective using the browser meant that the application worked equally well on Mac, Windows and Unix. Being a Mac guy primarily, I’d give the edge to Air Sharing.
However, looking at the apps as a whole, it really came down on the working patterns and preferences of the user. If the user worked with Excel a lot, and must have editing on his/ her iPhone/ iPod Touch, then there would be no doubt that MobileFiles Pro was the way to go. It offers both the function of carrying files on the device, as well as the full featured editing functionalities for Excel files. For those that have to type a lot of notes and text files on the go, then definitely go for WiFi Disk.
For my own personal use, I preferred Air Sharing, as all I needed was the ability for the device to carry files, and admittedly Air Sharing did this the best. I did not need to edit Excel or .Txt files on the go, so in a sense the other two applications were too much. However, I am happy to report that all three apps worked very well, and my advice would be to choose based on functionalities and your needs.