Stay away from official apps if you want to get files off your iOS device

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I use both my iPhone and iPad for a lot of productivity related tasks. The iPad has been my only tool for school at all this semester, with all the textbooks being PDF files organized together with downloadable documents in GoodReader. Even paper handouts end up on the iPad within 5 minutes thanks to a combination of a digital camera, the Camera Connection Kit, and Scanner Pro. I move documents all over the place internally and find it a heck of a lot faster to use the OS’ “open in…(this and that app)” system compared to saving a file and then finding it again with the “open” function of another app, as you’d do on a OS that uses a “full” file system. I even transfer files off the iPad with ease thanks to Dropbox, network drive functionality, and if all else fails I have my AirStash that allows me to transfer files off it without a USB cable or an internet connection of any kind. I never sit there wanting for a more normal file management system as it’s all so natural and fast that it’s when I plug in SD cards from my camera into my computer that I start getting annoyed at file management, not when I use the iPad.

There is however one exception; official Apple apps. I don’t know if it’s just Apple who’s outright stupid or if it’s its “lock it ALL down” mentality that shrines through, but every Apple app I try end up failing on moving files on, off, and internally on an iPad. Seriously, Apple, what the frack?

Let’s start off with Apple’s own “office” apps; Pages, Keynote, Numbers. Getting documents into those apps is perfectly easy, you just open the documents in any other app and the press the button to open in the app. This means that you can use anything iTunes to Dropbox, email, direct download etc to get documents into them. I have basically archived my flashdrives with my USB DVD drive for the last couple of years as moving files physically doesn’t make sense anymore unless you are moving large files or moving them to devices that don’t have internet. By the time I leave home, I can access any file from anywhere without even having to do anything other than save it anywhere on my home computer. By extension, getting files into Apple’s office apps is such a non-issue that whenever I see a Windows computer preparing a flash drive for use I get the feeling that I went back in time.

Editing is also ok in these apps. We’re not talking powerful software by any means, but fine for simple stuff. Keynote in particular has some features that makes it very useful for presenting something, even if you didn’t create it on the iPad – though Apple has managed to mess up that functionality as well. If you need more powerful editing there are third party apps, and even apps that give you actual office apps on the iPad through remote PC servers.

When the time comes to transfer any files off of those apps however, things get messy. Where on Earth is that “open in…” button that pretty much every single third party app has? It’s an official iOS feature, a brilliant one at that, so where is it in the apps that Apple itself has made? Nowhere. It isn’t there. You can send the documents via email, to iWork.com, or copy to iTunes, iDisk or WebDAV. So basically email, WebDAV (a file server interaction protocol), and a whole bunch of Apple certified iCouldn’tcareless-services. Meanwhile, in third party apps, you have export features such as: “open in…(other app)”, email, save to photo album, upload to Box.net/Dropbox/Evernote/Google Docs, create a wireless network drive, save for iTunes file sharing access etc. You don’t even need integrated Dropbox/Evernote/etc functionality, really, as the “open in…” feature can send the file to any of those services through their own apps. Heck, I can transfer files from my iPad to my iriver Story HD by simply “open in…” iFiles and uploading the file to my AirStash. To do the same from any of the Apple office apps however, I need to email the file to myself, open the attachment and then use the “open in…” feature from there.

While on the subject of sending files as emails, Apple has a rather peculiar policy there as well. A friend of mine had car troubles today and couldn’t come for a lecture that had some important information about an exam. I grabbed my iPhone and turned out the built in Voice Recorder app to record it so I could email it to him later. When the lecture ended I stopped the recording and went to send it off, and got prompted with a message that said the file was too big to send. Really, Apple? I don’t know where you got that idea from, but it sure as heck wasn’t my email provider – Google – as it allows up to 25MB and the file was 17 as I later found out. Even if it had been too big, how about an option to compress it? Send it in smaller chucks even? Anything than what it asks me to do: send only part of it. Sending it in parts would have been fine. Sending parts of it wouldn’t have.

Naturally, there was no option to “open in..” another app. That would have been too easy, as then I could have just e.g. opened the file in Dropbox, uploaded it, and sent him the link. Or emailed from another app. Or put it on my AirStash and transfer it directly the next time I see him. Or…well, you get the point. The situation didn’t get better when I came home and reluctantly connected my iPhone to iTunes to use the iTunes File Share system to grab the file via USB. Turns out that Apple didn’t bother include that functionality either. The only option left was to sync the phone and then grab the file from the music library. What on Earth is it in the music library to begin with? I finally got it, after way too much beating about the bush.

Just to be perfectly clear, this isn’t an issue with the iPad, nor iOS. It’s an issue with Apple’s software. I have apps on my iPad that can record audio and do whatever with the resulting files, but having forgotten how backwards the Voice Recorder app was I didn’t even think it was a problem when I chose to use it instead. I’ve downloaded .exe files from the web and transferred them from the iPad to computers with malfunctioning network card drivers for crying out loud, sending a voice recording over email didn’t seem like something that would cause an issue.

The lesson here is to ignore Apple’s own software if you want something that actually works the way the OS is built to work. That’s an off sentence, but it’s apparently possible for a company to be stupid enough to implement a feature that’s extremely useful and then purposefully not use it itself. It honestly makes me wonder how the people who make these decisions get their pants on in the morning. Actually, never mind, I know exactly how they do it: they get their pants, put it in a shipping box, send it to themselves, and then put them on.

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Andreas Ødegård

Andreas Ødegård is more interested in aftermarket (and user created) software and hardware than chasing the latest gadgets. His day job as a teacher keeps him interested in education tech and takes up most of his time.

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