Disclaimer: Dropbox has appointed Condoleezza Rice to their board of directors, and while she is a very competent woman I can not in good conscious recommend their service anymore. If you are unaware of Ms. Rice's more egregious offenses you can read them here. If you already use Dropbox and want to voice your opinion on the hiring of Ms. Rice, go here.
Using Dropbox to store all your files solves many of the frustrations of iOS file management. Frustrations that Apple has created by refusing to give users an easy way to move files between apps or access your files from a centralized location. By saving everything to Dropbox all of your files can be easily viewed, edited or organized in a traditional file system. It works great for all your files like text, music, pictures, videos. A large selection of apps have Dropbox support and with them you can make your iOS experience a much better one.
Apple's Current Flawed File Storage Philosophy For iOS
Currently, on iOS, files are stored in the apps that create them. This causes a whole host of problems when you want to see, organize, or open your files in different applications. To move files between applications you need to manually transfer files using the 'Share' or 'Open In' button, which is incredibly tedious. This is compounded by the difficulties that Apple makes developers go through to add this functionality. Developers can't just add a 'share' button and have all installed applications show up, they need to manually program in each app they want their own to be able to share with. Which means there's a chance the app you want to share with won't even be an option. And to make matters even worse, the current system also creates a duplicate file whenever something is shared, taking up double the space on an device with very limited storage. Here's an example of iOS's terrible file transfer system:
- I take a picture on my iPhone and it goes to my camera roll. I want to edit it. So I go to my editing application and load it from the camera roll. I now have 2 versions of the same picture on my iPhone taking up 2 times the space. I edit it, and send it back to my camera roll to easily view from the Photos app. I now have 3 copies on my phone, the original, one saved in my editing app, and an edited copy in my camera roll. This problem compounds each time you share the file.
What About iCloud?
iCloud was supposed to help with this problem but it was designed with the same flawed philosophy, making it only a slightly better option.
- Files are still locked into apps, though if you have the same app on another platform you can access them from there.
- Viewing your files in one place is still a nightmare. Possible only on a Mac using a third party service called Plain Cloud. (Free for Mac) Which isn't that great.
- Getting your files out of iCloud is still an arduous task.
- It's an even bigger nightmare it is for developers to use in their apps than 'sharing' is.
Why Dropbox Can Fix Apple's Mess
If you use Dropbox as your file system you don't have to deal with most of the frustrations that come from iCloud and iOS file storage. Your files are effortlessly synced to any application you have signed into Dropbox on. What this means is you don't need to share files between apps because they are already there. As long as the applications you use have Dropbox support, which many do, you save your files into a traditional file system and you can access those files wherever you want to. This really frees your data from being locked into applications and makes it available anywhere, from any device. I use Dropbox to store just about every file I have and here are some tools to show you why you should too.
The Dropbox File System of Today
This is an twofold solution that works great:
- Learn Markdown. A simple language for creating text files that can be transfered anywhere due to the fact they are written in plain text. It takes minutes to learn and once you learn a basic syntax and you can create a formated document that is easily convertible to html or rich text. (Everything on this site has been written using Markdown.)
- Store all my documents in a Dropbox folder. You can access them wherever you need, from any device, and a ton of great apps.
The genius of this system is that since Markdown is a plain text file, I can edit my documents in any app that supports Dropbox. As soon as I log into Dropbox my files are quickly synced to the app. This allows you to use the best apps on any platform. (Even Linux, Android, or Windows)
Streaming Media From Dropbox
Right now streaming from the official Dropbox app isn't great but with third party apps users can stream their pictures, music, and movies from their account. I would really like to see Dropbox expand its services and improve how their apps stream media, but in the mean time here are the best apps that I have found.
Dropbox can be used to stream your music to apps on your iDevice. I used Dropbox to back up my music and one day wanted to listen to an album that wasn't on Rdio, or my iPad. So I found CloudBeats, Universal, $2.99 to stream it from Dropbox. It doesn't have to most modern UI but it is a great music player.
You can do this with movies as well. VLC, Universal, Free just updated to stream videos from Dropbox. Making it your own personal streaming video player. Any video you store in Dropbox can be conveniently streamed whenever you like to you iOS device. The only issue is Dropbox storage space. You need to pay 100$, per year, for 100gb's from Dropbox and it may not be worth it to do more than 100GB's just to have cloud access to your videos. I don't torrent movies or tv shows so I don't have many videos in my Dropbox. For those who are downloading terabytes of content the cost would be prohibitive.
With Dropbox I can have all my pictures, with me at all times and at full resolution, without taking up space on my iDevice. The problem was that viewing photo's on the Dropbox app wasn't great. So after researching and downloading a bunch of apps I have found these apps to be the two best options:
Heliog, Universal, $1.99 would be perfect if it had a slideshow feature. Everything is organized in my Dropbox folders and I can view the pictures in a great grid layout. However it fails where I need it most, there is no slideshow functionality.
Unbound HD, for iPad, has the slideshow feature but the UI doesn't work for me at all. It shows your photo's as piles, similar to iPhoto, rather than the folder structure. It also organizes them by A-Z, New-Old, or the reverse of either. This doesn't work for me because it only shows folders that have pictures in them, not the folder hierarchy I have set up in Dropbox. My pictures of family, friends, saved from the web, are all mixed up and I don't like it at all. I am however forced to use it for slideshow mode.
Dropbox and Photo Editing
There are so many benefits for photo editors to use Dropbox, compared to iCloud or local storage. The problem is that I haven't come across a good editor that does this yet. Here are some of the ways that using Dropbox could make photo editing on iOS better than iCloud, or local storage.
- Photos are accessible in any app using Dropbox.
- I can access all of my photos from an organized folder tree.
- I don't have to use a reduced quality picture from 'Photo Stream'.
- I can easily edit a photo in multiple apps, without creating duplicates.
- I don't have to worry about sharing files between apps because my Dropbox account is attached to all the apps I use.
Accessing Your Files
Using the official Dropbox app works well but there are also a ton of innovative apps to access your files.
'Boxie' is one of the most beautiful file managers out there. It's not just a pretty face though, it also includes useful features like: - alerting you when documents are changed - access to revisions - account-account transfer (without downloading the file to your phone) - the ability to unzip Zip files
The lack of an iPad version is my only complaint. It recently went freemium but it is well worth the cost.
'Documents' is the place were I store documents I need to access often. It downloads and stores files locally and is a great file hub for the iPad. It connects to other apps that the Readle developers have created to give you a more desktop class experience.
'Jolicloud' takes just about every cloud storage platform and allows you to view them in one place. Very handy if you have files spread across multiple services. The UI isn't that great but the functionality is pretty awesome. To be honest I have very little use for it because I store everything in Dropbox.
Dropbox gives your iOS devices the file system they should already have. It allows you to side step the flawed storage system that Apple has designed and gives you the freedom to use/move/organize your files wherever you need them. Using Dropbox as your iOS file system turns a frustrating problem into an easy solution. Don't wait for Apple to fix its broken system, make Dropbox your storage solution today.
Disclaimer (Dropbox has not paid me in any way to post this. I realize it really sounds like an ad but I just like their service.)
Apps to Try
Editorial ($4.99 iPad only)
- The app so good it made me start writing on my iPad. Super powerful, highly recommend.
iA Writer ($9.99 Mac, $4.99 iOS)
- A simple text editor. If you don't want the frills this is a great app.
Cloud Beats ($4.99 Universal) - The best Dropbox music streamer I have found.
VLC (Free) - Stream your videos from Dropbox.