Thursday, July 30, 2009

iDisk for the iPhone

Yesterday Apple launched a free iPhone app called mobile.me iDisk. What this app does is provide access to a dedicated virtual storage in the Apple cloud, a.k.a. the iDisk. Until recently, iDisks were only accessible via the known popular web-browsers, the file manager (Finder) on Macintosh's, and via a free Apple applet on Windows PCs. iDisks are a standard feature offered to all holders of mobile.me accounts as a dedicated virtual storage somewhere in the cloud, accessible from any internet access point of somebody's choice.

I've been using iDisk since the .mac service was first launched by Apple... a few years back (.mac was the early name of the service that a year ago became mobile.me). I must have been one of the first .mac account holders, I reckon, and I've loved every bit of it ever since! I've mainly used iDisk to move large files to people. The way this worked was like this: after uploading the files to my iDisk, I asked (called, SMSed, emailed) my distribution recipients to download them from their end. To do that, they had to launch their browser or their iDisk access applet that I mentioned earlier, navigate to the folder that contained the files, and then download them from there. Quite a tedious process, especially painful to the many PC illiterates of the world (your mom, retired grandpas, those referring to Google as 'the Google', etc ). Since more than half a year though, Apple simplified this process even further. It now offers an additional feature for file sharing whereby you 'share' your uploaded files by invoking a featured 'method' (in the Object Oriented Programming sense) in which email messages containing file download hyperlinks are generated and sent to your target recipients, directly from mobile.me. When recipients receive such a message, all they have to do is click the download hyperlink and... Bob's your uncle. Quite effective a practice. I used it quite often during two terms of the past academic year to route course materials and case studies to my students. Works like a charm. I am talking here about large size documents (tens or hundreds of megabytes), practically impossible to move via conventional email.

But there is also another remarkable benefit to using an iDisk, mind you. Lemme explain. I don't quite like carrying laptops during flights nowadays due to the hassle that goes with it (security check delays, fear of loss or damage, etc...). I've actually got all I need on a smaller device... for instance, an iPhone. ALL MY INFORMATION RELATED STUFF necessary for a biz trip are on the little beauty, trust me. I even dare claim that I've got more functions on an iPhone today than I ever had on any laptop ever before. That's mainly due to the gargantuan number of available iPhone apps, 70000 and counting. Also, in most of my trips nowadays I typically end up attending ever lasting committee meetings. The view of my meeting peers paying more attention to their laptop screens rather than the folks doing the talking makes me wanna jump off the building. One general manager I know, recently launched an initiative among his reports by demanding that participants to his meetings should attend 'topless' (that, of course, initially shocked a few female members of the team), meaning, without any laptops and/or mobile phones. Cool!

Anyways, when you are on the road with just an iPhone, being able to access your iDisk with it, sounds undoubtedly like a panacea to all your problems. You've already done the necessary of course by uploading your key files to your iDisk before you left home. From any other location where you may subsequently find yourself later, you can access your iDisk via wifi, or, if you don't mind the roaming expense, you could always use 3G or EDGE data streaming. Eventually, you can download those files for offline browsing, you can share them with others (via the techniques explained earlier) and you can even browse the Public Folders of other mobile.me account holders. Sharing files appears to me even snappier on the iPhone than via a browser!

However, one thing that I kinda lack in this app is the ability to upload files from the phone itself to my iDisk ... problem is, the iPhone OS is in general not quite file friendly; what I mean here is, there appears to be no file manager on the iPhone that allows browsing of its own storage space and provides file access to those apps that are asking for it. An example is the mail app. You cannot possibly add any attachment to a message that you create within the mail app. You wouldn't know where to look for as there's no generic file manager available. However, when you are in, say, the photos app, you can pick and choose one shot from your photo library and then 'share' it via email, at which point the photos app invokes (delegates the task to) the mail client and sets-up an empty message with the photograph attached. In that case, if you wanted to attach a second photograph to that same message before sending it, I am afraid it cannot be done*. Every app seems to manage storage separately somehow. Nonetheless, quite a few apps are still able to explore the storage area and use the files of another app (Apple has provided fit-to-purpose classes and associated methods in the iPhone SDK for that). However, when this happens, it is always application specific and it's not based on a separate iPhone native file manager. Instead, it is based on fit-to-purpose off-the-shelf and/or custom methods and classes that programmers invoke to implement file handling functionality. The lack of capability to upload files stored locally to an iPhone user's iDisk becomes therefore more of a structural and system architectural constraint, than being an occasional shortcoming that's likely to be fixed in future updates, I guess... Unless Apple decided to provide the much wanted Finder equivalent functionality on the iPhone as well. Technically quite feasible by all means, but commercially? Better ask His Jobness for an answer to that...

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*if you know how to do this, then I'd be obliged if you told me how. ;-)

1 comment:

Leather Diaries said...

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