May 12, 2011 — by: Karl Johnson
Categories: iOS Applications, iPad, iPhone

The iPad is a very nice stand alone computer for basic tasks. Yet, it is a near ideal mobile computer for those times a full computer is not needed. The key to getting the most out of the iPad is the ability to access all those files on the main computer.

Apple uses iTunes to sync files between the iPad and the computer. This syncing with iTunes is very slow and cumbersome. It is unrealistic to regularly update frequently used files between the computer and the iPad due to its slow nature and use of a cable. The following is a list of files that are synced between the two and alternatives that break the dependence of iTunes sync. The same is also true of any iOS device.

Backup and Updates: No options here. Fortunately, backing up and updating the iOS is not a daily occurrence. Plug the iPad in once a week and it is good to go.

Applications: Apple does allow users to re-download applications, but it takes a while for other devices to see these newly purchased apps. The best way to download applications on multiple devices is still through iTunes. As with Backups, this is not a regular task and is only needed for those with multiple devices.

Photos: There are several applications that can save files to Dropbox, which allow saved pictures to be transfered to the computer. While most of these are only one directional, PhotoSync is not. PhotoSync can transfer photos directly to any computer with the PhotoSync installed on it from any iOS device. It can also transfer photos between any iOS device as well as saving to Dropbox. The Filterstorm Pro developer is working on adding a feature to import photos from Dropbox.

Books: Book syncing includes both audiobooks and ebooks. There are separate solutions for each of these types of books. Audible, the best place to purchase audiobooks on the internet has an application which allows one to purchase and download audiobooks over the internet, and a great way to keep audiobooks synced. For ebooks, the Kindle App from Amazon provides a great way to keep books synced between all devices from a computer to a phone.

Podcasts: Syncing podcasts through iTunes is a pain as it requires one to sync on a regular basis. Apple’s own iTunes application on the iOS does not update all subscribed podcasts automatically. The developers of Instacast have provided a better solution. Instacast lets you subscribe to any iTunes feed and one can either download or stream the podcast. It keeps tracks of which ones are new and which have been played. It is a much better solution than iTunes.

TV Shows and Movies: For movies purchased through iTunes, the only way to sync is through iTunes. There are alternative ways to get movies and TV shows on the iPad and iPhone though. Video files that are not purchased from iTunes and do not have DRM can transfer to applications like GoodReader or Readdledocs via Dropbox or WiFi. Other applications like Air Video can stream video files from any computer to any iOS device. Services like NetFlix and Hulu are great ways to watch streaming movies and TV shows as well.

Music: Just like with video files, iTunes is still the best way to transfer music files to the iOS. There are also alternative ways of listening to music. Companies like Pandora and provide music streaming radio services with free and premium options. MOG offers an unlimited music download service for $4.99 per month. If the user does not need iTunes playlists, GoodReader can sync music and play music in a folder like a playlist. Although it is not as nice as iTunes, it still works well.

Ringtones: There are several applications that make ringtones on an iOS device, like Ringtone Designer Pro, but they must sync with iTunes to make use of those ringtones. It is easy to make a ringtone on the Mac. Just create a 10-30 second audio file in the ACC format. Rename the files’s extension to .m4r and double click it to add it to iTunes. Since ringtones are not updated regularly, syncing ringtones when backing up is not a problem.

Address Book: The best alternative to syncing your address book with iTunes is to use MobileMe. For those who think MobileMe is too expensive for what you get, Google’s services provide a great free alternative. Address book can sync with Google on the Mac and on the iOS. Backup the Address Book before setting up as it can be tricky to get going. Once syncing has been setup, though, it works well.

Calendars and Mail Accounts: Similar to the Address Book, MobileMe is the best way to wirelessly sync all Apple devices, but it comes at a price. Google provides a free alternative for mail, calendar, and contacts (address book). Both mail and calendar are easy to setup and sync. Calendars - Google Calendar client By Readdle is a better application than Apple’s limited iCal for the iOS.

Bookmarks: If Bookmarks are used to store temporary links, syncing with iTunes becomes a big pain. There are several services like Pinboard and Delicious that provide on-line Bookmarking. These services are useful, but slow to access. Instapaper and Read it Later provide a better solution for storing temporary links that can later be bookmarked in Safari. If Bookmarks are used for long term storage of links, syncing with iTunes during the backup process is not a problem. Other browsers provide better bookmarking features and sync options like iCab Mobile.

Notes: The best way to sync text files or notes (among other things) is Dropbox. There are several great text applications for the iOS. It is a much better solution compared with iTunes syncing.

Applications Files: For files that are updated regularly, syncing with iTunes just takes too much time and requires too many steps to be useful. Dropbox is the best way to sync these files between multiple computers or mobile devices, assuming the application supports it. If it does not, ask the developer to add it or look for another application. Applications like GoodReader and ReadleDocs can sync all your standard Dropbox files like text, video, audio, and office documents.

Except for backups, updates, application purchasing, and iTunes stored media files, anyone can break the bond between iTunes and any iOS device. Breaking this bond will be a freeing experience and will let the user get potential out of any iOS device. It turns the iPad from a tethered consumption device to a fully capable mobile computer.

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1 Comment

  1. Simon Wood ~ May. 21, 2011 @ 1:53 am

    Very useful round-up: thank you! I totally agree that iTunes syncing is cumbersome and it is now getting easier to go for longer between syncs by using some of these apps to transfer content. There's a few there I haven't tried and will look into further. One thing for European users that should prove very useful is Spotify's recent update now allows free subscribers to sync a playlist of local files in Spotify on their PC/Mac to the iPhone wireless over the local WiFi network. Spotify's interface is very similar to iTunes but with the advantage of wireless syncing, it's now handling my music on the iPhone instead. #

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