Cloud storage and file sharing both rely on your ability to connect to a network, which may not always be feasible when you’re traveling or working with large files. Although it doesn’t offer a solution that will appeal to every iDevice user, PhotoFast’s i-FlashDrive HD does offer the ability to move documents between Macs, PCs, and iDevices, whether equipped with an old-school 30-pin Dock connector or Apple’s newer Lightning connector. It does all this by combining connectors for all three ports and sandwiching anywhere from 8 to 64 GB of storage in between, so you can drag/tap and share even when you don’t have access to a network or when the files to be shared are simply too big to upload.
Apple has obviously restricted the ability of iDevices to connect to external physical storage devices; the original iPhone wasn’t even intended to have native apps, favoring web apps where basically everything would live in a browser or on a cloud server. Although the iPhone is still something of a consumption device, the iPad is quickly turning into a business tool, and the need often arises to swap files without the luxury of a network (presenting to a client, on an airplane, etc.). Whether you need to swap files between iOS devices, shuttle them from a Mac/PC to an iDevice, or go the opposite direction, the i-FlashDrive HD lets you share files just like you would with a regular USB drive. Just plug it in using the appropriate connector (USB on a laptop, Dock/Lightning on an iDevice), and either drag files onto the drive or use the iOS sharing panel to move documents or media files into/out of the i-FlashDrive app.
Because iOS lacks a traditional filesystem, the main point of interaction on iDevices is through the free i-FlashDrive app. Essentially a file browser with integrated media player, encryption tool, document viewer, and contact backup utility, the iFlashDrive app has a local storage area where you can store files, as well as a viewer for accessing the storage on the iFlashDriveHD device.
Although limited by some of Apple’s iOS architecture (e.g., you can’t move sound or video files into/out of the Music or Video app), the iFlashDrive app is quite useful. Standout features include:
- Support for a wide range of document file types including iWork/Office documents, RTF, HTML, TXT, PDF
- Support for audio/video/photo file types including MP3, M4A, AVI, FLV, MP4, TIF, JPG, PNG
- Media player/slideshow for supported media files and formats, including AirPlay streaming (great for loading up on travel movies without taking up space on your iDevice)
- Basic creation and text editing for .txt text files
- Voice recording
- Dropbox integration
- Basic encryption via passcode, so you can lock files. The only way to unlock them is via the iFlashDrive app, so this only works for inter-iDevice sharing – encrypted files can’t be decrypted on a computer.
The iFlashDrive works fantastically well, up to a point, and that point is where your individual app developers decided to support Apple’s file sharing functionality. For MS Office documents, it’s fairly easy to shuttle .docx, .xlsx, and .pptx files back and forth between the iFlashDrive and my current favorite productivity app: Office2 HD. Unfortunately, it’s also a one-document-at-a-time proposition, so if you need to share an entire folder worth of documents you’d be better served using Office2′s built-in fileserver capabilities, though that obviously requires a network connection. You can check to see if your favorite apps would be compatible with i-FlashDrive HD by emailing a document to yourself, opening it in Mail on your iDevice, then tapping the Share icon. If your apps appear in the Share pane, they’re compatible; otherwise, they’re blind to your file sharing desires, and the iFlashDriveHD won’t fix that.
If you have apps that can communicate, the iFlashDriveHD does provide a simple way to easily shuttle documents and offload storage tasks, especially if you find yourself working between multiple devices without being fully committed to (or capable of) a cloud-only existence. Rather than emailing a bunch of documents to yourself from your MacBook Pro, you can simply drag them to the i-FlashDrive HD and then import them to your iDevice at your leisure. For travelers who need entertainment, the i-FlashDrive is also a great way to add additional storage for movies or music, and it’s much more flexible (in terms of supported formats) than simply buying an iDevice with additional memory. You also have the advantage of watching movies on any device you can plug the i-FlashDrive into, which can include some newer TVs with USB ports being installed in hotels.
Buying the i-FlashDrive HD directly from PhotoFast is advantageous because you are assured you’re getting the latest version that ships with an included Lightning-to-Dock adapter, making it compatible with the broadest range of devices (the company actually buys the Apple-branded adapter, unboxes it, and includes it in the iFlashDriveHD package). The downside is a slightly uncertain buying experience due to currency exchange, as the company is Taiwanese and you make the purchase in the New Taiwan Dollar. You can buy from American resellers like B&H photo or Amazon.com, but you’ll have to either verify you’re buying the version with the Lightning adapter or just buy one separately.