How to Transfer Files To and From the iPad

Thursday Nov 17th 2011 by Helen Bradley
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Ready to put your iPad to work? Helen Bradley explores the options for moving content from your iPad to your PC or Mac and back.

The iPad is a fun and entertaining gadget but, thanks to a range of business apps, you can actually use the iPad to do real work, too. The snag in the system is transferring files to and from your iPad. Let's face it, cranking up iTunes each time you need a file doesn't look very professional. Worse still, your network administrator may not let you install iTunes and, even if you can, it only works with a handful of apps.

It doesn't make sense that the biggest problem with using the iPad for work is its appalling lack of support for transferring files back to a PC. However, to make it easier for you I've rounded up some tools and methods for sharing files with the iPad.

Email: Simple and Sure

The simplest way to get files on and off your iPad is to email them to yourself. Most iPad applications offer email as an output method, and you simply append the project or file to an email as an attachment.

By sending the file to yourself, you can access the file from any computer that has access to that email account. You might even set up a free email account with Gmail or some other Web-based email provider for this express purpose. You can then access files from the iPad using nothing more than a browser and an Internet connection.

Even if you use another option for getting data off your iPad, email can provide you with a backup solution in case the other system fails.

iCloud/iWork

iCloud for file syncingThe new iCloud/iWork combination that launched in Q3 2011 with iOS 5, thankfully makes iTunes obsolete for sharing files if you are using Numbers, Pages or Keynote on the iPad. Instead, you can use the iCloud/iWork tools to ensure files are available anywhere -- and you don't have to plug your iPad into your computer to use them. By configuring iCloud on a Mac or a PC, you can get access to documents directly from your iPad, and you can upload them, too.

If you're using a PC, you'll need to be using the latest version of iTunes and you'll need to install iOS 5 on the iPad if you haven't already done so. Then install the iCloud control panel for Windows. On your iPad, configure iCloud in Settings so it will synch documents and data.

You can choose whether to sync using your cellular data plan or only Wi-Fi depending on your circumstances. Then, still in Settings configure Numbers, Pages and/or Keynote to use iCloud -- you need to do this for each app individually and it is disabled for each by default.

On the PC, the iCloud application allows you to sync your Photo Stream and Bookmarks, as well as your Calendars and Tasks, Contacts and Mail with Outlook. It doesn't manage your documents however, for that you need to visit iCloud. Sign in using your Apple ID, and install the browser plug-in if prompted to do so.

This gives you access to the documents, presentations and workbooks from your iPad. The links at the top of the browser page take you to the files you have created in Keynote, Pages and Numbers -- these are automatically synced when you create them -- you don't need to do anything additional to set this up. If the files exist in the file list for each of these applications, they'll appear here, too.

At iCloud.com you can also upload files to your iPad. To start, you need to select the appropriate application on the website. If, for example, you want to upload a document, click Pages, if you want to upload a presentation, click Keynote and click Numbers to upload a spreadsheet.

Next click the button in the top-right corner of the browser window and choose Upload Document and then choose a document from your computer. For example, the iPad apps Keynote, Pages and Numbers are compatible with the older Microsoft Office formats doc, .xls and .ppt. Once uploaded, the file will be synced with your iPad, and it will appear in the file list on the iPad for that application.

The iCloud option is the best way to sync files even though it is cumbersome to set it up, and it doesn't currently work with any apps other than Keynote, Pages and Numbers.Dropbox online storage and file syncing

Storage in the Cloud

For other file-sync applications that you might be using -- such as Office2 HD, Quickoffice or Documents to Go -- check online storage services for an output solution that is both cost effective and that works with the application that you're using. Dropbox is one of the easiest and most cost effective online storage tools, and it works with most applications. You can also use it to get files into Numbers, Keynote and Pages -- but not out again.

You can download the Dropbox app free for the iPad from the App Store. You can also download a version for your PC at Dropbox -- this installs Dropbox as a folder in your file system. To share files with your iPad, you drag a file into this folder or you can login to the online service and upload a file there. When it is all synced the files in your Dropbox account will appear in Dropbox on your iPad.

Unfortunately there is currently no way to know when the sync down to the iPad is taking place, and you can't force the sync to take place -- you have to wait until the file appears on your iPad. Once it appears you can click to view it and then click the Open In button to choose from range of installed applications that the file is compatible with.

The basic 2 GB Dropbox account is free, and you can buy more storage if you need it. Dropbox is one of the more popular tools for syncing across devices, and you'll find that most business applications available for the iPad make use of Dropbox for storing files.

If the application you are using won’t work with Dropbox, there are other cloud storage apps that you can use but, if you have to pay a fee and if you have to jump through hoops to set them up, then email might be your smarter alternative.

There's little question but that syncing work files between an iPad and a desktop is the least intuitive, most cumbersome and all-round user-unfriendly process. For a device that is so well designed in so many ways this is a big disappointment. However the tools I've detailed here should get you on your way until someone devises a smarter, simpler and more effective solution.

Do you have a comment or question about this article or other small business topics in general? Speak out in the SmallBusinessComputing.com Forums. Join the discussion today!
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