Defeated by iPad synchronization options

Last January I got an iPad mini as a travel accessory to the laptop: music, eBooks, PDF formatted papers, online and offline maps, etc.

CCTV on Gloucester Road

It's also intended to be holder of travel paperwork: the schedule, logistics notes, eTickets, hotel details. All mostly PDF, though my KLM check in has just emailed a GIF QF barcode which apparently will get me through security (outbound I'm testing w/ a backup paper one, return: commit to GIF).
CCTV on Gloucester Road
A major use case of mine then is: get PDFs off my laptop and into the iPad so that I can bring them up and view them.

Which is where it all seems to go horribly wrong.

I can see four different synchronization options.

Copy into the books section of iTunes and let them trickle over via USB or wifi.
this works, provided the devices can see each other in the same wifi subnet.

It is a bit clunky as I have to drag and drop content from my folder of travel bits (e.g. 2013-03-AMS) and store them in a flat pool of documents, where they end up mixed next to things like Grinstead and Cell's Introduction to Probability, papers on things like Chubby, and copies of Singletrack Magazine. This isn't ideal for navigating at the airport security gate.

But again: it works, and I know how to verify that the stuff has trickled over -you look at the sync status page.

  1. Clean up the last trips' documents.
  2. Copy in the new files
  3. Force a sync to make sure it is over.
  4. Updates: steps 2 and 3.
Gloucester Road Art

Apple iCloud

This is meant to be the future. Instead of saving to the filesystem, you save it to "the cloud" where it will magically make its way over to your other devices.

Except I put PDFs in there and there doesn't seem to be any obvious way to actually see that they have made it over, let alone open it.

This is not a Cloud, it is /dev/null with unrealistic promises. I could say that if I copy a file to /dev/null then all my other devices will get the same view of the copied documents -but if they aren't there, it's not a very good view.

The workflow for getting documents over via iCloud is therefore
  1. Save the files into iCloud.
  2. Pick one of the other synchronization options to get your content over.

45 rpm on Gloucester Road


The folder metaphor, I can drag and drop anything in on my desktop to it, it trickles over across all my desktops, OS/X and linux.

What it doesn't do is automatically trickle the files over to the iPad. It copies the directory metadata over, but I seem to have to tap every file -by hand- for it to decide that it's going to download every artifact in the filesystem.

For anyone with a default 2 GB Dropbox account, you could copy everything over while on wifi and not use up any device space, even for customers like me who went for the low-end 16GB model because they felt the cost/GB of extra SSD in an iPad was utterly excessive.

The workflow to sync is therefore
  1. Save all the content into a dropbox managed folder 
  2. go to the tablet and find that folder
  3. go to every file in it, and manually hit the download button, wait for it to D/L. Repeat for all files in a process that is O(files)*O(filesize).
  4. The update process is steps 1-3, repeated.

I also have a box account, and an iPad app for that. This has some flags about auto-syncing on wifi only, which I'm happy with, not having a device with a modem in (tethering & wifi usually suffice).

It also has -and this got me excited- the ability to mark folders as "favorite", where it is claimed that content will auto-sync to the pad. I was hopeful here, marked my folder travel as fave and then put stuff into trip-specific subdirs underneath, for this week's trip, next month's US trip, and others.

I go over to the 'pad, expecting the files to be there.

Only they aren't, because the favoured bit is not recursive.

Once you know that, Box sync becomes manageable
  1. Create a folder for each planned trip.
  2. Copy travel docs in there.
  3. Go to your table, and mark that folder as favourite, even if the parent dir is already marked as such.
  4. Update the travel folder on the laptop -things will now trickle over.
Remember step #3 and it does work.
CCTV on Gloucester Road

Just mail them to yourself the day before you travel, download the mail and make sure the files are there.

This appears to work, though there are probably limits on how big the files are that are auto-D/L'd, and the files go away at the history rate specified in the mail app, which is no good for a long trip.

  1. Make sure the mail app is set to cache data for >= the length of your trip.
  2. Email the PDFs to yourself.
  3. Verify in the mail app that they have all arrived.
The nice feature about this is that it works from everywhere, whether or not box is installed. You can also get other people to contribute to the document pool by having them email you direct.

There you have it: ways I've tried to sync documents.

CCTV on Gloucester Road

If iCloud actually seemed to do what is promised "share your content across devices via Apple's cloud" then it might work, even if it's metaphor "not a filesystem, but a place where every artefact is permanently bonded to whichever application put it there, even if there is >1 text or PDF viewer on a device", is so dumbed down it represents a step back to Mac 1.0.

Unfortunately the behaviour I see "the same consistency and durability model as copying files to /dev/null", means that there is no way I would trust it with anything. I actually hope there may be something obvious I'm missing here, as I can't understand how something so dire would spring into existence, and don't believe the business plan "make money from premium users who want to store more stuff" stands a chance against tools that actually work.

Instead I've settled on Box, making sure that things go over (opening a non-random sample of them -I should toss a coin over each file for better randomness.

Oh, and print out my boarding card and the map from the train station to the hotel.

[Photos: some of the CCTVs I saw on a single walk down Gloucester Road. I'm not quite sure what problems this high street had that needed near-ubiquitous CCTV coverage, but there's enough cameras to have fixed it. I like the one pointed straight at the ATM the best]

1 comment:

  1. I've used sugarsync for a while now and am quite happy with it. I think it works pretty well for syncing files.


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