With the myriad of ways devices are, or can be connected, it still amazes me how hard it is to share small amounts of data between two different computers. The same goes for sharing files with your phone or tablet.
Don’t get me wrong. Not all file-sharing is cumbersome. Online file sharing sites help you move large data quickly and efficiently between computers half a world apart, as evident by Yaara’s compilation of the 6 quickest ways to share any file with anyone. In another article, Jackson showed how to set up a network share on your Mac to move data locally. However, none of these really fit the bill if you want to move small files locally and sporadically.
How often have you sent an email to yourself, simply to move a picture or document between computers? Often, the only obvious alternative is clear overkill, like setting up a temporary FTP server on your jailbroken iPad. For these kind of scenarios – moving small files quickly and efficiently – Mac OS X’s own AirDrop is the ideal tool for the job. Although AirDrop is a Mac OS X exclusive, meaning Windows computers and mobile devices are left out, applications similar to AirDrop allow you to share between those devices as well.
What Is AirDrop & How Do You Use It?
AirDrop was introduced with Mac OS X 10.7, Lion. Joining the other favorites in the Finder sidebar, this little chute allows you to easily share files locally between Mac’s, without prior set-up required. Simply click on the sidebar’s AirDrop icon to get started. Your Finder window transforms to a radar view, with your own user icon front and center.
Any user going into AirDrop joins this view, and is able to see the other AirDrop users. Sharing a file is now as easy as dragging it onto another user’s icon. As soon as the user accepts, the file starts transferring. This works for files of all sizes. Large movie files can be shared this way, but AirDrop can also be used to share small files almost instantly. You know, those files you’d usually email to yourself.
AirDrop Alternatives – Adding Compatibility
Although AirDrop works like a charm, there’s one problem that’s hard to miss. Being designed specifically for Mac OS X, it offers no help in transferring files between your other devices. Moving documents from Windows to Mac computers, for example, or sharing pictures between your phone and your computer.
It’s a good thing AirDrop appears to have inspired other developers. Third-party applications are implementing the same intuitive mechanism, adding compatibility with other devices. We’ll view two of these third-party AirDrop alternatives below. In time, both plan to offer compatibility with most other systems. Until then, one offers an additional Windows client, the other adding an iOS app to the mix.
Filedrop (Mac + Windows)
Filedrop works much like Airdrop, with the addition of a Windows client. The main difference is that, rather than residing in your Finder sidebar, Filedrop is a standalone application. Launching Filedrop shows a pop-up on your screen. Similar to Airdrop, if someone else opens Filedrop as well, they’ll become visible in the pop-up. From there on, you can share files between computers – also between a Mac and a Windows computer – by dragging and dropping them on the other user’s warning.
A note of warning. Rather than displaying your user icon, Filedrop users are marked by their wallpaper, as evident in the screenshot below. This is no problem for people like me, who think grass is pretty. However, if you’re more partial to ‘spicy’ or mature wallpapers, you should think twice before firing up Filedrop.
The makers of Filedrop have big plans ahead. An iOS and Android client are scheduled to join their Mac OS X and Windows counterparts ‘soon’. You can sign up to be notified on Filedrop’s website. Apart from sharing files to and from your mobile devices, these clients will add other, less Airdrop-y features. Once available, the mobile apps will let you stream a photo slideshow or music to your computer, or even use your cellphone as a wireless USB stick.
Instashare (Mac + iOS)
Another free alternative to Airdrop comes courtesy of Twomanshow. Instashare currently offers a Mac OS X and iOS client. The iOS app can be used on your iPhone and on your iPad. Although the iOS app is free, there are some ads, which can be removed by a one-time payment of $0.99.
Like the other applications covered in the article so far, different clients using Instashare are visible to one another. This way, you can share files to and from your iOS device, or between two Macs, through the magic of drag-and-drop. You can access your device’s photo roll through Instashare and select multiple pictures before sharing, making it incredibly easy and fast to wirelessly share pictures to a foreign computer.
Alas, because of the way iOS is designed, you can only share other files if you explicitly open them in Instashare. Most filetypes are supported, but this still means you’ll have to find an ‘open in…’ button elsewhere on your device. Luckily, iOS file manager iFile does wonders for jailbroken devices.
On the computer’s end, Instashare makes itself at home in your Mac menu bar. A useful Instashare feature lets you mark a device as trusted by selecting Always Allow on an incoming transfer prompt. This lets you download files to your computer wirelessly without having to accept them manually. However, doing this carelessly is not good for security.
How do you usually move files between devices? Share your experiences in the comments below the article!