iOS: where files go to die
As an engineering student I was hoping that I would be able to use my iPad for work when I bought it. After about 2 years I think I have a process which works but I would just like to let people know whats going on before they spring for one unknowingly. Dont bother reading this if you already have an iPad. What follows is an explanation I sent to my father:
Once it's on your iPad a file doesn't leave. Any changes you make wont be accessible from other computers. You cant plug in flash drive to copy them out. One common use scenario would be to get the file from Dropbox which lots of people use and then edit it in another program like Pages (Apples not-built-in program: $10 -- there are basically no word processing apps for free). Once you've done that you might want to see your changes on your computer when you get back home but no they're not there. You never saved, because you never had to, and in fact you cant, and now your document is split into 2 versions one of which is in Pages permanently. What you can do is to then delete the copy in your Dropbox, wait for the sync to go through and let it delete the copy from your computer and then upload the new version from Pages into Dropbox. This process needs to be repeated every time you want to change something. Also you will be deleting copies from Pages continuously as the new versions which have had changes made elsewhere (your computer) are opened in Pages. I would call this a work around. Google Docs works in the exact same way.
Also you cant download files straight off the internet; you have to do it with an app like Dropbox or Google Docs. This is not a hassle if the lecturer uses Google Docs (its actually called Google Drive now and you should call it that too) as there is a nice Google Drive app. While still connected to the internet the students can edit and save back to the cloud seamlessly (basically the file doesn't leave the internet -- its just edited from a browser which happens to belong to an iPad). This would be the best option for a university if there is wireless everywhere.
None of these downloading option are any good for 400MB textbooks. For this I plug my iPad into my computer and use a program called iFunbox. This I use to transfer all my documents (none of which are nicely located on Google Drive) from my computer (where I also like to have the documents). Then once on my iPad I use an app called iFile (to use this the iPad must have been jailbroken, a very easy process, which voids the guarantee) to browse to the location of the file and open it in either Adobe Reader (which also stores the file in itself permanently but which isn't a problem as I don't generally make changes to textbooks and if I do I don't want them available elsewhere) or iBooks which is similar. Also I think if you knew where to put it, you could paste the textbook straight into Adobe's little storage space and then it would be there when you opened Adobe Reader -- no need for iFile and the jailbreak.
Without a jailbreak it is also possible to plug the iPad into your computer and use iTunes to copy files onto it. But this is the worst.
For annotating PDFs (a good use case) I open files with a program called Remarks. It's remarkable (haha, seriously though, I looked long and hard before I found and actually paid for it: $5 -- there are no others like it) because it can synchronize with things like Google Drive and Microsoft's Skydrive (which is what I use). This means that you don't have to go about that laborious process described in paragraph 2 -- it happens automatically. All you need to do is have a document on your computer (as you would) and then move it into the Remarks folder in Google Drive or Skydrive. It then syncs down to your iPad and syncs back up once you're finished editing it there. And it only needs internet connectivity during syncing. Otherwise we would all just use Google Drive online all the time.
Of course some angry birds and fruit ninja during those mind numbing 3 hour lectures is reason enough to get an iPad for university.