How to share files using the iPad

Erik Eckel names his three favorite methods for sharing files among other computers with the iPad.

It's one of those questions some users are embarrassed to ask. But it's an issue many face.

iPad users are increasingly leveraging their tablet computer's capabilities within their businesses. Apple's popular iPad enables taking notes, editing documents, reviewing presentations, creating spreadsheets and more, all while on the run. Some business users, however, struggle to transfer, synchronize or share documents, spreadsheets, presentations and other files (such as PDFs) with their other computers.

Fortunately, several options exist for sharing files between computers and Apple's iPad. Here's a look at three popular favorites.

Apple iDisk

Like many of its other products (Macs, iPhones, etc.) and services (AppleCare Protection, One to One membership, etc.), Apple's Mobile Me simplifies formerly complex tasks and processes. iDisk, one of several Mobile Me features, enables reasonably supporting 19GB or more worth of files.

Better yet, Apple makes a dedicated iDisk application that's available free for iPhone, iPad, and Mac users, meaning users can download a single app that makes accessing cloud-hosted files easy, literally just a few taps away.

Of course, the $99/year Mobile Me subscription buys additional benefits, too, such as a private Web site, 20GB of expandable file storage, synchronized email, contacts and appointments, and more.

But that's not the reason I recommend iDisk. I recommend it because many iPad apps, such as Documents to Go, Pages, Numbers, Keynote and others, natively support copying iPad files directly to iDisk. The convenience is simply too easy to pass up. It's $99 well spent.


Dropbox makes it easy for iPad users to natively view files, only. Sometimes that's a good thing. How?

My office chose to share critical data with its staff using Dropbox. We loaded Dropbox on numerous laptops and desktops, all of which synchronized files back with the original host server files. Engineers with iPhones and iPads in the field could view the data, too. Communication improved. Efficiencies resulted. It was great.

But then someone booted a laptop that hadn't been online for several months. Let's just say several files were overwritten with bad data resulting. So we passed the decree that Dropbox would be used only on our server, where master updates would be made, and on iPhones and iPads that don't overwrite the Dropbox data.

Life's never been better.

Technically, iPad users can still update and view files stored within a Dropbox folder. iPad users can open Dropbox files in other applications, such as Pages, Numbers and Docs To Go, and proceed to make edits. They just then need to leverage another program, such as iDisk, or email in combination with another system to ultimately get the file back into the Dropbox folder.

Dropbox pricing is fair, too. The Basic version, which supports storing up to 2GB of files, is free. Pro versions start at just under ten bucks a month for 50 gigs of storage, and the iPad app is free.

Google Docs

There's some confusion, I've noticed, regarding whether Google Docs documents, spreadsheets, and presentations can be edited using an iPad's Safari browser. Many users complain that they can only view Google Docs files.

The confusion arises because earlier versions of the iPad OS didn't support editing Google Docs, and Google was a little slow adding editing support for the mobile Safari browser. All is well now. If you have older Google Docs files, you may find they need to be recreated using the newer Google Docs. In my own tests, I wasn't able to access the infamous Edit button using my iPad until I created new Google Docs files, as my iPad couldn't edit one- to two-year-old Google Docs files. Creating new Google Docs documents, spreadsheets and presentations enables simple iPad editing using the iPad's Safari browser now, though, assuming the iPad has been updated to at least iOS 3.0.

Overall, Google Docs provides a simple and reliable method of sharing documents, spreadsheets and presentations between multiple Internet-connected devices. Consider that it's free, and it's a difficult combination to beat.

What's your favorite?

Other options exist for sharing files between an iPad and other systems and users. Some users tap, others use SugarSync. Which apps do you leverage? Share your comments below.