The iPad File-asco

This all started with this week’s update to the iWork apps for iPad, which added support for plaintext (.txt) documents. It allowed me to believe, for a time, that I could use some of my idle time around the house, when I’m away from the computer, to work on the Core Audio book. I was also inspired by Noel Llopis’ standing desk experiment, an iblogdevaday post in which he praises the health benefits of working while standing up for long stretches. I’m not keen to overhaul my home office, but the idea of using a remote keyboard while standing at the kitchen counter seems well worth trying.

The problem, it seems, is with getting files in and out of the iPad for editing. The default system of dragging files into the iTunes “Apps” tab is remarkably clumsy and seems atypically half-assed for an Apple user experience. If only we could see each app’s files in the Finder… ah, but it apparently is an article of faith at Apple that the iOS filesystem is never to be exposed to users, no matter how bad the alternative is.

Some sort of over-the-air retrieval of files is Plan B, but this isn’t built into iOS, so apps need to provide their own support. Seeing that Pages could retrieve files with WebDAV got me thinking that could be an option: I’d set up WebDAV on my desktop, grab a chapter file, edit it for a few minutes, and save it back. It took me a long time to get Apache even a little happy with exposing a second checkout of the book (I had file-ownership problems with my original directory and didn’t want to deal with giving the _www user write access to it), but I finally got the plaintext ch07.txt, the enormous chapter on audio units, into Pages on the iPad…

Unfortunately, it’s a pretty hollow victory: Pages won’t write plaintext, and forces me to save as .pages, .pdf, or .doc, which means converting back to plaintext when I return to my desk. So this is starting to seem like more hassle than it’s worth for quick, on-the-go editing.

Maybe there’s a solution in the form of some other app. Unfortunately, the reviews for iPad text editing apps are largely poor, and few seem to have WebDAV or other over-the-air file-sharing support (although a few support FTP, being aimed at webmasters who might need to fix a site on the go). Another option is to look at the file-sharing apps instead: Air Sharing HD looks like it would solve the file sharing problem easily, but is mostly a file reader and doesn’t indicate that it has support for editing text files.

So, that’s where things are right now. I’d like to get plaintext files off my Mac, edit them on the iPad, and put them back. This doesn’t seem like it should be so hard. Am I overlooking a good solution?

Comments (3)

  1. Hi,

    I had the same problem until I encountered drop box. Create a drop box account and hook it up to a documents folder on your Mac. Install the drop box app on your iPad: bam, instant access to all your files. And the drop box app uses ipads native doctype handling so it can open any doc in any app that supports it. Bonus: its a sync mechanism so you can work on your docs even when you are offline. The changes will be synced to your mac as soon as the ipad has a connection (when you run the drop box app).


  2. Thanks Ivo. What kinds of files are you editing? I’ve signed up for Dropbox and installed it on my Mac and iPad, but I’m looking in the App Store for the search term “text editor” and none of the apps has particularly strong ratings or reviews. I got a tweet that recommended DocumentsToGo, but that app seems as much about solving the sharing problem (which Dropbox does) as it does about editing.

  3. Textastic seems very close to what you want. I just tried it out for a little bit and it not shabby at all.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.