How to improve data exchange between iPhone and desktop

When Apple launched the App Store for the iPhone, it put a lot of restrictions in place. They have been widely covered for many months, and by many bloggers and journalists. Most of them are well known by developers and users, and perhaps a bit more surprising, most people accept these limitations as a fact of life.

Some limitations that have been widely publicized are the inability to run more than one program at a time (leading for example to the inability to listen to an Internet radio station while doing something else), and the lack of the long promised push notification services (which among others enable instant messaging applications to receive messages when the device is idle or running another program).

But that’s not what I want to talk about. This time, I want to address another major annoyance.

There are a lot of areas when a desktop apps benefits from having a mobile app to take your data with you. Think for example of the excellent password manager 1Password, which can sync its protected database of passwords to the 1Password iPhone app. Or what about a personal assets database containing your lists of DVDs and books? It can be very handy to have these available on the go in a companion app on the iPhone. And of course you may want to upload some Office or PDF documents to a document viewer app on the iPhone.

And then we come to this other thing that has been bugging me for some time: the complexity that is involved anytime I want to exchange data between a desktop app on my Mac, and some application on my iPhone.

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Gimme iTunes for pictures!

If you want to manage your photos on your Mac, there are generally two ways to do so. The first one involves manual copying of the pictures from your camera’s memory card to a destination on your harddrive. The second one is by using Apple’s sophisticated picture management program iPhoto.

iPhoto offers a lot of very, very neat features. Its ways to quickly browse trough thousands of images it impressive. You can quickly “skim” over a group of pictures by rolling your mouse over the image that represents the group, resuling in a quick glance of all the pictures that are in it. Besides these image viewing and organizing features, iPhoto offers a lot of other neat functions, like the ability to quickly publish photos to an online MobileMe gallery, sharing pictures to and from other users on your local network, perform simple image correction tools, directly order printed materials like photo books, and the creation of very nice and sophisticated slide shows.

But most importantly perhaps, iPhoto is deeply integrated into the Mac OS X experience, and as a result into a lot of other applications. Every program on the Mac that allows you to do something with an image (such as adding an image to a web page in iWeb or pasting a picture in a Word document) generally offers you access to OS X’s media browser, directly showing you thumbnails from iPhoto, ordered in the same way as they are ordered in iPhoto itself. Furthermore, the iPhoto library directly syncs to the iPod and iPhone, and is available for viewing from Apple’s media playback application Front Row.

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Why the iPhone is not for everybody

I tend not to think of myself as one of those typical Apple-elitists. You know, the kind that hopes that Apple remains a marginal player in the worldwide market of computers, so that their choice for the brand remains a unique identifier for them. Instead, like many other Apple-fans, I would love to see the company grow and gain market share. Because naturally, this would benefit us all. The more Apple computers in use, the wider the range of software and other supporting products that become available. And although Apple is not quite there with their line of Macs, it did manage to become the number one spot in MP3 devices. And now, it is bound to become the biggest, or at least one of the top biggest companies in the field of fully featured mobile communication devices, or smartphones.

But let’s go back for a second to the whole Apple-elitist thing. I have to admit that there is one aspect in particular that makes me proud to be an Apple-user: I choose to use an Apple computer. After all, statisitcally based, it would have been logical that I picked up a Windows PC from one of the local shopping malls, just like 90% of computer users. Instead, I made a comparison between the offerings of generic PC vendors shipping Windows machines, and the Mac. And, at least to me, the Mac won that comparison by a large, large margin. It’s beyond the purpose of this post to state why the Mac is the superior platform for me (but sure, this includes Apple’s breathtaking visual design of the operating system, the stability and security of its OS underpinnings, the world’s best industrial design, but most imporantly ┬áthe tight integration between all hardware, operating system, software and Internet service components that provide me with this exceptional and unmatched user experience). So does the knowledge that most people select their computer based on price or raw hardware specs instead of doing a little investigation on what system works best for them make me an Apple-elitist? If so, then yes, I think I have to admit that I am more of one than I initially thought.

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