Instashare -An iOS/Mac app for instant transfer of files

After viewing my post on the benefits of FileBrowser, one of my Twitter colleagues alerted me to an app I had not heard of with similar functionality – Instashare. After downloading and checking it out, I thought I would do a quick tutorial and review on Mr G Online as I think, with future planned updates, this app will become a useful addition to the educational setting of iPads I blog about most frequently.

In a nutshell, Instashare is both an iOS app  and Mac application that uses a very simple drag and drop interface to transfer photos, videos and supported files from one iOS device to another with absolutely no set up required other than downloading the app onto your device. Here is the Product Description straight from the App Store.

SIMPLE FILE SHARING
You don’t need to be tech-savvy to share files.

WORKS WITHOUT INTERNET
You don’t need to be connected to internet, just use local wi-fi or Bluetooth to transfer file.

SIMPLE TO USE
No need to pair devices or setup transfer. Designed for quick and easy file sharing.

NO REGISTRATION
Just open app and start sharing files, no need to enter email or passwords.

NO FILE TYPE LIMITS
You can transfer any file type, no restrictions. MP3, images, pdf, presentation and way more.

DOWNLOAD FOR FREE!
Mac version available from instashareapp.com

What the app does, it does very well. Here is a short video that shows how it operates ( no commentary included)

I’ll describe here what is happening in the video. Basically, you open the app on your iOS device ( in this case, the iPad) and any device that has the app open ( the app does need to be open – it doesn’t work in the background), will appear on the screen. You then simply select the file to transfer, drag it to the desired device and it will transfer over to that device, be it Mac computer, iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad ( from reading Twitter updates, an Android version may have just been released).

What you will notice on the video is that the first transfer I attempted failed. This was because the app on the other device, the first time you use it, brings up a dialog box to accept the file. If this is not allowed, the transfer will not take place. You have the option of Allow or ALWAYS Allow.

On my own devices, I chose ALWAYS Allow so I don’t have to continue to accept the transfer manually, particularly if I am not next to the computer I want to transfer to. Now, when I drag and drop to the my devices, it happens automatically.

On the iPad, there is enough screen space to drag over to the device. On the iPhone, when you drag the file, the screen switches automatically to the target device.

The drag and drop interface is definitely an improvement on the FileBrowser interface and the direct transfer between iOS devices will come in handy when a student wants to submit a file to the teacher if they both have iPads.

From other apps, Instashare is one of the choices in the OPen in Another App… option so you can quickly transfer a Pages document, a file from the DropBox or Google Drive  app as an example. Also, it is free, unlike FileBrowser.

Instashare, however, still has some major flaws that will keep me using FileBrowser. Having said that, the developer has informed me that some of these deficiencies have been addressed in an update awaiting review in the App Store.

  1. At present, you can only drag and drop one file at a time. This is fine if an individual student wants to send a single file to a teacher, but if you want to transfer 30 photos over to your computer, one at a time is not functional. This is apparently addressed in the next update, although I don’t know if there is a limit. FileBrowser has not limit.
  2. As of publishing this post, the required app needed to be installed on the computer side is Mac only. ( and it won’t work unless you download and install that Mac application, which has to stay open.) There are plans for other systems but at present, with the fast majority of schools being PC, this precludes its use beyond iOS device to iOS device transfer. FileBrowser, on the other hand, can connect to any networked computer and you do not have to install any related software for it to work.
  3. On the computer side, you have to designate a target folder that all transfers download to. You then have to manually transfer to other folders on the computer. FileBrowser allows you to browse to any folder and also allows you to create new folders direct from the app, meaning you do not have to have any access to the computer at all. You can also rename the file.
  4. It’s only a one way transfer service – from one device to the other. Yes, you can transfer from Mac to iPad by the simple drag and drop but you have to have access to the computer. With FileBrowser, you have control over both sides directly from the app, again not requiring physical access to the computer.

Despite these criticisms, I really like the app. If the next update brings in multi-file transfer, I’ll find myself using it a lot because of the drag and drop interface and the direct iOS to iOS option. The Bluetooth transfer can bypass issues on days when the school WiFi is in meltdown as well. Until it allows PC access and the ability to browse folders, though, I’ll be sticking with my very reliable and useful FileBrowser app. But with improvements to come in future updates, Instashare will become a serious rival to FileBrowser and other network apps.

My iPad – the “nearly a PC” for teaching

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Clearly from reading my blog, you can work out I love my iPad. Hopefully, you can also tell from reading my blog that I am also not a slavish “Apple Fanboy” who never finds fault with the product. Over the last year, I have been experimenting with the iPad extensively ( some would say obsessively) to see if I can completely do away with needing a laptop and relying exclusively on my ‘magical tablet’. As a teacher with ‘many hats to wear’, I rely on access to many computer dependent tools to complete my day to day responsibilities. What I have concluded is that if I was completely independent in carrying out my teaching, I would be almost laptop -free. Because I have to work within the constraints of a shared school environment, though, the iPad still had a little ways to go before it can completely replace my trusty MacBook Pro.

Assessment
Because of its portability and multimedia functionality, the iPad is a great tool for assessment that has streamlined the data collection process in many ways. As a busy teacher and parent, the iPad has given me mo opportunities to access and input data wherever I am ( even during my son’s weekly basketball training )I can take written, audio and photo notes within the same program, whether Notability, Evernote, TagPad or any other similar note taking app and have access to a range of data on a given student. Using ShowMe, Educreations, Explain Everything or ScreenChomp, I can get a student to visually show their thinking in a recorded format and keep that for later analysis. I can use the assessment tools on Edmodo‘s iPad app to mark Student’s submitted work and do text based annotations through the assignments annotation tools. I can record, sort and analyse assessment data on spreadsheets using Numbers or Office2 HD. I can access the school’s shared Google Docs Online Assessment tool and record comments and scores for students I teach. So using just my iPad I can function very effectively in terms of assessing students, however…………

The actual user experience of Google Docs spreadsheets on iPads is a pain and most teachers at my school would not put up with the glitchy workarounds I use to make the assessment spreadsheet we use on laptops workable on the iPad. Proprietary software like school reporting programs and on demand testing programs generally won’t work on an iPad without mirroring from another computer (which obviously means still needing the computer!). Spreadsheet apps have limitations that don’t recognize high end functions on Excel which means some spreadsheets become unusable if originally created on a Windows/Mac computer. Therefore, in terms of individualized assessment procedures that collect really useful data, the iPad can be a standalone tool. Sharing school resources? Not so much.

Accessing and saving Files at school
Proxy server issues with certain apps like Dropbox and Evernote aside, which apparently will disappear when a new system is commissioned next term, accessing, updating and saving files has not been an issue. I very rarely use my laptop to read, edit or create documents anymore, unless they were created with a program incompatible with iPads. The teachers I work with use a combination of Google Docs, Dropbox, Edmodo and our school network to save their documents, all of which are accessible through my iPad through the Internet, their own iPad app or through Filebrowser for network and photo library access. All the apps I use can access these options either through the Open in… function, syncing options or in the case of Apple’s iWork apps, through Dropbox/Googledocs access via Otixo’s webDAV service. The only app that is problematic is GarageBand, which I still have to use iTunes file sharing with. ( Email is a poor option as is YouTube or Facebook for primary school setting). While sometimes I have to perform digital gymnastics to access some files via two or three apps like Goodreader and Filebrowser, it works for me. I’m going to do a post soon on Filebrowser specifically, partly as a lesson for my staff but also to share its features. There is also the option of using sendtodropbox service for apps that only use email for exporting. I really like it. Therefore, in my experience in terms of accessing compatible files, I can virtually put my laptop away and rely on my iPad.

Creating and Presenting Content
Despite protests from some in the anti iPad blogosphere, the iPad is indeed a fine content creation tool. I get the complaints about the keyboard ( personal preference and typing skill dependent) and the switching between screen issues ( I admit this bugs me) but that aside I think the complaints come down to what field of content creation you are in and how text typing dependent it is.
For me I can create everything I need to support my teaching on my iPad.
Attractive multimedia heavy documents and presentations are easily created through publishing apps like Pages, Keynote, ComicLife, Strip Designer, SonicPics, iDraw, Explain Everything et al, iMovie, GarageBand .. The list goes on.
PDF annotation of texts for class note taking can take place using PDF apps like GoodReader or iBooks on an interactive whiteboard or projector/TV. Books for sharing can be created using Book Creator or Creative Book Builder. Lesson content and collaboration can be covered with the Edmodo app or Coveritlive.

The biggest omission on the surface is the lack of compatibility with interactive whiteboard software such as ActiveInspire on Promethean Whiteboards. A plugged in iPad does not interact with the boards like laptops do because the touch based driver doesn’t support iPads ( any chance in future Promethean et al?). If I want to create flip charts, I still need my laptop to run ActiveInspire, however….

There are iPad based options with and without laptop. AppleTV is one solution. No computer required, but an expensive option if you need one for each whiteboard in your school. A relatively recent and cheap solution is the use of AirPlay compatible software that turns your Mac or PC into an AppleTV solution. Reflection and AirServer (PC and Mac) allow flexible projection of iPad screens onto the whiteboard through a connected laptop, including audio, all wirelessly. OS 10.8 for Mac ( Mountain Lion) will have the feature built in. With this feature, all the functionality of all the apps on the iPad appear on the whiteboard’s screen, giving it far more interactive possibilities
than a pen that has to touch the screen. Multiple iPad screens can be projected side by side for student sharing of their iPads. This could cut the cost of buying interactive whiteboards altogether and replace them with iPads and cheaper projectors and screens. The other option is using Splashtop Whiteboard (price has gone up since I bought it) to control the laptop screen through the iPad.

Of course the other elephant in the room in terms of sharing content with the iPad is the whole Flash issue. It’s not going away yet and I have covered this issue in an earlier blogpost this year. You can read that here to get my view on that. At this stage, yes I still need laptop access for some flash based web tools ( but I can use the school’s computers for that and leave mine home. )

In finishing, the question remains – How close to replacing a laptop with my iPad in my work environment am I ? ( I stress my environment because it is not feasible for all ). Not completely yet. And some of the workarounds I pull out to make some of the above possible is too much of a pain for less resourceful people. There are many days, though, that my laptop does remain in my bag untouched for the whole day. If I get AirServer installed on our school laptops connected to the whiteboards (at the moment I rely on my own ) , my laptop will barely see the light of day at school.
I’m not abandoning the Mac platform. There are tasks I would always prefer to do on my Macs. I just want to carry less around at school and if the iPad can be relied upon all day until I get home to my Macs, I’ll be happy. It’s close to fruition.

Obviously the solution is not for everyone and I would be interested to hear from others about their iPad experiences. Join the conversation.

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