I have a decade old, 2nd Gen iPod (a huge white and silver brick) that arguably beats my iPod Touch in two key built-in features. The first is that it is much faster to transfer music to because it supports FireWire, (but that’s a rant for another time). The brick’s second excellent feature is the ability to mount on my Mac and act just like an external hard drive.
While it doesn’t seem like iPhones/iPods will be supporting FireWire any time soon, a slew of third party app developers have addressed the need to use your Apple mobile device as a wireless portable drive. Nearly all of them function in the same manner so I’ll walk you through the app that I personally use and then present a number of alternatives.
My HD app of choice is Air Sharing. It’s wonderfully simple to use and has never given me a single problem (the bonus is that I got it free as part of a temporary sale). It’s now $2.99 but definitely worth dropping the few bucks if you can see yourself using your iPhone frequently as a portable drive.
When you open Air Sharing you are taken to an icon view of the folders and files on your drive. The interface is nearly exactly like that of the OS X Finder so Mac users should feel right at home. Tapping on a folder will take you into its contents: another thumbnail view of the files in the folder. Simply tap a file to preview it in the app.
Air Sharing lets you view a huge range of supported file formats including iWork documents, MS Office documents, PDFs, JPGs, HTML pages, various text files, and audio/video multimedia files.
The big benefit that new technology has over my old 2nd generation iPod is the ability to access your device over the air, eliminating the need to plug anything in. The first step you’ll want to take to connect to your Apple device is to open up the settings screen (tap the little wrench icon) to set your security.
As you can see, I have “Sharing Security” turned on. This simply puts a username and password on the device so no one can connect to your device without your permission. I highly recommend that you implement this simple but effective security measure.
Next, go back to the main application screen and tap the little Wifi icon in the bottom center. This brings up a number of options for connecting to your device via Bonjour or IP address. On your Mac, bring up Finder and hit ⌘-K to bring up the “Connect to Server” options (alternatively, you can use your Mac or PCs browser).
In the first window, type in the Bonjour or IP address and hit connect. If you’ve placed security on the device as outlined above, type this information into the second screen and hit “Connect.”
That’s about all there is to it. Now your device will pop up in the Finder and you’ll be free to drag files to and from it. Be sure to save the address in your favorite server list so you don’t have to type it in every time. The entire process only takes a minute or so and isn’t really much more of a hassle than plugging something into a USB port once you get used to it.
The huge benefit that Apple handhelds have over your typical portable hard drive is the fact that you can browse, view, interact with and share the files right on the storage device. The downside of course is that your storage space is limited to the free capacity on your phone.
As I said above, Air Sharing tends to be the app I use the most for this kind of thing (after Dropbox, discussed below). However, there are plenty of different options out there for you to choose from so I encourage you to take a look at a few of the apps below to see if there are any you might like better.
Apps Synced to Online Storage
The apps below not only allow you to access your files on the go, but also sync with various online storage and backup services. These apps, in conjunction with their services, give you amazing flexibility as everything you need is synced across your computer, iPhone/iPod/iPad, and an online interface accessible from any web browser.
Despite the fact that Air Sharing and the others listed above are excellent solutions for taking your files with you anywhere, it’s hard to beat the multi-device syncing aspect of Dropbox and the other apps in its category. Another major benefit is that these online service-synced apps are almost always free downloads that work in conjunction with free service accounts.
Even with all of the apps listed above, this is by no means an exhaustive list. The App Store is full of more great tools that allow you to use your iPhone as a hard drive. Use the comments below to tell us which app is your favorite, and let us know if we left any out!