DeskConnect review: Share files, URLs, and more between OS X and iOS
Seven or so years since the introduction of iOS, getting stuff from your iPhone or iPad to your Mac—and vice versa—is still a pain.
Sure, there are plenty of ways to sync or share files. You can sync data using iTunes or (for some apps) Dropbox. You can send files via email. You can sync Safari bookmarks, Reading List URLs, and open tabs over iCloud. You can share photos via PhotoStream. You can even share clipboard contents using utilities such as Command-C. But these are all piecemeal solutions that each work for one particular type of data, but not others. (Alas, Apple’s AirDrop feature handles many kinds of data, but it currently works only for sharing files from Mac to Mac, or from one iOS device to another—it doesn’t work between OS X and iOS.)
That’s the problem that DeskConnect seeks to solve, and by and large, it does a good job. Once you install the free DeskConnect apps for Mac (Mac App Store link) and iOS (App Store link) on your various devices, and set up a free account, you can share photos, webpages, document files, and clipboard contents between the two platforms using DeskConnect clients for OS X and iOS.
On the Mac, you can simply drag a file from the Finder to the DeckConnect icon in the menubar; that opens a menu from which you can choose the iOS device to which you want to send the item. (Note that DeskConnect's file-dragging feature was initially broken when Apple released OS X 10.9.2. DeskConnect 1.1.1 fixed the problem.) You receive—almost immediately—a push notification on the destination device that the file has been received. You can also select text in a Mac app, and then choose a destination device in the DeskConnect menu; the selection is sent to the DeskConnect app on that device, where you can choose to open the text in Messages, Mail, Twitter, Facebook, a text editor, and so on.
Similarly, if you want to share a URL that’s open in your desktop browser, just make sure your browser is frontmost and then choose a device from the DeskConnect menu. The URL automatically opens on that device in the browser you’ve designated. The DeskConnect apps are smart enough to handle special URLs, too. For example, if you have a map open in your desktop browser, sending that URL to an iOS device results in the map opening in your iOS mapping app of choice (Maps, Google Maps, or Waze).
You can also select a phone number in your Mac’s Contacts app and use DeskConnect to send it directly to your iPhone’s phone app. And DeskConnect has some Automator and AppleScript support for for more advanced uses.
Sharing data works just as easily the other way: Open the iOS app on your iPhone or iPad, and you can choose to send a photo (selected from any album in Photos), a document from a compatible app (DeskConnect installs an Open in DeskConnect option in the iOS Share sheet), or send the contents of the iOS clipboard. Sending a URL from your iOS browser is a bit more complicated, as it requires the installation and configuration of a special bookmarklet; in my testing, once that little hurdle was crossed, sharing worked well.
After you’ve sent something from an iOS device, it should show up in the Mac app’s Recent list in the systemwide menu. When you choose a file, photo, or clipboard from that list, a preview of the item opens in DeskConnect’s built-in file viewer. From there, you can opt to send the item to a specific app or save it to a particular destination. Choose a URL from the menu, and that URL opens in your default browser. If you press the Control key before clicking on something in the Recent submenu, you’ll copy the item to the clipboard instead; press Command when choosing a transferred file, and it'll be revealed in the Finder.
When I say that DeskConnect does a good job “by and large,” it means that I have run into a couple of small glitches. As I mentioned, the need to set up a special bookmarklet on your iOS device in order to share URLs isn’t particularly elegant—and if you sync bookmarks between Mac and iOS already, that bookmarklet will (uselessly) show up in Safari on your Mac, too. Also, as it’s presently designed, the DeskConnect Mac app stores received files in a subfolder buried several layers deep in your ~/Library folder; data is automatically deleted after 30 days. It would be nice if you could configure the app to save things somewhere else—say, Downloads or on your desktop.
Finally, DeskConnect's FAQ says its system is secure: “Your content is encrypted en route to and from our servers. Our servers are under top security, and we have several features in development which will further strengthen the security of our users’ data.” But those assurances may not be enough for the security-minded.
Otherwise, in everyday use, DeskConnect works for me. It’s fast and relatively seamless. If you have multiple devices and wish you could send stuff back and forth between them without a lot of hassle, DeskConnect is worth checking out.
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