A number of iPad apps let you exchange files with your Mac, but getting those files onto and off of the iPad is a major hassle involving either sending files via e-mail or using the inconvenient iTunes File Sharing feature. (Some apps can access and edit files via Dropbox or MobileMe, but only particular types of files are supported.)
Until Apple offers better file-syncing features, a more-convenient alternative is Ecamm Network’s PadSync. This utility initially works similarly to iTunes File Sharing, but after the first connection, automates the process of syncing documents between your Mac and iPad.
Launch PadSync and connect your iPad, and you’ll see a window listing all your iTunes File Sharing-compatible apps; click one and the app’s documents appear to the right. Drag a file from your computer to an application name in PadSync—for example, a Numbers spreadsheet onto the Numbers listing—and it appears in that app’s document list in the program. If your iPad is currently connected to your Mac, the file is immediately synced; if your iPad is not connected, the document’s icon displays a small “badge” that looks like your computer, indicating that the file currently resides on your Mac but is not yet on your iPad—a useful feature.
While this display looks similar to iTunes’ File Sharing listing, PadSync lets you switch to an icon view that displays a Quick Look thumbnail for each document. Even better, you can view—and edit—a file even when your iPad is not connected by simply double-clicking the file in PadSync. The file opens in the appropriate Mac program, and any changes you make to the file are automatically synced to your iPad the next time it’s connected—assuming PadSync is running at that time, of course. (The documents are stored on your Mac in ~/Library/Application Support/PadSync/Devices/[device ID].)
Unfortunately, this feature is hampered for apps such as Keynote, Pages, and Numbers by Apple’s limitations when it comes to transferring files. Make changes to a PadSync-synced Numbers spreadsheet on your Mac, and even though the updated document automatically syncs to your iPad, the changes aren’t synced to the document within numbers. Instead, they’re synced to a copy of the document that’s only accessible using Numbers for iPad’s Import feature. (In other words, each time you make changes to the file on your Mac, you’ll need to import the new version, as a separate new document, in Numbers for iPad.) Similarly, if you make changes to an iWork for iPad document on your iPad, those changes aren’t synced via PadSync. You must export the document from the iPad. Thankfully, these inexplicably inconvenient (and confusing) limitations don’t apply to other apps. Make a change to a document in Documents To Go, for example, and the change is immediately applied to the document on your Mac—and vice versa.
You can also drag files between apps in PadSync. For example, if you’ve got a PowerPoint presentation in Documents To Go, you can drag it—oddly, only in list view—onto the Keynote app in the list. A copy of the file is added to Kenote’s own files folder on your iPad. (Of course, again, due to the quirky nature of the iPad’s File Sharing feature, you’ll then need to use the Import command in the Keynote app to open the file—it won’t automatically appear in Keynote’s list of files on the iPad itself.)
One limitation of PadSync is that it doesn’t support folders within apps. For example, I’ve got lots of files in Good Reader that I’ve organized in folders; double-clicking one of those folders in PadSync simply opens, in the Finder, the folder of files on my Mac. (Working with those files in the Finder does result in changes being synced to the iPad, however.)
Also, while you can view each file’s Quick Look thumbnail, I wish you could view a file’s full Quick Look preview by pressing SpaceBar when a file is selected in PadSync. And I found myself wanting a Reveal In Finder command to quickly access the Mac-hosted copy of a file.
Finally, it can be a bit confusing that when you drag a file into PadSync on your Mac, the original remains in its original location—a copy is created in the PadSync/Devices folder noted above. So if you want to edit that document on your Mac, and you want those changes reflected on your iPad, you must remember to edit the PadSync version of the file (by double-clicking the document within PadSync). It would be useful if original documents could remain in their original locations so you’d have only a single copy on your Mac’s hard drive.
But PadSync is only at version 1.0, and Ecamm has a history of frequently updating its software with new features and improvements, so I expect we’ll see many of these minor issues addressed soon. I’m also hoping for file-comparison and -merging features. In the meantime, PadSync is already a dramatic improvement over the approach provided by Apple.