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TUAW Faceoff: Mark/Space Fliq for Mac vs. Mobile DropCopy


A few months ago, Mark/Space delivered Fliq for iPhone, a free utility for sending contacts and photos to other iPhones and iPod touches that are also running Fliq. Later, they shipped Fliq for Mac, a US$19.95 application goes beyond the capabilities of the iPhone app by providing an easy way to move photos, contacts and notes from your Mac to any Mac or iPhone on your Wi-Fi network.

There are several free or low-cost utilities that perform similar tasks, most particularly 10base-t interactive's DropCopy and Mobile DropCopy. The latter is a new iPhone app that, like Fiiq and Fliq for Mac, facilitates transfer of non-DRM data between iPhones and Macs. Since news of both of these apps appeared in my inbox on the same day, I decided that a faceoff was in order. So how do these apps compare, or am I comparing Apples and oranges? I think you'll find that they're similar in operation, but different in what they mean to accomplish.

Read on to see how they fare in a TUAW faceoff!

DropCopy / Mobile DropCopy from 10base-t interactive

DropCopy has been around for years and, until Leopard made Mac-to-Mac file sharing easier and more reliable, it was one of my favorite utilities. The Mac application is free on networks of 3 or less Macs, and $25 for larger installations. The iPhone app, Mobile Drop Copy, costs US$4.99 (click opens iTunes).

After downloading and installing the Mac application, your desktop now has the signature "black hole" of DropCopy. If you've used DropCopy before, you know that you just need to drop a file onto the black hole and it is zapped to the other Mac(s) on the network with some cool special visual and sound effects. That's in theory; even with my background as a Mac support professional, I occasionally have devices that just don't want to talk to each other with DropCopy. Firewall configuration is a common issue with DropCopy, which uses TCP/UDP port 5052. It also drives me bonkers that I see Macs that I sold long ago appearing on the list of "discovered devices", and new devices showing up as "unlicensed."

I'm not sure if 10base-t's servers are just being overwhelmed with new users or what, but using DropCopy's built-in help files, which actually open up pages on their website instead of being truly built into the application, I often had FAQ and help pages time out before they opened.

The iPhone app is installed in the usual way from the App Store. During actual use, I ran into some issues that I have not seen with similar applications of this type. For example, just to send one 376 KB screenshot file to the iPhone, I had to attempt my transfer three times before it worked successfully. Before I could send any other files to my iPhone, I had to quit the application, then open it again. One attempted transfer of a 328 KB PDF file to the iPhone actually crashed the DropCopy Mac application, but worked once I launched it again.

Mobie DropCopy's interface is simple and clean. The Home page displays the familiar DropCopy black hole. To send a file, you simply tap on the black hole, at which time you're asked if you want to Transfer Files, Get Clipboard, or Send Message (see screenshots below).

Send Message works fine to send short messages to another iPhone or Mac running DropCopy, although I wonder about the necessity for this feature. If I'm going to send a text message, I'd rather do it through SMS. If someone is close enough that I can send them a message over WiFi, why not just talk to them?



There are relatively few settings for Mobile Drop Copy, as seen in the screenshot below. You can decide whether or not to make a device available, so you can use it as a file viewer without having the iPhone available for people to "drop" files to. You can turn sound effects on or off, and for security, you can approve transfers to keep them from being automatically saved on your device.



When you want to transfer a file to another Mac or iPhone, you see the same interface you'll see if you want to just view those files. As you can see in the screenshot below, file types that are visible get a little "eye-con" to the right of the file name, indicating that you can tap on the icon for a QuickLook.The QuickLook viewer (below right) shows the document in a small view, or you can tap the full-screen view icon in the upper right corner of the QuickLook view to expand it.



Transferring the file is as simple as tapping on the file name, then selecting the destination for the file from the list of devices on the network (below right).



If a file is sent to your iPhone and you have chosen to have the iPhone ask if you wish to accept the incoming connection, you'll see a dialog like the one seen below. A quick tap on the OK button allows the file to be transferred and saved on your iPhone.


Fliq for Mac / Fliq from Mark/Space

Fliq is the newcomer to this game. Mark/Space has been around for years, and is primarily known for the Missing Sync line of synchronization software. Over the past year, they've started moving into the iPhone space, first with The Missing Sync for iPhone, an application for Mac and Windows that makes migration from another type of mobile phone to the iPhone a piece of cake. Fliq was the first iPhone app from Mark/Space, and is a free download from the App Store. (click opens iTunes).

To me, it's interesting to see that these two companies have picked opposite pricing strategies; 10base-t chose to give away the Mac application and charges for the iPhone app, while Mark/Space charges for the Mac application and gives away the iPhone app. There's also a Windows version of Fliq available, although I did not test it.

Like all Mark/Space applications, Fliq for Mac requires a registration. You can download a 7-day trial copy for free from the Mark/Space Fliq page, then purchase the application if you like it. In my testing, I did not have to do any special configuration of the Mac firewall, nor did I have any issues sending files between my Macs or to the iPhone. You will need one license per Mac, so you might want to consider the Family Pack (US$49.95), which includes three licenses.

While DropCopy becomes part of your desktop, Fliq uses a traditional Mac window as its interface. In the screenshot below, you can see that the interface is quite simple and is showing my MacBook Air and my iPhone in the list of devices on the network. Double-clcking one of the devices displays a simple dialog asking what you wish to send to the other device (below right). If you're Fliqing something to an iPhone, the Note icon is grayed out unless Fliq Notes (another Mark/Space iPhone app; keep reading for details) is installed.


Selecting "Contact" displays a Send Contact dialog showing your Address Book file (see below). Pick one of the contacts, determine if you wish to send all info or just work or home info, then click the Fliq button.



Instantly, you hear a tone both on the sending and receiving devices, and a red notification flag showing the number of items sent to the Mac appears (below left). You can choose to either see what was sent to you (Preview) or discard the item. Pressing Preview shows you Robert's contact information (below right), at which time you can either save it to your address book or discard it.


The other functions, sending your "business card", a note, or a photo, works the same way. You can also drag and drop items on the name of one of the other Macs to send them. If you try to send an item that isn't currently supported by Fliq (a PDF file, for instance), you can't select it or drop it on the other device's name for sending.

On the iPhone, things work in a very similar manner. The screenshot on the left below shows the simple interface on the iPhone. In this shot my MacBook Air and iMac are both showing up. To send something to one of those two computers or another iPhone, you simply tap on the name of the device. A dialog screen appears (see below right) showing the three things you can do with Fliq; send your card, send another card, or send a photo.



Tapping on My Card displays your selected business card, and swiping the card sends it to your recipient (below left). Tapping Contact displays your iPhone's contact list, and selecting one of the contacts to send displays as screen similar to the one shown below at left.

Receiving or send a file requires that Fliq be up and running all on devices. When you receive a file on the iPhone, a transparent dialog appears providing the choice to preview or discard the file (below right).


More recently, Mark/Space has delivered the final piece of the Fliq puzzle with another free app called Fliq Notes. This app is for note-taking and organization. You can zap your notes to another Fliq / Fliq Notes-equipped iPhone or to a Mac running Fliq for Mac and the included Mark/Space Notes application.



Comparison


In actual usage, I found Fliq to be easier to set up and more consistent in sending and receiving files. In my personal opinion, I also found the Mac user interface to be much easier to use. My Mac is usually displaying at least 10 - 15 windows, and getting to my desktop to send a file using DropCopy is often impossible. With Fliq, I would just tap the Dock icon to make the window active for sending files.

DropCopy and its mobile counterpart outshine Fliq in the fact that any file or folder can be sent easily, not just address cards, photos, and on the Mac, notes. In fact, you can't send address cards or photos from Mobile DropCopy to your Mac. Mobile DropCopy includes a file viewer for viewing some document types -- PDFs and Microsoft Word files opened quickly in the aptly-named QuickLook, but Excel .xls files don't appear to work in the viewer.

There lies the major difference between these apps; Fliq excels in moving content that is created on the iPhone to Macs, and in easily swapping a limited number of file types between Macs. DropCopy is great at sending and storing other file types between Macs and iPhones for physical transfer to other Macs and iPhones.

Which of these two apps should you consider? If you need to send screenshots or pictures from your iPhone to your Mac quickly, want a way to transfer photos between devices, or want to zap a lot of business cards to other Fliq users, then Fliq is a good choice. However, if want an app to transfer files between Macs and iPhones, and store and view the files on the iPhone, then DropCopy and Mobile DropCopy make a good solution.

My personal situation makes DropCopy less of a useful app than Fliq, since I just use the Mac's built-in file sharing to move files from machine to machine and I don't really use these file transfer / store / view apps much. I do, however, take a lot of pictures and screenshots on the iPhone and found Fliq to be an extremely fast way to transfer those pictures to my Mac. Fliq for Mac also makes it easy for me to take screenshots on one Mac and zap them to another, which is helpful when I'm writing.

One of my major concerns with Fliq is the pricing. $20 for a Mac application that only transfers a limited number of data types is quite expensive. Add another Mac or two, and you're better off just using the built-in capabilities of Mac OS X or emailing information between the machines. For this price, Fliq should be able to transfer any and all file types, not just pictures, contact information, and notes.

As for DropCopy, I'd like to see the configuration and use of the app become more consistent, and they should consider adding the ability to quickly zap address cards and photos to other Macs and iPhones. As for pricing, 10base-t has the right idea.

Conclusion
There are many other iPhone / Mac or PC transfer packages that are available. For the iPhone user who is looking for a solution to transfer files to and from their device, it's a great idea to go out and find several packages that you believe have the potential to serve your needs. Read the App Store reviews, then consider purchasing a few that meet your requirements and give them a workout. While this will cost a bit (where is the ability to do limited-time trials on iPhones, Apple?), it's a great way to make sure that you are getting the application that fits your needs perfectly.

What's your favorite app of this type, and what needs does it best fulfill? Other inquiring TUAW readers want to know. Leave us a comment below.

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