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First Look: iDisk app

Apple's long-awaited free iDisk (iTunes link) program brings some great new features that makes MobileMe more appealing. But, there are a few holes and the program certainly doesn't do everything.

Basic layout
When you launch the iDisk app, you'll see most of folders that you normally have access to in your iDisk, plus any other folders that you might have created. What you won't see are the Backup, Sites, Software and Web folders that are normally in your iDisk. You can access these folders by enabling them through the software settings. Pressing the edit button will allow you to delete any user-made folders you've added to iDisk, but you can't create new folders.

Along the bottom are buttons for the iDisk itself, recent files viewed, files that you've chosen to share and public folders you've subscribed to. The settings screen is pretty basic, but leads to one of the gems of this piece of software -- an extremely documented help section that goes over every aspect of the app.


Uploading files
I initially enabled iDisk on my MacBook and dragged over some test files, then opened up the iDisk app and added some more. As I added items to my iDisk on the Mac, they weren't showing up instantly in the iDisk app despite being on the same network. Once I moved into the various subfolders, the app updated to show the contents of that folder. However, only the contents of that particular folder is updated and not all of the folders. I had to exit the app and reenter it for an entire refresh.

While the laptop was chugging along with its sync, I used the web interface on my iMac to upload a couple more documents. These files appeared faster in iDisk, though I still had to refresh the iPhone app to see them.

Sharing files
Tapping on the shared icon next to a file will bring up an e-mail message, sending a link out to a recipient that you choose with a link granting them access to see a file. Clicking on the options in that e-mail will enable you to set when the link will expire and an optional password should you want to keep the file restricted to select viewers.

Fellow TUAW blogger Dave Caolo, who helped me test this feature, pointed out that he was unable to Quick Look the photo I sent over. He had to download it in order to see the image. Clicking the download button opens a browser window before downloading the document. Tapping the shared files icon a second time will bring up a dialogue asking if you want to stop sharing, or e-mail the link again.

Watching movies and listening to music
You can upload movie and music files to your iDisk and play them through the iPhone, thus taking advantage of having more space with iDisk - especially if you have a smaller capacity iPhone. There are a couple of drawbacks. With music files, you will not get album art, even if you originally purchased the file from iTunes. And if you want to play something over the Edge network? Forget it. There's a good chance that iDisk will refuse to play it.

My test movie file was an episode of Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series, a spoof series that is also available as a podcast through iTunes. The episode I selected was 25.5MB. Here's how long it took for the episode to load and start playing:

Wi-Fi: 5 seconds
3G: 14 seconds
Edge: 47 seconds before getting an error message "This movie format is not supported."

The test music file was the opening track from the series 4 soundtrack of Doctor Who, also purchased through iTunes. I copied the file directly from my iTunes library and it was while playing this that I discovered that the album art did not carry through with the file. But, the track loaded quickly through the iDisk. While definitely not a substitute from using the built-in iPod features on the iPhone and iPod Touch, it does great for one-off files.

Viewing other files and public folders
PDFs and text documents are easy to view, though one extremely annoying thing is that the tops of these files are hidden by the mostly transparent navigation bar. It goes away after a few seconds, but if you lightly tap on it, it returns - making scrolling through documents pretty tedious. Data detectors for phone numbers do work in Word documents. Tap on a phone number in the document and you'll get a prompt asking you if you want to call it.

Adding public folders is also easy and only requires you knowing the screen name of the person whose folder you'd like to access. You can keep a list of public folders you have access to, making it easy to keep track of other users' folders.

There are some things that the iDisk can't do. You can't download, rename a file, or move files to another folder. You can delete files and folders, but you can't upload or create new ones. This leaves plenty of room for other apps such as Air Sharing and OneDisk to offer a unique set of features that Apple's currently doesn't. But if you've already shelled out the cost for MobileMe, this is a pretty good free alternative if uploading, downloading and a few other features aren't on your list of must-haves.

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