Hands on with CloudFTP: iOS data storage to go
Want to expand your iPad's storage? Need a little extra data on your iPhone? These devices don't offer a general purpose USB port or SD drive slot. Sure, you can use Apple's Camera Connection Kit to import photos, but you'll miss out on full USB drive integration for all kinds of data like movies, music, and documents. For that, now there's CloudFTP.
The CloudFTP project started as a Kickstarter initiative and soon graduated to a product you can purchase online. It is a USB-powered pocket-sized mobile system that creates a local WiFi network. It serves whatever data you've connected via an HTML5 interface. For US$99, you can plug in any USB device -- stick or hard drive -- and explore its contents. Hop into Safari and the data is laid out in a tree-based browser.
The device is powered by a simple USB connector. Wherever you have USB power to recharge your iPhone or iPad, you'll easily be able to charge your CloudFTP as well. The case is nicely pocket-sized and the unit feels quite light and portable.
Unfortunately, the promise of CloudFTP is let down by several implementation details. To test, I first looked at a number of files supported by Mobile Safari's browser. JPEG files, text files, and other standard file formats were all easily viewed from within the browser. The challenge came from material that was not natively supported.
I loaded on an MKV formatted video onto a USB stick with the goal of viewing it in a third party application. I powered up CloudFTP, accessed the attached data and found that there was no way to download that data and then use the "Open In" menu. Instead, I was greeted by a "cannot play" icon and could proceed no further in Safari.
Instead, developer Daniel Chin explained that I needed to access the server from supporting apps. He personally recommended GoodReader, OPlayer and iFiles. Each of these titles offers built-in networking access to external files, allowing you to download unsupported formats like MKV outside of the Safari interface.
Note: CloudFTP can only write to the USB drive if it is formatted as FAT32 or NTFS. Drives that are formatted as HFS, HFS+, exFAT, or EXT 2/3/4 are read-only.
For all that the interface is HTML and iOS-like, it felt clumsy and hung more often than I liked. It never remembered my preference for List view over Thumb view, always reverting back to thumbs whenever I reloaded the main page. The text overlay font was a little crude, and the data format icons (like the ?'s and the W's shown in the above screenshot) didn't seem fully polished. Admittedly, this is a Kickstarter project, so you need to take the homebrew element into account.
As a personal bugaboo, CloudFTP uses standard Apple interface elements in non-standard ways; e.g., disclosure chevrons leading to pop-up alerts. (Grey chevrons are normally used for submenu navigation, blue accessory chevrons for customization.)
The device also experienced a number of crashes during testing, where the net service shut down completely. I mentioned service hangups already, which usually resolved themselves after repeat attempts.
It was easy enough to restart the system (a simple press on the power button) and to detect that the unit had shut down (green light on, blue light had gone off, plus certain noises stopped) and respond, but that was pretty disappointing for a production device.
Speaking of noises, my biggest complaint about Cloud FTP is the unit squeals. Whenever a USB device was attached and in use, the CloudFTP emitted an annoying super-high-pitched noise until the storage was ejected. I used the "Remove USB device safely" option about 8 seconds into the following sound clip.
I really like the idea behind CloudFTP. With the technology in its current state, I cannot really recommend it for anyone beyond basic needs for offloading files from your device, especially if high pitch noises bother you. I wanted there to be so much more there than there was, and despite a fine concept, the tech didn't deliver the killer features I was hoping for.
Update: We contacted Hypershop and requested another unit to test. The developer Daniel Chin sent over his personal unit. The sounds were reduced (refer to the sound clip that follows) in the second device.
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