updated 08:09 am EST, Tue December 10, 2013
Five ways to read and watch beyond the storage of the iOS device itself
(This is the first of a new series to showcase apps the staff at MacNN and Electronista use and recommend) This house was an early adopter of iOS, seeing it on first-generation iPod Touches. At the time, it was more of a novelty than anything else -- and of little actual value to us other than as a slick interface to play back our iTunes music and the limited amount of video we owned. Fast-forward six years, and the house is now replete with iDevices and users, ranging from toddlers to senior citizens. As the years have passed, one of our principal uses of iOS is now as a media extender for remotely stored media and files: PDFs, music and video alike. Here are our five apps that make sharing, viewing and enjoying mixed media easier.
This was an early purchase for our iPads, and has existed since the early days of the iOS App Store. Using a free server app installed on an OS X or Windows-based computer, the $3 app (iOS only) receives selected videos from the computer. The stored videos can be in nearly any format, with any necessary file conversion for iOS playback done on-the-fly by the server app. This saves enormous amounts of conversion time, and frees us from worrying about what permutation of formats a given video is in. If you've got a burly enough home Internet connection (or little concern for consumed cellular data), the files hosted on the computer can be streamed across the Internet as well.
We got the $5 Goodreader (iOS only) before the iBookstore hit its stride, and still don't regret the purchase. There are free PDF readers, and have always been -- but the extra niceties in Goodreader make it worthwhile for us. In addition to PDF notation, the app can look across a local area network for files, using either AFP or SMB protocols for transfer from a server. Recent reviews suggest that iOS7 support isn't great, and the app is currently prone to crashing, but our experience with iOS6 and earlier has been superb. The app developer has promised us that a full iOS7 version is expected shortly.
If you look hard enough, just about any magazine can be acquired cheaply or free of charge. The only problem with magazines in a busy family is the "pile of shame" that accumulates when issues don't get read and end up tossed in a pile. Before you know it, the next issue has arrived. Next Issue is a free app (also available for Android) for digital magazine versions with a flat monthly subscription fee that allows users to read as many magazines as possible, including back issues, from their selection of well over 100 titles. The new issues are day and date to the news stand, with several of the titles we read regularly arriving in the app before the remainder of our physical subscription arrives by the mail.
The Martha Stewart family of publications is notably absent from the list of available titles, but we're willing to bet that not that many of our readers will miss them. Subscriptions are $10 a month, which includes 113 monthly titles. The next tier, at $15 per month, adds People, Entertainment Weekly, Time, and other popular weekly titles. No more "pile of shame" or trips to the recycling center!
Apple's Music app (plus iTunes Match):
While not technically an App Store app, we find ourself coming back to this one. The Music app itself is functional, limited to what iTunes supports -- but that's the genius of it. The app (iOS only, of course) reaches its full potential when combined with an iTunes Match subscription. For $25 per year, the iOS app can play back up to (and over, since iTunes purchases don't count against the total) some 20,000 matched songs from your iTunes library, including saved playlists. Apple's iTunes Match is the answer to a question we've had for ages -- why can't we consolidate iTunes across computers and devices, allowing any user to add playlists, purchases and music to the communal library? It requires that a single Apple ID be used, but it has turned out to be this family's perfect "cloud storage" locker for accessing a huge amount of music on any device, anywhere, anytime.
Since the collectible comic market collapsed, stacks of comics can also be a storage burden. Longboxes are fun to paw through, but if you've got a hankering for one particular issue, it can be a hassle to find it. ComicZeal is a $5 app (iOS only) that aims to change that. Using iTunes file sharing, users can load DRM-free comics that they may own in .cbr or .cbz format for filing, perusal, and consumption. While we do wish that the app could fetch files, like GoodReader, its generally not much of a hassle to load issues, or series, to read in advance.