iPad: Transferring Files with iTunes

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Apple’s iPad may be great for watching movies, listening to music, playing games and reading books, but the company’s methods for moving documents between your computer and your iPad leave something to be desired. Emailing files to yourself is one way to transfer files to your iPad, but iTunes can handle the job for you, too, if you know where to look.

Supported apps for file transfers appear under the iTunes Apps tab.

To add files to your iPad through iTunes, do this:

  • Launch iTunes.
  • Connect your iPad to your computer with the USB dock cable.
  • Select your iPad from the Devices list in the iTunes Library column, then click the Apps tab.
  • Now scroll to the bottom of the iTunes window to see the File Sharing area.
  • Apps on your iPad that support file transfers appear in the Apps list. Selecting an application’s icon tells iTunes which app you want to transfer files for.
  • Click Add at the bottom of the Documents pane to find the documents you want to copy to your iPad.
  • Now click Sync to copy the documents to your iPad.

Click Add to select documents to copy to your iPad.

You can also select files in the Documents list to copy them to your computer. This is a fairly easy way to make sure the files you create on your iPad find their way to your desktop or laptop machine.

Files destined for your iPad, or files you created on your iPad, appear in the Documents pane.

Apple’s options for moving documents between your computer and iPad may not offer the company’s usual easy and intuitive flair, but at least we have the ability to shuttle documents from one device to another. Hopefully Apple will make the process easier with future iPad software updates, and I’m not alone on this one: Ted Landau thinks Apple has some work to do on iPad file transferring, too.

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Has anyone tried the “DropBox” application? Can the iPad access iWork files stored in the “DropBox” server?



I have tried DropBox, but I’m not sure you can navigate to it to pull stuff out since I think it has to be running at the same time which won’t happen until OS 4.0. I still think it’s monumentally retarded that i can’t use the iPad to view my iPhoto library that’s shared on my home network, or listen to my iTunes library shared on same. Annoying software nonsense that is tarnishing a tremendous piece of hardware.


HerFileFile or AirVideo in the app store will let you access your stuff


Sorry - HereFileFile

Jeff Gamet

I use Dropbox with my iPad all the time and it works great. The trick is to install GoodReader because it can link to my Dropbox and MobileMe accounts, turns my iPad into a local Web server, and can display pretty much every file type my iPad can handle. Added bonus: It’s only 99 cents.


Can’t you also work on files in your dropbox online in Safari?


Yeah. GoodReader works really well. Thanks for the info Phil.

Tonya Engst

A really cool GoodReader tip is if you are loading (or have loaded) a PDF in Mobile Safari, you can go up to the URL field and touch and drag over to the left hand side of the field. Then, enter a g as the first character in the URL. Load the URL. GoodReader will automagically launch and load the PDF.

Jeff Gamet

Tanya, that is brilliant! Thanks!

Ok, so why isn’t GoodReader $14.99 instead of 99 cents? Really.

Tonya Engst

The speed and out-of-the-box thinking with which GoodReader is being developed speaks of a certain crazy passion for the project and a brilliant mind. I’d love to have dinner with the developer. I think his motivation may go beyond money. Either that or he wants to establish early traction - there are lots of PDF-reading apps.


You can simply drag your documents to the appropriate Documents window in iTunes to place them “in” your iPad just as you can drag them out of the iTunes window to your desktop (or anywhere else on your “mothership” computer).


“I still think it?s monumentally retarded that i can?t use the iPad to view my iPhoto library that?s shared on my home network, or listen to my iTunes library shared on same.”

I second this.


Now click Sync to copy the documents to your iPad.

This step is NOT necessary. Document syncing works instantly and automatically.

For example, dock your iPad, go to the Apps tab and select GoodReader (if you have it installed, which you should). Launch GoodReader on the iPad and view the My Documents list. Now drop a PDF file into the GoodReader Documents list in iTunes. If you look quick, on the Mac you will see a quick “Syncing” message in the iTunes activity pane, and on the iPad you will see the screen switch quickly to a black screen with a Syncing message, then switch back to GoodReader. In a few seconds, your document will show up in GoodReader’s document list.

This is still not perfect, but it’s a lot better than having to do a full Sync to get the documents transferred.


?I still think it?s monumentally retarded that i can?t use the iPad to view my iPhoto library that?s shared on my home network, or listen to my iTunes library shared on same.?

I second this.

And I’ll third. The lack of AirTunes support is jaw-dropping.

I’ve also read Jeff’s article and I’m shocked at how poor the file transferring between the hub Mac and the iPad is. I haven’t experienced it firsthand because I still haven’t needed the iPad ‘iWorks’ apps yet (but I’m hoping to find an excuse) and I understand and support Apple’s reasoning for abstracting the details of the iPad’s file system from the user, but I’m shocked that Apple at the very least just didn’t sync the User/Documents folder between the devices. Keep the iPad’s copy of the file hidden from the user and only let each app open documents from that folder that it can understand.  Then have the folders sync with each other behind-the-scenes so that the user never has to worry about copying.

Then go further and do the same thing with MobileMe. Now a file you create on your iPad is on your desktop Mac and MobileMe too, plus any other Mac devices (iPhones, iTouch,...AppleTV?) and voil?, Apple has the same capabilities as DropBox and significantly increased the vale of MobileMe at the same time.

The only real question is why hasn’t Apple gone down this route?


@jimijazz and others

While you whinge, Apple are probably implementing better file transfer methods, probably hingeing on MobileMe. I know some think SJ is close to God, but even God took seven days to create the world.


While I agree that “Apple are probably implementing better file transfer methods,” it is a pity that they didn’t do so earlier. Okay, those of us who are more experienced with the vagaries of computing can accept that we need to use a round-about, not so obvious means of transferring data, but this is not an acceptable manner with which to approach the more “normal” end user. It is not obvious that iTunes, whose very name implies something to do with music, is the tool which must be explored for exchanging non-musical data, nor for anything else, other than managing one’s music library.

It’s confusing and confusing isn’t Apple-like.

I can wait with patience and, in the meantime, use a somewhat jerry-built solution, but many I know would simply give up in frustration.


If you select “Export” from My Documents (in Pages) or My Spreadsheets (in Numbers) on the iPad while it’s connected via USB to ITunes, the document will instantly transfer. From iTunes you can simply do a Save To:... to put the document on your computer.


Have you tried using the SecretPB app? I think it is cool if they just have make it faster.

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