In Mac OS X 10.7 Lion, Apple introduced what appeared to be a pretty promising feature called AirDrop. The goal was simple: to let you simply share files across your local network without the need for emails, flash drives, or complicated setups. Unfortunately, despite their efforts to bring the Mac and iOS to some level of feature parity, over two years later, AirDrop is still a Mac only feature.
Enter Instashare, an app which claims to be “AirDrop for iOS and OSX”, and plans to add Windows and Android versions in the near future. So, did the developers behind Instashare really beat Apple at their own game? Read on to find out!
Design & User Experience
First things first: Instashare is a beautiful app. On both the Mac and iOS, the app’s subtle, but unique style shines. Although it’s a cross-platform app, the developers did a great job of ensuring that Instashare’s style is consistent across platforms while still guaranteeing that the app works the way it should on each. That’s important, going forward, as they’re promising support for both Windows and Android in the near future. By defining a distinct but adaptable look and feel for the app, the developers ensured that it will play nicely across even bigger platform divides than just iOS and the Mac.
But as anyone will tell you, beauty is much more than skin deep. To that end, Instashare does the best job it could be expected to, without breaching Apple’s strict developer guidelines for iOS. On the Mac, the process of sharing a file is just as easy, if not easier than through AirDrop. Simply drag any file from Finder to the menu bar application, and you’ll be presented with either a list of already discovered devices or a pretty slick radar animation if it’s still searching. From that point, you only have to accept the file transfer on the receiving end and it’ll begin downloading.
Unfortunately, this process is made somewhat more complicated whenever you’re transferring to an iOS device since you’ll have to have the app open at all times. Again, this isn’t really the developer’s fault, and they did as much as could be expected given the limitations of iOS. Finally, although the Instashare shows a dock icon by default, most users will probably want to disable that through the app’s preferences, as it’s essentially just a menu bar app.
All things considered, Instashare is a perfect example of what a cross-platform app should look and work like. It’s distinct without being gaudy, and works exactly the way most users would expect on both platforms.
When transferring files from a Mac to another Mac, the choice between Instashare and AirDrop is pretty much a draw, with similar speeds and functionality. If you have an older Mac, however, Instashare is probably the better option, with a wider range of supported models. Whereas AirDrop can work over WiFi or ethernet with a simple terminal command, Instashare supports both WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity. Again, this comes down to your individual situation, but it’s worth noting that Bluetooth is generally slower than either WiFi or Ethernet.
Where Instashare really shines, though, is in its cross-platform support. With apps for both the iPad and iPhone, it’s a far more compelling solution than AirDrop, which is still Mac-only. Then, there’s also the promise of apps for both Windows and Android in the near future. That’ll make it even more the best cross-platform sharing solution.
In reviewing the app, I tried transferring every conceivable kind of file, and Instashare worked without fail; as long as your device can open it, Instashare can send it. My only real feature complaint is that there doesn’t appear to be any easy way to send URLs via the app. While there’s plenty of other apps that can do this, it would seem like a reasonably sensible addition to Instashare, and would increase its usefulness by leaps and bounds.
Then, there’s the issue of the potential performance hit on your Mac, since just as with any additional app that will likely remain “always-on”, you can expect some extremely nominal hit in battery life and performance. But, in layman’s terms, Instashare only uses about twice the memory of Dropbox and about the same amount as Finder. For most users this won’t make a big difference, but for those with older machines, it’s something to note.
For most users of Instashare, the main draw of the app is probably it’s cross-platform compatibility, and luckily, the Instashare iOS app is pretty great. Like the Mac app, they can work either over Bluetooth or WiFi and they’re able to both send and receive files. Unfortunately, due to the limitations in the iOS file system, you can only send photos photos from the mobile apps. Luckily, the developers came up with something of a workaround, enabling most types of files to be sent to Instashare through the “Open in…” dialog found in many iOS apps. It’s not a seamless solution by any means, but within the walled garden of iOS, it works well. Once you’ve received a file, you’ll see that “Open in…” dialog again, this time, allowing you to take files out of the app.
If you’ve got a Mac and an iOS device, you owe it to yourself to give Instashare a try. After using it for about a week, I can confidently say that it’s earned its place in my workflow as one of those apps I just can’t live without. Moreover, the app is completely free on the Mac, at least while in beta, with no advertisements included. On iOS, the app is initially free with the option to remove ads for just $0.99; the ads are pretty ugly, but the app is so useful that this would be a steal at twice the price. So you can grab the ad-free upgrade for your iOS device, use it for free on your Mac, and have the best possible Mac-to-iOS sharing experience.
So, while I’d love to see Apple bring AirDrop functionality to iOS devices, Instashare has proven itself a worthy alternative.