I didn’t appreciate this when I was beta testing OmniPresence (because the beta was Mac-only and didn’t involve the iPad) but The Omni Group has really done something amazing with this new synching software. In essence, they’ve married the best of Dropbox and iCloud, and they’ve given it away for any developer to use.
The Problem with Dropbox
Dropbox is no question a rock-solid solution for synching files. And it’s about as simple as a synching solution can get on the Mac. Create a folder. Put anything you want in that folder. Everything in that folder is available everywhere. Perfect, right?
Well, it’s perfect on the Mac, but when you then move over to accessing your files with your iPad, things get a little clunky. And not just because of Apple’s restrictions about sharing data between apps. I actually believe in what Apple is trying to do with removing the file system on the iPad. No matter how much we nerds scream about it, the file system is probably the biggest barrier average users have to learning to use a Mac. There is an elegant simplicity to opening an app on an iPad and seeing only the files that app understands and nothing else. Using a solution like Dropbox on the iPad always feels like a step backwards, no matter how you slice it. Navigating folder structures just feels wrong. It’s simply not native to the platform.
The Problem with iCloud
iCloud, at the same time, is much better on the iPad than it is on OS X. It was created with the removal of the Finder in mind. That’s fine on the iPad, but we expect and want to use the Finder on our Macs. We get frustrated when we can’t simply see a folder with all our files in it on the Mac. Where did my shared files go? How to I share them with anyone else? iCloud is downright confusing and extremely limiting on the Mac.
What OmniPresence manages to do is behave like Dropbox on the Mac and iCloud on the iPad. And that’s just brilliant. On your Mac, set up a folder, just like you would for Dropbox, drop anything you want in there, and it syncs. Move it around, make subfolders, whatever. But then open any OmniPresence-enabled app on your iPad, and you see just the files pertaining to that app in your document list. Make changes on either device, and the file gets auto-updated, just like with iCloud, even while open. Even if you create subfolders on the Mac, the documents all show up in your list natively on the iPad without having to drill down anywhere. And you’re not copying the file from your Dropbox app into the iPad app, making changes, and then manually syncing back; all changes are synched back in seconds automatically.
As if this weren’t cool enough, Omni then takes it another two steps by 1) allowing you to sync to your own server instead of Omni’s and 2) releasing the synch software as open source, so anyone can do whatever they want with it. This removes any ambiguity about security or monetization motivations. Don’t trust Dropbox or Omni with your files? Fine, just set it up and run it on your own server.
This may all sound like a commercial for The Omni Group, but I’m just stunned they’ve managed to pull this off so cleanly. I hope a lot of other app developers realize what an opportunity this is and start embedding this functionality into their apps.