There are times when I’d like to leave my laptop at home and work entirely “standalone” on my iPad. To do this, I need access to my files anytime and anywhere. The most viable and seamless way of doing this is by moving them to the cloud.
The “C” word…
Cloud storage is all the rage, at least it gets lots of press. But how many of us are using it in our day to day workflow? iCloud is conveniently built into many of Apple’s apps, but it “silos” documents by app type. Apple’s Pages app sees Pages files, Numbers sees Numbers files, etc. iCloud doesn’t allow me to go to one place and see all my files, regardless of the app that created them. I don’t know about you, but I want to be able to see all my files and organize my stuff the way I see fit.
I’ve had Dropbox and Box accounts for a few years. So the natural extension was to try to integrate the cloud accounts into my iPad workflow. This article will show you how to access and save files on Box from an iPad. I’m writing this article on my iPad using Pages while sitting by the pool, accessing the internet by teathering my iPad to my iPhone.
Note: For the sake of this article, I’ll assume you’ve signed up for a Box account. Like most cloud services, they offer a free, limited storage account. If you don’t have a Box account, sign up now. I’ll wait.
Let’s get started by launching Pages on your iPad. After the app launches, create a new document and type in some words of wisdom or whatever you want. Just get some text on the page.
Save to Box
Now, let’s save the document to your Box account. To do this, we’re going to need some information.
Box allows you to save to your Pages documents through the use of WebDAV. WebDAV is Geek for Web Distributed Authoring and Versioning, an extension of HTTP to facilitate collaborating between users editing and managing documents and files stored on a Web server. But I digress…
You’ll need Box’s WebDAV address and your account info:
WebDAV server address: https://dav.box.com/dav
Username: Your Box account name (email@example.com)
Password: Your Box password
OK, let’s really save it now…
If you’re not already there, go back to Pages and open the document you created. In the upper right corner of Pages is the “Share” icon, the box with an up arrow in it. (See below graphic.) Select the Share button.
From the list of options that appears, select “Send a Copy”. This will open another window with a variety of options. On the bottom, you should see an icon entitled WebDAV. Select it.
If this is the first time you’ve used this feature, which I assume it is otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this, you’ll be prompted to enter the server address and your account information. Using the server address listed above along with your account information, fill in the blanks, then select “Sign In”.
If you’ve entered all the information correctly, you’ll be taken to the page where you decide what format you’ll save your Pages document in: Pages/PDF/Word/ePUB. For the sake of this example, choose Pages.
Pages will create the document, then take you to your Box account where you’ll see your files and folders. Select the destination folder. When the folder opens, press “Send” in the upper right hand corner of the window.
What if i want to edit a file stored in Box?
Not only can you save documents into your Box account, you can edit files that are stored there.
To retrieve a document from Box, click on the “+” sign in the upper left corner of Pages. A menu with three choices will appear. Select “Copy from WebDAV”. Assuming you’re still logged in, you’ll be taken to your Box storage and you’ll see your familiar folder layout. Navigate to the folder that contains your file and select it.
The file will be copied into iCloud. Yes, this is a copy. You’re not editing the original in your Box account. If you make any edits, be sure to save the file back to Box.
The caveat is if you save your file in Pages format, it will save a zipped version of the document. The reason is due to the way the Box sync utility works. Many of Apple’s programs, like Pages and Numbers, save files in a format known as “packages”. While they look like a file to you and me, they’re actually a folder containing lots of other information. (Don’t worry if this doesn’t make sense.)
For reasons that escape me, Box has yet to address this issue. But not to worry! Check out “What’s Up with Box Sync” at the end of this article for important information on syncing.
By the way, if you choose to save in Word, PDF or ePub formats, the file will be saved as expected.
Things to keep in mind…
- After you save your document to your Box account, there’s still a version of your document in iCloud. You may or may not want to delete it so you don’t get confused as to which is the most current version. I usually delete it.
- When you open a document stored in Box, it’s placing a copy in iCloud. That’s the version that you’re working with within Pages. You have to remember to save it back to Box if you make any edits.
- You can only be connected to one WebDAV server at a time. If you want to access another WebDAV server, you have to log out of WebDAV and log into the other source.
- Download Box app for iPad if you haven’t done so already.
While saving and retrieving files is straight forward once you have the secret sauce, the process comes with a few caveats that make the whole thing less than seamless. Using cloud storage shouldn’t feel like rocket science. While Apple often goes to great lengths to play nicely in the sandbox, they haven’t made using iCloud as clean and simple as if you were accessing files on your laptop. With the use of WebDAV, this is as close to seamless as I’ve been able to come.
What’s up with Box sync?
Box has a syncing utility for your Mac/PC which allows you to keep your files in the cloud, but access them from your laptop as if that’s where they’re actually stored. But if you’re a Mac user, there’s an issue with their current sync utility.
As of this writing, Box’s current sync utility version is 4.0.4326. This version doesn’t understand Apple’s “package” format for storing files. (The package format is common within Unix.) Therefore, the sync utility won’t sync files between your Mac and the cloud. This version of the sync utility won’t sync package formatted files.
To get around this, I use Box sync version 3.4.25. You can download it from their web site. If you have a later version of Box sync installed, you’ll have to uninstall it before installing the older version.