By Werner Ruotsalainen on Thu, 10/27/2011
In my Wednesday's article, I've quickly mentioned PhoneDisk by Macroplant as the most recommended application for (Mac) OS X computers to access the installed (AppStore or Xcode) applications' home directories on non-jailbroken devices.
Now that I'll be traveling the next week lodging in hotels not necessarily having safes to keep my expensive 17” MacBook Pro, I've decided to leave it at home and take my Windows 7 Ultimate-based, old and, therefore, not too expensive IBM Thinkpad t42p with me. (And, after all, next week I only need to do some Windows Phone 7 coding so I don't necessarily need a Mac.)
However, in order to be able to upload new videos (to GoodPlayer as I only use non-iOS-native .ts files – mp4 files native to the built-in iPod / Videos player aren't the best quality at my legal [subscription] video source, tvkaista.fi) and ebooks (to GoodReader as I still prefer it to iBooks, even with the latter having, at last, received PDF in-text searching capabilities) on my ThinkPad without having to link these iDevices with it (with all its problems: having to register the iTunes account; having to delete all the original contents of all iDevices etc.), I've decided to give the current (188.8.131.52) version of Phone Disk a try on it as, when I mailed the developers in July, they promised they would release a working version in the near future. To my delight, everything went just fine. I'm pretty happy I've purchased a 5-license Family Pack (for some $40 after taxes) back in July – I can access my iDevices on even my inexpensive, no-problem-if-stolen travel notebook.
If you've faced the same problem as me, that is, you don't (necessarily) want (or can't, as is the case of iPhone 4S's non-4.3.3 iPad 2's) jailbreak your iDevice but would still want to transfer large media files to it as quickly as possible, you'll want to give a try to Phone Disk. It's way faster at transferring over USB2 than the traditional (Wi-Fi, Web browser- or, in some rare cases, FTP-based) methods of transferring media to players or readers. (I've measured about an order(!) of magnitude speed difference. I'll return to this question in a later article, which also shows you some examples of doing all this in your own TCP/IP code. Only for programmers, of course.) This is pretty much a difference if you want to upload a, say, 2-3 GByte video file to your iPad for watching. (With much smaller PDF files and the like, you may still want to try Wi-Fi transfer.)
In addition, if the app in question doesn't support any kind of wireless access to its home directory and you haven't jailbroken your phone, Phone Disk is the only way to access the contents of your application home directories to make, say, a backup of them to, for example, save (and, later, restore or just transfer to some other iDevice) the high scores in your games if they aren't synchronized via, say, Game Center.
Make sure you give it a try before purchasing. I don't think it wouldn't work on your system (it works just fine on mine under a legal Win7 Ultimate), but it's still better to be on the safe side – and you can use it up to 100 Mbytes of file transfer or some two or three app mount point changes.
Tips on accessing your apps' home directories
Speaking of app mount point changes... by default, when you start PhoneDisk, a new virtual driver will become accessible to all your file browsers (for example, the built-in File Explorer or the third-party Total Commander). By default, it shows the media directory of your iDevice – the one all Windows-based file handler tools are only capable of showing you if your iDevice isn't jailbroken. (Some of these tools may already be known to some of my long-time readers: for example, the T-PoT plug-in for Total Commander). To switch to an app directory, right-click the PhoneDisk icon in the dock and select your iDevice's name / Change Mount Point / Apps. Then, select the app name you'd like to access.
What about iExplorer?
PhoneDisk's free (!) little brother, iExplorer, formerly known as iPhone Explorer (which was also mentioned in several of my past articles), is also able to access the application directories. The current version (Mac: 184.108.40.206, Windows: 220.127.116.11), at last, has no problems of transferring more than one files or complete subdirectories at a time. Some of its disadvantages, compared to PhoneDisk, is
- the lack of full system integration. For example, It provides no access from Finder (OS X) / Explorer (Win) or TC (Win)
- lack of quick access. E.g., if you just want to peek into a JPG or video file, you can't double-click it to launch the system-wide photo viewer/video player etc. on it. Sure, it has some kind of an Auto-Previewer (enabled by default; you can disable it in the lower right corner), but it's more of a nuisance than a usable feature.
- lack of known Finder (Explorer etc.) shortcuts. E.g., if you double-click a folder, it won't be made the current one. This also means it in no way can order the files inside the folders (the ordering headers are pretty much useless)
- lack of reliable file transfer progress meter. You'll only see the transfer is in progress but get absolutely no information on where it actually is. PhoneDisk has a real meter.
Nevertheless, if you want to save some money and can live with its handicaps, I can only recommend it now that the mass file / (sub)directory transfer problems plaguing old(er) versions have all been fixed.
What about i-FunBox?
On my Windows 7 Ultimate, I've also tested the current (1.6.658.564) version of the also highly recommended i-FunBox. Unfortunately, while it's indeed an excellent app, it (still) can't access the application home directories of non-jailbroken iDevices. (On jailbroken ones, it can - but so can all the other file handler tools and plug-ins like T-PoT.)
It, however, has a really-really excellent feature: AppFastIn, which allows you to install IPA files on non-jailbroken devices without (!) ever touching iTunes on the desktop. You just collect the IPA files otherwise authorized to be used on your mobile device, press the App Install (AppFastIn) button on the toolbar, navigate to the directory your IPA files in (you can just transfer them from your regular computer, registered with Apple, to your other ones, not registered in AppStore, by simple file copying – on the Mac, they're at /Users/username/Music/iTunes/iTunes Media/Mobile Applications), select one or more (!) of them and click Open. The IPA files will be quickly deployed.
Note that this will only work with IPA files you've purchased from Apple and in no way breaks any kind of license agreements.
This way, another two of my main problems have been fixed. That is, my not wanting to
- add another of my computers to Apple's pool of (restricted) authorized computers (I hate it when my computers break down and, therefore, can't deauthorize my iTunes copies other than deauthorizing all of them – once a year)
- unlink application synchronization (or, for that matter, any kind of synchronization!) from my regular computer and link it to my temporary one. This would have resulted in massive deletions and reinstalls, which I really wanted to avoid.
Addendum – the list of iDevices I've tested with all the three apps mentioned (Phone Disk (18.104.22.168) , i-FunBox and iExplorer)
I've tested accessing (reading / writing to) the app directories and/or installing signed, legally purchased IPA's on the following iDevices without any problems:
iPhone 3G (non-jailbroken, 4.2.1)
iPod 2G (jailbroken, 4.2.1)
iPod 4G (jailbroken, 4.3.3)
iPad 1G (jailbroken, 5.0)
iPad 2G (non-jailbroken, 5.0)
I could transfer files (or install apps) from/to/on all these devices. I had absolutely no problems.