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DropDAV Connects (Finally!) iWork and Dropbox

DropDAV
File management on Apple’s iOS devices is still a quirky endeavor. While many (most?) use Dropbox (see previous ProfHacker coverage) to view files, or to edit text files, Apple’s showcase iWork suite (Pages, Numbers, and Keynote) can’t save to Dropbox. Most of the time, the way to get a file into Pages for editing is to open it as an attachment–which is ok, but there’s no way to save the file you’ve been working on to Dropbox. And while you can open files from Dropbox into an iWork app, there has not been an easy way to go in the other direction.

Apple’s apps do support the WebDAV (Web-based Distributed Authoring and Versioning) standard for writing/reading files, so if you have access to a WebDAV service, you can use that. And, by coincidence, subscribing to Apple’s Mobile Me service includes a feature called iDisk, which is a WebDAV service that functions in some ways like a Mac-centered Dropbox. And that’s ok, but Mobile Me seems expensive for the amount of value it delivers.

DropDAV is a useful recent service that bridges this gap. If you have a Dropbox account, DropDAV gives you a WebDAV wrapper for it, which allows the iWork apps, Omnifocus, and a few other apps to read and write files in Dropbox. Almost: What it really does is allow the iWork apps to copy files to and from Dropbox, as this menu choice makes clear:

Screenshot of Keynote

"Copy to WebDAV"

This is an important difference! One of the virtues of Dropbox is that whatever changes you make to a file stored in it are propagated anywhere else you log in to your account–your phone, your home computer, a classroom workstation, etc. Instead of multiple different versions of the same file lurking around, there’s just the one instance of it. That’s *great*. That’s not true with DropDAV (or any other WebDAV client) and iWork. iWork copies your file into the app’s memory. Whatever changes you make, then, only exist in the iPad app. They don’t go back to Dropbox until you choose “Copy file to WebDAV,” at which point a *new* instance of the file is copied to your account. That’s sub-optimal, but is a good start.

If you want to use the DropDAV service, there are only two steps:

  • First, you go to their website and enter your Dropbox credentials (*). You can do this on any browser, on your iPad or not.
  • Second, from the app, you select “Copy to WebDAV” or “Copy from WebDAV” (as above). You’ll see this:
Keynote screenshot

WebDAV credentials screen

For server address, you put https://dav.dropdav.com, and for the rest you use your Dropbox credentials. At this point, you should be able to copy files to and from your Dropbox account into iWork. (NB: The Dropbox API says you can’t use this method on files bigger than 300MB.)

Easy! DropDAV’s cost is pegged to the size of your Dropbox account–if you have the free version, then DropDAV is free to use.

Bonus tip 1: Try using Send to Dropbox to get attachments out of e-mail and into Dropbox automatically.
Bonus tip 2: Caleb McDaniel explains, with an assist from Digital Humanities Questions and Answers how he uses iAnnotate for grading, in part to avoid the pain-in-the-neck aspects of iWork’s file management.

*I’ll grant you that this sounds a trifle shady, security-wise. Even Send to Dropbox uses the OAuth standard. And after this week’s Dropbox security alert (but! see this thread in their forums for some perspective), people might be a little leery of this service.

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