Using DropPhox During Class to Manage Photos

Cameras in classBefore this semester, I’ve never needed/wanted to share photos via Dropbox. While I use Dropbox every day, Flickr is my repository for photos–personal, ProfHacker- and GeekDad-related, it doesn’t matter. My family’s camera uses an Eye-Fi card to sync our photos both to my wife’s computer and to my Flickr account. (Her computer is backed up locally via Time Machine and remotely via BackBlaze, to boot.) Photos taken with my iPhone usually have 4 different destinies: they’re just quick reminders (“where’s the car?”; “what kind of shampoo?”–these get deleted daily), headshots of people for the Contacts app, pictures of text for OCR (via Evernote), or snapshots of my kid or dog that I want to keep (which all get uploaded to Flickr via FlickIt). Dropbox never came into it.

This semester’s comp class has changed that. My composition class is reading comic books, and it’s super convenient to have an easy way for students to be able to get a panel or page onto the projector in the class, which doesn’t have a document camera. At first, I made sure someone in every group had a phone or iPod-like-device able to take a photo and e-mail it to my campus address. I’d open it up and put it on screen. Those pictures are often pretty big, though, and I don’t like having my e-mail up on screen in front of everyone. Plus, it’s a little off-putting to ask ,”ok, who has a phone who can do this?,” and then divide people into groups on that basis.

Here’s where Dropbox–and a brand-new $1.99 iPhone app called DropPhox–are helpful. Pictures taken with the DropPhox app are automagically synced to your DropBox folder. (To be clear–this isn’t a photo-management app: You have to use the in-app camera.) What’s more, this happens in the background, so you can continue taking other photos while earlier photos are syncing. This way, I can just put the destination folder in Dropbox up on the projector, and the photos pop up as they sync.

This has a couple of advantages: first, it stays out of my inbox–already a hellish place to be. Second, these in-class photos aren’t even saved to my phone, so they don’t clutter up my personal photostream. And third, because Dropbox is just a folder like any other, you can use a file-management app like Hazel (for Mac users–Windows/Linux users please list equivalents in comments) to delete the contents of the folder at given intervals. In short, DropPhox lets these photos be treated like the for-this-class-only ephemera that they are, with very little difficulty.

That’s just how I use this app. DropPhox is intended, of course, to provide a one-tap solution that merges your iPhone’s camera functions with Dropbox’s cloud-based syncing and backup. (I’m guessing this is because no one syncs their phones with iTunes regularly.) Everything your camera can do–geotags, video, flash (with the iPhone 4)–DropPhox supports. Once you give the app your Dropbox account, it works exactly like the regular camera app, so the interface is familiar:

DropPhox photo interface

When you take the picture, you’re given the retake/use choice that most iPhone apps offer when invoking the camera, and then uploading starts:

DropPhox uploading interface

The only thing to remember is that if you quit the app before the photos finish syncing, you’ll have to start the sync over next time the app starts.

You can tweak the photo size that’s saved to Dropbox, turn geotagging on/off, and turn on/off saving a copy to the phone and whether to display a badge of unsynced photos–and that’s it! Could not be easier. The only that’s not intuitive is that to reach the in-app settings–for example, to set up your Dropbox account, or to access your queue of un-synced photos–you tap a button labeled “Cancel,” which doesn’t feel right.

On balance, DropPhox is a clever app that makes Dropbox even more usable and intuitive, and that saves me a few minutes of cat-herding every time I teach this semester.

Do you use Dropbox for photos? Have a comparable app? Let us know in comments!

Photo by Flickr user Ivan Wang / Creative Commons licensed

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