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Cross-platform photo sharing needs a face-lift

By Taylor Martin September 6, 2013, 5:40 pm

Earlier today, I made a video (embedded below) about sharing pictures between iOS, Android, and Windows Phone. In that video, I noted that although there are ample ways to send a small file from one phone to another in a close vicinity, there really isn’t a way that feels … quite up to snuff with all the other capabilities of our powerful pocket computers.

Using Bluetooth works between Windows Phone and Android, is simple to setup, and is usually pretty reliable. But it doesn’t work (officially) with iOS; the transfer rate is also pretty slow for larger files; and it has a setup process and requires coordination from both parties.


Third party apps like Hoccer make transfers between Android and iOS quick and simple, but they can be unreliable and cut Windows Phone out of the picture. Cloud storage options often do, as well. Dropbox, Box, Drive, Copy and others support iOS and Android, but not Windows Phone, and the third-party clients typically offer a handful of compromises.

You could always use the trusty ol’ email or MMS, but those aren’t perfect either. MMS seriously degrades the quality of images, and email can be a lot of legwork to send just one file a few inches. That picture will go through a series of servers and travel hundreds of miles, just to come nearly full circle and land inches away from where it started.

There is one thing most of these methods have in common: they’re all straight out of the BlackBerry era, maybe with the exception of Bump and Hoccer. And I can’t help but think there’s a better way of doing things. Motorola and Samsung are on the right track with Droid Zap and Group Play. However, these services, as seamless as they may be, are not compatible with all Android devices, much less Windows Phone or iOS.

So what’s the answer? There isn’t a finite solution that exists today, but that’s not to say it couldn’t. Below are three things that could make mobile file sharing, independent of OS, much easier.


Better NFC standards


NFC, for what it’s worth, works between Android and Windows Phone. If you tap a Lumia 1020 and a Moto X or Droid Ultra together, you can send URLs back and forth using Beam on Android and Tap+Send on Windows Phone. The two, since they use the same protocol work together seamlessly.

However, you cannot send large files between the two platforms using NFC. This is because NFC for large file transfers is nothing more than a digital handshake that passes the connection on to create a Bluetooth FTP or Wi-Fi Direct protocol.

The thing is, it’s entirely possible, because you can send files back and forth between Windows Phone and Android using Bluetooth without a problem. Admittedly, tapping to send versus going through the motions of connecting via Bluetooth is much quicker and much more polished.

We have high hopes this interoperability will eventually happen. But that only solves sharing between Windows Phone and Android, not iOS, since no iOS devices come equipped with NFC. And we’re certain if Apple ever decides to use NFC, it will not want to adhere to the same protocols and standards the other platforms use. That would make things work too well together.


A secured WLAN

To transfer files between my Android phone and MacBook, I often use WiFi File Explorer Pro. Essentially, you connect your phone to the same wireless network, and it creates a lightweight web server that allows you to view your phone’s internal storage via web browser on your computer. Type the provided IP address into your browser address bar, and a drag and drop file system is shown.


There is no reason something like this for phone to phone shouldn’t also exist, especially considering mobile phones can be easily and quickly converted into a portable router.

Currently, if you try to load the IP address from one phone on another on the same wireless network, you cannot connect to the server. This, I imagine is because how poorly the web interface would work from a phone.

This method wouldn’t be perfect. It would be a little too nerdy and complicated for basic users, but it wouldn’t be difficult to rig it to be a little more user-friendly, which gets me to my final point.


Bump on steroids, minus the bump

Using the same technology Bump uses or even NFC, a cross-platform application with Wi-Fi direct capabilities could be easily made. Tap two phones together and instead of simply sharing a photo, a privately shared network could be created, in which users could add photos they want to share into a shared folder.

“Hey, let’s fist bump to share some pictures! Yeah! Oh, it didn’t work? Bump me again, bro!”

In actuality, Bump isn’t all that bad. But the idea behind it is a bit … gauche. Phones are fairly fragile. And as cool and showy as Bump and Hoccer are, slinging and bumping your phone all over the place isn’t always safe. (At least Hoccer allows you to slide files across the screen to initiate a share.) But the on the fly connection, when it works, is fantastic.

Pair this OS-agnostic connection with a secure WLAN, and it could be golden – folder and file sync between devices.


Do you feel cross-platform photo sharing on mobile could use a refresh? Tell us in the comments section below how you share pictures with your friends who use different mobile platforms. And if you’re feeling creative, share your thoughts on how you think cross-platform picture sharing could be improved for mobile.

One of the coolest solutions I have come across yet is Amnesia Razorfish Connect from 2011 – a connected surface that you can drag and share photos on. Seriously, it’s awesome. Too bad it retailed for $7,600. Needless to say, it never took off, but it showed some true ingenuity.


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