Continuing (from last week) my coverage of hardware and software that gives my iPad a usefulness boost, I want to refer back to my review of the Seagate GoFlex Satellite. With that device, I was given 500GB of portable storage space for movies, music, photos, and more, all accessible via WiFi. The major benefit (at least to me) of the GoFlex Satellite is that you can take it with you. With its internal battery, you’ve got a maximum of 5 hours of streaming movies with your iPad. But what if you don’t need to take it with you? Or what if you need more than 500GB of storage space? Or, given the low price of today’s hard drives, what if you own a 1TB or even 2TB external USB drive and simply want to make it available to your iPad? Well, in any or all of these instances, you might want to take a look at the CloudFTP device.
The CloudFTP device was originally a Kickstarter project that was successfully funded back in January 2012. It’s now a retail product available for purchase by anyone, and it fills a much-needed gap for iPad users who have various mobile storage devices (such as cameras or hard drives) and wish to access them via WiFi. In a nutshell, you connect the CloudFTP device to a camera or hard drive or flash drive via a USB cable. The CloudFTP can either create an ad-hoc network that your iPad can see and join or it can join an existing WiFi network. Either way, your iPad will be able to browse (with the Safari app) the contents of the connected storage device. Depending on the device you have connected to the CloudFTP and the type of media, you can stream a movie to up to 3 different devices or music or photos to up to 8 different devices.
It provides a number of different services, including being able to backup data to cloud services such as Dropbox, but I’ve not actually used it to do so. Instead, I’ve configured it to make a 1TB external hard drive available to my iPad when I’m not traveling. There’s simply no reason to stream my movies and music from the GoFlex when I’m at home — I’d rather have the GoFlex Satellite charged and ready to go when I need it. Therefore, I’ve copied all my digital movies to the 1TB drive and stream movies with the CloudFTP while at home. The other benefit to the CloudFTP is that those same movies are available to my wife (and the kids’ movies are available to my sons) for her iPad when I’m away. (Another nice feature is that with AirPlay, I can stream movies with the CloudFTP to my iPad and then mirror the iPad’s screen to my HD TV using my Apple TV — my DVD player goes pretty much unused these days.)
Are there limitations to the CloudFTP? Well, it does have a 5-hour maximum battery life, so any low-powered USB storage device you connect it to will last a while, but you can operate the CloudFTP while it’s plugged in and charging, so I’m not sure this is that big of a drawback. Larger devices that require their own power supplies (such as my USB external drive) cannot operate from the 5W internal battery provided by the CloudFTP, so it’s not really a good substitute for the GoFlex since I’d need a place to plug in the external drive when I wanted to use it. (That, and the 1TB drive is a beast in size and weight.) It also has a somewhat limited range — when the CloudFTP device is more than 20 or 30 feet from the iPad, connectivity suffers. (I keep the CloudFTP and the external drive in the living room behind the television and tucked into a drawer, but I do have to transport it upstairs if I want to watch movies in bed.) I’ve also tried (and failed) to make it give me access to an old laptop (trying to access its hard drive as a secondary device instead of a bootable primary drive). It was worth a shot.
I’ve also inquired as to whether the CloudFTP device can provide access to the connected storage device like an FTP server over the Internet with the proper credentials. This feature is not supported right now, but I was told that a future update to the firmware might support remote access — if that ever happens, you simply keep the CloudFTP device connected to your home network and access it remotely. I’ll try to stay on top of this and update this post should that feature become available.
Stick the CloudFTP in your travel bag when heading on vacation and you’ve got a great way to immediately stream the photos on your digital camera to your iPad without having to download them to a PC or laptop. Or just keep it plugged in and connected to an inexpensive external hard drive and use it as a dedicated movie or music server. The company is currently working on some dedicated apps, too, that will allow you to move files back and forth between iPad and the storage device via the CloudFTP device. Until those are available, there are solutions for moving files back and forth using the GoodReader app.
The CloudFTP is a great little niche solution if all you’re needing is to add streaming capabilities to a USB storage device you already own (or want to purchase). Again, given the extremely low cost of hard drives these days (not SSDs, but those are coming down, too) you can easily create an ad-hoc media server solution for your iPad with just the CloudFTP and an inexpensive drive.
Note: I’d like to thank Sharona and the folks at HyperShop for providing a CloudFTP test unit to review.