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Monday, May 10, 2010

Air Sharing Falls to Earth

I have previously mentioned my fondness for the iPhone application Air Sharing, which allows you to upload files in a variety of formats to an iPhone directly from a Web browser running on any platform, then access them from the phone. I have been using this on an almost daily basis for over a year to transfer MP3 files of podcasts to the iPhone so I can listen to them on my daily walks. Transferring the files this way avoids the whole runaround of having to import them into iTunes, then synchronise the phone with the iTunes library (and then, when you're done with them, having to manually delete them). Also, you can upload files to the iPhone from any machine with a Web browser able to connect to the phone with WiFi—you're not restricted to uploading from the machine with your iTunes library; this is extremely handy when travelling with a laptop or netbook which doesn't run iTunes.

Well, for folks who faithfully install updates released through the Apple Application Store, all of this came to an end on May 4th, 2010, when Avatron released Air Sharing v2.2 (6482). This “upgrade” completely wrecks the application as a means of uploading and listening to MP3 files. In earlier releases, you would simply tap on the MP3 file in the browser and a player screen would appear. You could then press the Sleep/Wake button on the top of the phone to turn off and lock the display, and the audio file would continue to play. If an incoming call arrived, the audio would mute and the ring tone begin to play, whereupon you could click the pick-up button on the headset microphone to answer the call. When you clicked again to end the call, the audio would resume right where you left off. The only irritation was that if you left the playback screen (for example to use another application), it would forget the position and restart from the beginning when you returned to the audio file, but this was tolerable once you were aware of it.

After the update, however, all of this is history. You can still upload MP3 files, to be sure, but when you play them a new, more cluttered, player screen appears. If you press the Sleep/Wake button, the audio now halts, which means the only way to listen to it is to leave the screen on. Running the backlight all the time chews through the battery at a prodigious rate. Whereas before an hour's listening to audio barely made a dent in the charge, now it consumes about 20% of available capacity. Further, since the touch screen remains active, the slightest inadvertent tap can reset your position in the file, blast your ears with maximum volume or mute the audio, or send you to another file entirely. Carrying the iPhone in your pocket means you must never allow anything to touch the screen lest this happen.

Now, when a call comes in, you still hear the ring tone and can answer it as before, but when you end the call it doesn't resume the audio. You have to wake up the phone and press the play button, and when you do it starts from the beginning, losing your place in the audio file. And every now and then the audio just quits and the phone goes to sleep, requiring you to dig it out and wake up the phone (this latter may be due to some sleep setting or other, but it never happened before). Finally, upon reaching the end of an MP3 file, the player now automatically starts the next file in the directory. This may make sense for an iPod playlist, but not for an application like this—why assume the next file in alphabetical order is the one the user wishes to listen to next or, for that matter, that the user wants anything to start automatically when the present file is done?

Put all of this together and you have an application become completely useless for the purpose for which I've been happily employing it for more than a year. I consequently hereby retract my recommendation of this product. If you've bought the program in the past and, like me, been burned by this update, you might consider “downgrading” (which in this case is an upgrade) to an earlier, functional release. If you have backups of your /Music/iTunes/Mobile Applications, simply find the earlier version of the application in your backups (it will be named Air Sharing.ipa, possibly with a number appended to the name) and restore it to your iPhone with this downgrade procedure. If you don't have backups, well this is why you should! If not, look in the Trash folder; you may get lucky and find an older version of Air Sharing there. In any case, be sure to make backup copies of all versions you find so you can restore a working release in the future should you need to do so.

Note that the process of downgrading to an earlier release will delete all files you've uploaded to the iPhone with Air Sharing. If you don't have copies of these files on your computers, be sure to download them from the iPhone before you begin the downgrade process so you'll be able to restore them when you're done.

I have replaced the most recent release with version 2.1.3 (4793), and after reconfiguring it and restoring uploaded files, it's working fine for me. Of course, I'll have to be careful from now on not to use the “Update All” button in the Application Store lest I once again end up with the new worthless version.

Update: I have been in touch with Avatron, who assure me that these problems are all software bugs in the v2.2 release, not intentional design changes. They should be fixed in a forthcoming release; I will post an update when that release is available. (2010-05-11 12:07 UTC)

Posted at May 10, 2010 14:18