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iPad and the Digital Hub

Yesterday I tweeted about a feature I would like:

Want: iPod on iPad able to browse desktop iTunes à la Home Sharing. Watching WWDC videos on iPad w/o having to sync first—yum.

I received a few recommendations for Air Video and StreamToMe. I’d forgotten that I’d downloaded Air Video but hadn’t set up the server; I’d also forgotten about StreamToMe even though I subscribe to Matt Gallagher’s blog.

I fired up the Air Video Server and started it serving the iTunes U playlist. Connecting and browsing from the iPad client was simple and straightforward. Trying to stream a WWDC video paused to buffer annoyingly often—which I blame less on the software than the 2GHz Mini it was running on, which probably also had the misfortune to have Time Machine kick in at the same time. But it doesn’t seem to have a functionality I implied by the “Home Sharing” reference: Copy the video to the iPad to watch elsewhere later. StreamToMe looks to have similar features (and lack thereof) to Air Video, so I didn’t test it.

I appreciate the recommendations, I really do. But neither of these can get past the one requirement I didn’t specify: I don’t want a third-party solution. My tweet was really a passive-aggressive desire to have Apple implement this.

I have fully committed to iTunes being my central media repository. It serves 157GB of my music, 148GB of movies, 100GB of TV shows, 144GB of iTunes U videos (primarily WWDC videos) and a variable amount of audio and video podcasts. As a result, I don’t have many files in formats foreign to iTunes, which both these applications seem focused on solving and I expect they handle admirably.

Both of my AppleTVs can access any file in the desktop’s iTunes library, even though with 40GB and 160GB drives they obviously can’t hold copies of everything. (True, I can’t instruct an AppleTV to copy files to itself, but I don’t feel the desire to pick it up and take it elsewhere, either.)

My iPad cannot access all the files.

My laptop can browse any file on the desktop’s iTunes library; thanks to Home Sharing it can copy any file just by dragging it to the local library. It can even browse other libraries that are shared on the network.

My iPad cannot copy files to its local library, or browse other shared libraries.

The “digital plumbing” is there in DAAP and Home Sharing to make this happen, but third party developers are left to write their own servers to support their clients. I have no reason to distrust InMethod or Matt Gallagher—and I’m pretty sure that either of them can write a better server than I ever could—but each additional server increases the likelihood of conflicts and security problems, so I don’t want to install and maintain additional, practically redundant servers.

I want a digital hub; one machine serving the same media in different ways is not a hub.

During the iPad announcement, Steve Jobs positioned the iPad as a third type of device “between a laptop and a smartphone.” In my experience, that’s an astute description. In regards to media handling, though, I feel the iPad still behaves much more like my iPhone than my MacBook Pro.