Instashare: Free AirDrop-like File Sharing for iPads and Macs

Instashare

Instashare is a new app for iOS and OS X devices that lets you share files wirelessly for free over Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. I’ve been playing with it on and off for the last week, and I have to say I have been impressed with its capabilities. More importantly, it could have some great uses for a tech savvy teacher in the classroom.

How does it work? Simple really. The Instashare app acts like a bridge between your devices. You send files from your device to Instashare, and Instashare sends it to a device within Bluetooth range, or on the same Wi-Fi network. Best of all, it works with almost any file on your iPad via the sharing menu. Simply select to open your file in another app, and then send it to Instashare.

It works with Pages, Keynote, Numbers, and anything you can put in your Camera Roll. It works with Google Drive, Notability and just about any other app that lets you open your final product into another app. Notable exclusions include the likes of Garageband and Educreations.

Free iPad Files Sharing with Instashare

In the classroom, this could certainly add flexibility to the use of the iPad. Imagine a collaborative writing project where each student writes a part of the story and then sends it to the next student via Instashare. The same could be done with a collaborative video project. If all students need access to a video shot on one iPad, the owner could share it with others so that they can work on the media in iMovie or other video apps.

Videos taking up too much storage? Students can share their iMovie or ExplainEverything projects with the teacher’s Mac, and then have them saved to a flash drive or burned to a DVD. Want to add a video from your Mac to a Keynote presentation on your iPad? No problem. Send it to your Camera Roll via Instashare. It could even be a useful way for students to hand in assignments to their teacher, although currently it does not support more than one transfer at the same time. Still, it does mean no printing, no email, no fuss.

The iOS app is free, and so is the Mac app (currently listed as BETA). A Windows app is in the works, and so is an Android version. It is unclear right now as to whether they will all communicate with each other, but I am sure that would be the plan. Transferring files from iPad to iPad was almost flawless for me and worked almost every time. Going from my Mac to an iPad was a little more inconsistent at times and occasionally produced an error message, but it is a BETA app so it will surely become more reliable in time as they continue to develop it.

So, if you are looking for a quick and easy way to transfer files between iOS devices, or to and from a Mac, take a look at Instashare. The free version of the iOS app is ad supported, but these can be removed for a 99c in-app purchase.

An Educator’s Guide to AirPlay on iPads and Macs

Image courtesy of Apple.com
Image courtesy of Apple.com

What is AirPlay?

AirPlay is a technology that Apple baked into their more recent devices to allow them to wirelessly mirror the content of one screen to another. This content can be music, movies, or other multimedia content. A teacher, for instance, can use AirPlay to wirelessly present their lesson to a class or demonstrate an app, while students could use it to share their work with their peers.

What devices can AirPlay?

  • iPad 2, iPad3, iPad 4, the iPad Mini, and the iPad Air
  • iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPhone 5c, and the iPhone 5s
  • iPod Touch (5th Generation)
  • iMac (Mid 2011 or newer), Mac mini (Mid 2011 or newer), MacBook Air (Mid 2011 or newer), and MacBook Pro (Early 2011 or newer)
  • iOS devices need to be running iOS 4.3 or newer
  • OS X devices need to be running OS X 10.8 (Mountain Lion)

How to Set Up AirPlay

In order for your device to be able to take advantage of AirPlay, it needs to be able to connect to an AirPlay enabled device. The default Apple device is the Apple TV. Connect this to your projector via HDMI (or use the Kanex ATV Pro if you have a VGA projector).

For a cheaper option, you can turn an existing laptop or desktop computer into an AirPlay device by installing the Reflector or AirServer app. There are version for Mac and Windows computers. Once installed, run the program and connect the computer running the software to an LCD projector.

Reflector vs. AirServer

Reflector (or Reflection as it was previously known) was essentially the first desktop app for turning your computer into an AirPlay receiver. AirServer is a licensed version of Reflector, so essentially they are pretty much the same. However, AirServer does offer educational discounts for schools, so this may help keep costs down. I’ve also found that the developer for AirServer is very receptive to new feature requests that can improve the classroom experience.

AirServer app

Connecting to Airplay on an iPad

1. Before you attempt to mirror your iPad’s screen, you need to first ensure that your iPad, and the AirPlay device you are connecting to (Apple TV or a computer running Reflector or AirServer) are on the same WiFi network. If they are not, the devices will not “see” each other.

2. Next, Swipe up from the bottom bezel on your iPad to reveal the new iOS 7 Control Center, (see image below).

3. Tap the AirPlay button, (the rectangle with a triangle on it) and select the device you want to connect to – the Apple TV or the computer running Reflector or AirServer. Turn Mirroring on to send the image of your screen to the projector.

4. Press the home button to close the Control Center, and bask in the glory of your wireless media connection! 🙂

AirPlay

Connecting to AirPlay on a Mac

1. Again, before you attempt to mirror your Mac’s screen, you need to first ensure that your iPad, and the AirPlay device you are connecting to (Apple TV or a computer running Reflector or AirServer) are on the same WiFi network. If not, the devices will not “see” each other.

2. Look for the AirPlay symbol in the menu bar at the top of your screen, (next to the WiFi indicator, date and volume icon)

3. Click the AirPlay button, and select the device you want to connect to – an Apple TV or a computer running Reflector or AirServer.

4. Your Mac should automatically connect to the AirPlay device, and you can bask in the glory of your wireless media connection! 🙂

Connect to AirPlay Mac

Password Protecting Your AirPlay Connection

Regardless of whether you use an Apple TV, Reflector, or AirServer, it is important to be aware of your option to protect your AirPlay connection with a password. After all, you won’t necessarily want someone connecting to your AirPlay whenever they feel like it. On the Apple TV you go to Settings > AirPlay > Set Passcode. The passcode is great if you have just one class, but if your students leave for another class, they can still hijack your AirPlay if you have previously shared a password with them in order that they too can AirPlay.

You could change the passcode every lesson, but this would be a pain, so I recommend going to Settings > AirPlay > Onscreen code. This adds an onscreen code so that you can only AirPlay to this connection if you can see the onscreen code, (ie. you are in that classroom). If you are using Reflector, you can also set a passcode. If you are using AirServer, you have the same options as with an Apple TV – a passcode or onscreen code.

Recording your AirPlay Connection

Ever seen those YouTube tutorials of people demonstrating iPad apps and wonder how they did it? Well, the chances are high that they used some kind of AirPlay connection and recorded it with a basic screencasting tool. Apple included screencasting options for Mac users in Quicktime X (10). Simply open the app and go to File > New Screen Recording. MakeUseOf has a nice tutorial on how to make a great screencast with Quicktime X. Don’t have a Mac? Try Screenr.com or Screencastomatic.com and you can quickly flip your classroom for free.

Troubleshooting AirPlay Connections

If you are having trouble with your AirPlay connection, consider the following:

  1. A successful AirPlay connection requires that you have both devices on the same WiFi network. If there is more than one network to connect to in your school, this could be an issue. 
  2. Firewalls can block an AirPlay connection, and some networks are configured to limit certain outgoing connections, so check with the Technology Director to see if he or she can check that for you.
  3. Make sure that all your AirPlay devices and software are updated to the latest version. This will give you the best stability across your devices.
  4. Speaking of stability, if your WiFi network is slow, or prone to going down unexpectedly, AirPlay will not work well. A strong and consistent WiFi network is required for reliable AirPlay connections.

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