Saturday, January 7, 2012

Chab's Friday Nightl How Hard Should It Be To Transfer a 90 Second Video?

Update and Amplification: Dropbox Technical Support responded to my inquiry. Their comments are noted below. It appears that Dropbox's FAQ Page doesn't fully describe the program's current limitations.

Also, wi-fi sync, even when enabled, does not transfer video files between iDevices and your computer. It appears the only traditional way of transferring these files is via a USB cable and synchronization. (Beware, even this transfer process can cause corruption of the MOV file(s)! A story for another post....

With all the talk of Apple's new streaming (PhotoStream) and syncing (iCloud and Music Match) how hard do you think it should be to transfer a quick, corny, home video lasting less than 100 seconds? Easy? So you might think, but not so fast! My Friday night consisted of an intermittently exciting football game (the Cotton Bowl), a cup of hot chocolate (I know, big night!), and some quality time with my best buddy, Chablis.

We retired to watch the second half in bed and clearly the game held no allure whatsoever for Chab. To amuse herself, Chab rooted around and found one of her Christmas toys. Next thing I knew, I had a seventy pound dog and a helpless panda toy sharing my bed and putting on a more entertaining show than the commercial filled halftime shenanigans on my Panasonic flat screen. Innocently, I thought I would preserve the moment using my iPhone 4S's vaunted video capabilities, perhaps do some quick editing using the surprising good iMovie App on my iPad 2 (which was also doubling as my eReader du jour of the evening and yes, I do multi-task very happily thank you) and then share this cutesy moment with a couple of friends and family members. Since I take almost no video (but I am an avid, lifetime, amateur photographer), I thought this might be a fun little sideline exercise between replays, timeouts and endless Bowl commercials. Well, it has turned into a still unfinished "little project," a blog post, and a great learning experience.

Please read on and spare yourself some of the frustrations I discovered for you....

Apple isn't even consistent across platforms and operating systems. The disconnect is even worse for those working with iDevices and Windows based computer systems (or some hybrid). One would might logically think that:

  • iTunes equates to music
  • Photos equates to.... Photos
  • Videos equates to.... Videos (including commercial grade movies)

This is not the case! There is no one to one correlation anywhere in the Apple universe even among its own products and platforms! Steve Jobs you must be looking down wanting to shake some engineers silly! How did this happen? 

Now if you own a iPhone 4S (which reputedly has one of the best 'phone cameras/video recorders available), chances are you want to use it to capture your memories rather than the generally sub-par, some may same abysmal, cameras available on the iPad2. However, even simple edits are far more easily accomplished using the iPad's bigger form factor. Archival storing of these moments ultimately should be on a PC or networked hard drive (and backed up elsewhere if you think this is one of your dog's finest moments!). So this is why moving video between devices is really necessary and important (and why simplicity wins the day especially if you (Apple) really think your market is going to expand to my Mother, or Grandmother's, generations)!

So PhotoStream sounds perfect but isn't the solution. Ok.... Strike one.

PhotoStream means what it says! Apple's new PhotoStream feature is designed to effortlessly copy photos taken on an iDevice to other iDevices and computers. For the most part, this functionality works as advertised. But PhotoStream does not synch videos regardless of whether or not you are on a 3G network or Wi-Fi (and regardless of the video's file size). Well, you may argue that PhotoStream isn't Videostream. Ok. But where do you find and view videos on your iDevice? Under Photos.... Where do you find the Videostream App? You don't....

Still watching football out of the corner of one eye, I think, Dropbox! If you aren't using this tool you probably should, if you are, I don't have to say more. In fact, I recommended this as a "Top 5" App just days ago! What easier way to scoot Chab's victory over the panda between iDevices and my server backup? Well, I was promptly greeted with an error message that Dropbox cannot upload files over 180 Megabytes! Really? Wow! Remember, I am on my own SOHO network, not AT&Ts 3G which limits file transferring regardless of your account's user cap. I confess I shot the moment used Hi Def on my iPhone as an experiment, but we're talking 100 seconds here, not Spielberg's next hit or even a Chris Pirillo ten minute video podcast! So how big is a 97 second hi-def file of your dog chewing the stuffing out of a Christmas toy? Well, in this instance it is 181 Megabytes (rounded)!

For the record here's Dropbox's official position: The FAQ on this reads in part, Files uploaded through the website (by pressing the upload button) have a 300 MB cap. In other words, each file you upload through the website must be 300 MB or less. So, according to DropBox's own support section, even if you are on wi-fi and have available space in your Dropbox account, Dropbox won't let you add any file over 300 MB! 

But what is going on? My Dropbox account has over 1.9 Gigabytes free so account space limitations aren't  the issue. The actual file size is, 181 Megabytes (rounded). This is an astonishing amount of space for such a short piece of HD footage! Any would be videographers might well regret not buying the 64 Gig iPhone 4S! And any of you over the age of forty or so who remember true floppy drives with 128 Megabyte capacity (and we wondered what to do with all that space!) may well be flabbergasted by these numbers. A single floppy disk contained volumes, entire programs!, multiple document files, entire operating systems fit on a disk.

So why did Dropbox balk at an admittedly big file that nevertheless fell under its 300 Megabyte limitation? And why does Dropbox (via the iPhone) give an error message saying, "Dropbox cannot upload files greater than 180 Megabytes?" 

To further complicate the answer to this question, Dropbox does have video (and photo) settings which allows for varying degrees of compression, or no compression at all. My app's setting is, Medium. I am not one hundred percent certain, but I don't believe I ever adjusted this setting and I believe this is the default. This adds another layer to the question since any compression should further reduce the video's file size from its native 181 megabytes and presumably fall under even that cap..... At times video and other file types require temporary space requirements during transfer or encoding which is then released when the process completes. I don't know if this also plays a part in the issue (and even if it does, I would think the temporary file space would be needed on the local (i.e. iPhone) hard drive and not on DropBox's servers, but I can't answer this question yet). All of these "what  ifs" are far to technical for the average user to concern themselves with and, for most, this becomes a head another head scratching, roadblock to accomplishing the task at hand.....

I asked DropBox Tech Support about this issue and apparent discrepancy two days ago. When I receive a response, I will update this post with their reply. 

The solution?  You Tube!  Your iPhone's Photo roll, which is also home to your videos, has a convenient upload to You Tube option. I was able to move my family moment to You Tube and send an invitation link to the couple of friends and family who actually might get a kick out of this ninety seconds. You Tube even offers some rudimentary editing tools (which I didn't avail myself of after all of this) and serves as something of a timeless, free, off site "back-up" as well. I am not of the You Tube generation, but a solution is a solution and You Tube fits the bill.

Wireless synching over wi-fi which is baked into iOS5 is of course a better solution. However, like so much of the new synching and integration functionality in this new operating system, my experience with this feature is at best erratic and at worse, frustratingly flaky. Even when you don't have to reboot iTunes, your iDevice, and/or your PC, you can't "simply" move your video or other media without running the complete sync process which can take quite a while and this process still doesn't get the video onto another iDevice without more syncing, more work (more hoops). As I write, I am making a second effort to download "Part 2" of Chablis Meet's  The Costco Panda" via wi-fi. The progress wheel is still spinning thirty odd minutes into this second attempt.... 

I am not an evangelist of Google or Apple (or Microsoft, or any tech company for that matter). I am a believer in finding and using solutions, technologies that actually "really work" with a minimum of  tweaking and fussing to real world problems. In short, I am seeking answers that "average" clients, friends, and readers of these posts can implement. 

The "cloud" vision, and by extension "seamless" synchronization of your data across multiple devices, began to get a phenomenal amount of popular press buzz in 2011. Rightly so. This is a real life problem in need of a solution for both businesses and individuals. Apple realizes this and they have very publicly offered their first round (but not beta!!) of technologies-- which is what the ecosystem of iDevices, computers, and software actually is-- a group of tools and platforms intended to work together to solve a problem.  At the same time as this solution is intended to assist you, it is further enticing you to entrusting your life, your irreplaceable data, and your pocketbook, to  Apple's "walled garden" ..... My experience with photo and video sharing, as well as other iCloud related problems,  which have now included actual data loss, are very serious issues indeed (and which I will cover further in upcoming articles), suggest you should think twice, and probably three times, before committing yourself and your precious memories!, to Apple's solutions in their current state of development. 

Google has a wealth of products, many of which you may not even be very familiar with if you aren't faithfully following technology trends. And why should you? Reading this blog and others is your shortcut to the answers.... You have lives and businesses to run! After thirty days of real world experimentation with iCloud, Music Match, PhotoStream and more, I have to say Google's less touted solutions are generally more stable, robust, and yes, less elegantly designed (they "just work" which is more important than how nicely an icon looks on a screen especially when it comes to your life and personal data!). I will be comparing these alternatives side-by-side later this week. Am I ready to scrap my iPad, iPhone, and iTvs for Google's alternatives? No! There is still lots to love in Apple's world, but the answer isn't to tie yourself to any one company or solution; you must  use tools which work in the real world, and sometimes that requires looking beyond a single company's vision. 

The progress ball is still spinning! If I can ever get the second part of this video transferred (without using You Tube as an intermediary), I will let you know. Meanwhile, even if you don't ever see a viral video unless it is featured on The Today Show, or plan on creating one for yourself, you may want to get Grandma to click on a link to watch her grandchildren, or her favorite "adopted" pet, in glorious HD.

Have you found a different solution? Are you still using a USB cable to move these files between your iDevice(s) and your PC? I invite your comments....

Dropbox's Response:

Kevin - Dropbox Support, Jan-13 02:17 pm (PST):
Hi Randy,
The website's limit is 300MB and mobile devices are 180MB. There is no limit from a desktop computer.
We are working on increasing the mobile upload limit.
Please contact us if you have any other questions.

Randy Wachs, Jan-08 08:46 am (PST):
I attempted to upload a 183 Meg (appx.), 100 second, video from my iPhone 4S to my Dropbox Account (which has over 1.8 Gig of free space). I attempted this "upload" while on my SOHO wi fi network. I received the error, "Dropbox cannot upload files greater than 180 Megabytes." Your FAQ states a limitation of 300 Megabytes. Which is correct and what are the limitations of video transfer. (Also, I checked the iPhone App settings and it appears my video compression is set to "Medium.") Thanks in advance for your assistance.

I currently hold a long position in Google ($GOOG) stock. 

Companies: Apple, Dropbox, Google

This commentary is not meant as an endorsement of any company or to provide financial advice.  If the author has any financial interest in any company mentioned at the time of this article’s posting, it will be explicitly noted. I welcome feedback and comments. 

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