Apps, Mobile & SMS

BitTorrent Sync Demonstrates Open Advantage of Android Over iOS

Bt_openBy Eliot Van Buskirk of

If you’re a music fan, and your music collection is scattered all over the place, which it is, BitTorrent offers a great app called BitTorrent Sync that helps somewhat, by letting you access the music downloads on all of your computers, from all of your devices. It’s a good start, from the point of view of today’s music fan, who has no reasonable way to collect music across devices and services (this article contains one idea on how to fix that, by the way).

The Android version of the BitTorrent Sync app lets you access that music with ease. Download whatever songs you want from your computers with the app, and there they are, on your device, ready to be played using whatever software you want.

On Apple’s iOS, the same app functions differently. You can still “play your music downloads from anywhere,” as our tutorial suggests — you’ll just have to do so one song at a time. First, you tap the song in BitTorrent Sync (screenshot to the right), to bring up the various apps that can open the song (screenshot to the left).

Then, you choose an audio player that is not Apple’s Music Player, because it’s not listed, possibly because Apple doesn’t want you to be able to get music from somewhere that is not iTunes. We used CanOpener.

You have to repeat this process for every single song you want to hear, with no way to import more than one at a time. Meanwhile, your friends with Androids can play that music however they want, because their devices see these BitTorrent Sync downloads as files, rather than proprietary objects belonging to one app or another.

(Note that on iOS, BitTorrent Sync still works great as a way to back up your iOS photos to your computer on an ongoing basis, without iCloud’s space limitations.)

We reached out to BitTorrent to see if they had any ideas on how to fix this. For now, they don’t. An unnamed developer at BitTorrent responded,

For Android it is not a problem. All the user needs is just to add a necessary music folder to the music player and enjoy it.

It is a bit more complex for iOS. When user ‘plays’ something from Sync using a third-party player, the file is actually copied to another application environment. This is the reason why the third-party player can’t play ‘next’ track: because it has no idea that ‘next’ track exists. It stays in Sync where the player has no access.

It is impossible to grant [the music] player permissions to view Sync files without jailbreaking, and it is impossible to ‘bulk transfer’ files from Sync to the player — both due to iOS limitations. So, the only way for now is to transfer files one-by-one to the player until you get all you want to listen.

We are looking for workaround for this limitation.

If BitTorrent’s developers figure out a way to let iOS users access their own files on their own devices without opening up another app every time they want to hear a song, we’ll keep you updated.

It’s possible that Apple — notorious for favoring control and “ease of use” over users’ freedom to do whatever they want with their machines and files — blocks applications from playing music obtained through other applications due to an anti-piracy stance (which also means blocking legitimate rips and downloads), or because it would prefer people to use iTunes or pay for iCloud to load their music, or some mix of the two.

Whatever Apple’s reasons, the effect of its decision is the same: It makes Android the preferable smartphone operating system for people who like to be in control of their files, and to play them using the app of their choice.


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