John's Blog: Mobile Downloads

April 19, 2016

So, you want to send files to people who are using a phone or an iPad...

The Rumpus Web interface, for the most part, works well on mobile devices. Users can connect, log in, and view directory listings. Transferring files, however, can be tricky. Similarly, when you send a drop ship link to a user, and they click the link on their mobile device, the results can vary.

The problem is that mobile operating systems are simplified, sand-boxed versions of traditional desktop OSs. While overall, they are easier to use (especially given inherent constraints like small screen size and lack of physical input devices), they have their own special limitations compared to desktops. Most importantly...

The "Downloads Folder"

Mobile devices don't expose the file system to users, at least not as such. In other words, mobile users don't have the ability to navigate folders and access files in a generic way. For example, there is no "Downloads" folder on an iPhone or iPad. So, right out of the gate, "downloading a file" to a mobile device is pretty much off the table.

File Type Management

Many types of content have become essentially standardized. We have JPEG files for pictures, MPEG files for video, PDF files for general document display, etc. These file types and others are pretty well recognized and handled natively by modern operating systems, both desktop and mobile. Other file types are less ubiquitous, and require 3rd party applications to be managed or even viewed.

On a desktop computer, it's pretty obvious that in order to oen a Word document, for example, you need Microsoft Word, or at least an application that can import Word files. The principle is no different on a mobile device, though it's made even more convoluted by the "files" problem. On a desktop computer, a user might be able to see a file, even if they can't open it. On a phone, if a user accesses some sort of file that the device doesn't know how to display, the file seemingly doesn't exist.

There is one other variable involved, and it's under your control. In Rumpus downloads, both via the regular WFM and Drop Ship links, you can specify a "Transfer Style". Available transfer styles include "Download Page", "Simple" and "Content-Wrapper".

For regular WFM file access, you can select one or more of these transfer styles on the Web Settings window, File Actions tab, granting users the ability to access files in whichever way(s) is best for your content.

For drop shipments, you can select the transfer style by selecting it on the "File Pickup Options" sheet accessible on the Web Settings window, Guests tab. There is also an option to make the Transfer Style user-selectable, so that file senders can choose the transfer style on a case-by-case basis.

OK, I get all that. But what do I do?

The easy answer to sending files to mobile users is to send standardized file types, and send them using the "Simple" transfer style. The simple transfer style sends the file to the browser in the most generic way possible, allowing the mobile device to recognize the content and display it in the best way it knows how.

Depending on the content type and mobile device, the "Content Wrapper" style can also be very useful. In particular, images (JPEGs, for example) and videos will often be displayed nicely in a formatted window using this style.

The "Download Page" transfer style is usually trouble for mobile users. This is because the whole point of the Download Page style is to signal the browser to store the file in the user's "Downloads" folder, then open the file from there if possible. The trouble for mobile users is simply that there is no user-accessible "Downloads" folder, so the file may disappear as quickly as it is downloaded.

And regardless of the transfer style used, if a file contains content that the mobile device doesn't know how to process or display, users will be frustrated. In this case, they may well see that the download occurs, but when it completes, nothing will happen. The device isn't capable of displaying the file contents, and the file itself is essentially discarded.

One final note... Mobile OSs are evolving rapidly. They are quickly gaining the ability to process new types of content, and are growing more sophisticated. We'll try to stay on top of these changes and take advantage of them as possible in future versions of Rumpus, but if you have any questions about the current state of mobile transfers, don't hesitate to contact me at support@maxum.com.

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