There are a variety of ways to use your iPad to access your iMac's files without the use of a USB cable. Cloud storage -- using Apple's iCloud, for example, or a non-Apple solution like Dropbox, Box or SugarSync -- can synchronize your files so you can access content from either device. AirDrop, on the other hand, enables sharing over Wi-Fi with other AirDrop-enabled iOS and OS X devices. Polkast basically converts your iPad into your iMac's Finder app so you can use it to manage your computer's files and folders. Splashtop Remote's screen sharing transforms your iPad into your iMac entirely.
Which Method Works for You?
ICloud gives you instantaneous synchronization across both devices, but file syncing is limited to Keynote, Pages or Numbers documents. A non-Apple cloud service syncs any file or folder, but the free storage offered by most providers may be insufficient for all of your files. Apple's AirDrop technology sends files quickly over Wi-Fi, but you are limited to one file at a time. Polkast is solely limited by the storage space on your computer, but you can't access iOS-incompatible content like Flash videos. Splashtop offers the most seamless experience, but the mobile app -- as well as Web-enabled access to your computer -- requires a nominal fee.
With iCloud, you can sync music, photos, calendars, contacts, documents and email. It's an effective way to put the content in a location that is accessible by both your iPad and iMac, plus it makes the data available using any other iCloud-enabled iOS device, Mac, PC or the iCloud Web interface from most Web browsers. To enable iCloud -- use your iMac's System Preferences and your iPad's Settings app -- enter a valid Apple ID and password and then select the content types, such as email and photos, that you would like synced.
A Non-Apple Cloud Solution
The installation of cloud storage on your iMac creates a new drive that is accessible in your Finder -- similar to what happens when you connect a flash or external hard drive to the computer's USB port. You can then save files to this new drive so that they are accessible from any cloud-enabled device or Web browser. Install the complementary cloud app on your iPad -- there are several available, including DropBox, SugarSync and Box -- for full access to the drive and its contents from the iOS device.
AirDrop is similar to Bluetooth in that it allows you to share files with any iOS or OS X device that has AirDrop built in, but the sharing is done over a wireless network instead. To enable it on your iMac, click "Go" and then select "AirDrop" or press "Shift-Command-R" on your keyboard. On your iPad, swipe up from the bottom to reveal the Control Center and tap "AirDrop." From there, launch the Finder on the iMac, click "AirDrop" on the left, locate your iPad's icon and begin dragging and dropping to transfer files.
Your Personal Polkast Cloud
With Polkast, you essentially use your computer for your own cloud storage and your iPad for a file explorer. This solution requires that you install the Polkast app on both your iMac and iPad, though a majority of the setup is done on your iMac. Once installation is complete, launch the software on your computer and select "Don't Have an Account" to enter a new registration. From there, select folders on your iMac that you want to share and simply leave the software running in the background. Log into the app on your iPad for access to those shared files.
Remote Access with Splashtop
Splashtop Remote also requires the installation of two components: the streaming software on your iMac and the remote app on your iPad. Complete installation on your computer first and set a security pass code when prompted. Once complete, purchase and install the app on your iPad and enter the same security passcode so your iPhone can discover and offer a connection to your iMac. Once established, access all content -- including Flash videos and installed software -- from your iPad's touchscreen. The optional "Anywhere Access Pack" in-app upgrade gives you the added benefit of Web-enabled iMac access anywhere in the world.
Information in this article applies to iPads running iOS 7 and iMac computers running OS X v10.9 (Mavericks). It may vary slightly or significantly with other versions or products.
- Macworld: iCloud: Syncing
- Entrepreneur: The Advantages and Disadvantages of Cloud Storage Apps for Business
- Apple: How to Set Up iCloud
- Apple Support: iOS: Using AirDrop
- Apple Support: OS X: Can I Use AirDrop with My Computer?
- EWeek: Polkast Delivers Mobile Content Management for SMBs
- YouTube: Polkast: Building your Private Cloud (on Mac OSX/iOS)
- Tech Radar: How to Access Your Mac on Your iPad
- Splashtop: Basic Remote Manual
- Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News/Getty Images