BitTorrent Sync for iOS: iPhone-to-Computer Backups (With a Catch)

BitTorrent Sync for iOS enables photo and video backups without limits, provided you keep the app open and running.

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If you’re looking to automatically send your smartphone’s photos or videos to a PC, there are already plenty of ways to do it, but BitTorrent Sync is worth checking out anyway.

The free app allows you to sync files across all of your devices, including phones and tablets. It can also back up your smartphone’s photos and videos to any folder on a laptop or desktop PC. BitTorrent Sync’s mobile app has been available on Android since July, and it’s coming to the iPhone this week.

Getting BitTorrent Sync to back up your photos or files is pretty simple. In the mobile app, just go to the “sync” or “backup” section, add the location of your photos or the files you’d like to sync, and take note of the “secret key” that the app provides. Then, in the BitTorrent Sync desktop app, select “Add a Sync Folder,” enter the secret key, and select the folder where you want your photos to go. Moments later, your phone’s files will begin to appear on your PC.

The app encrypts the files and transfers them using peer-to-peer protocols, so your files aren’t being stored on anyone else’s servers. And unlike cloud-based storage services such as Dropbox, SkyDrive and Google Drive, your storage space is limited only by the amount of room on your hard drive.

For iPhone users, there’s just one big drawback: Syncing and transferring files only works while the app is open. BitTorrent says this is due an Apple restriction that forces background apps to shut down after several minutes, even if they’re in the middle of an activity. The idea is to prevent background apps from hogging resources, but the downside is that all photo and file backup apps are limited in how they can work. (Dropbox has come up with a clever workaround that involves pinging your location to keep the app from timing out, which seems to defeat the purpose of these rules.)

I’ve said before that expanded upload and download privileges is one thing Apple should do if the company wants to be more open for developers, as CEO Tim Cook has claimed. In the meantime, iPhone users are better off backing up photos using Apple’s own Photo Stream feature. BitTorrent Sync is still useful for transferring other types of files, such as video, but the background restrictions could make it difficult to sync large files across devices.

On Android devices, at least, new photos will always be sent to your PC without having to open the app. I’d recommend trying it if you want your photos and videos saved to a specific folder on your PC, and don’t want to run into file size restrictions.