People have wildly different opinions about torrenting. Some view it as the liberation of the creative industries and the defender of free speech, others a means for digital thievery. With faster mobile internet speed and the constant availability of WiFi, torrenting is becoming rapidly more popular on mobile devices. Some of the main torrent sites and desktop apps have brought out their own Android apps to cater to this market, and we also saw many third party offerings such as tTorrent.
Unfortunately, most apps are amateurish, rife with bugs and have many annoying features. That’s where BitTorrent comes in. The company is now going semi-legit by interacting with artists to promote their material, and have just released a series of new apps for Android. Their new storage abilities are even rumoured to be a “Dropbox killer” now. Let’s see if they hold that claim.
The first BitTorrent Android application and the one most people will use is the BitTorrent client, used for downloading the content included in the actual torrent file. At first glance, the app looks surprisingly basic and lackluster. However, once you get using it, you’ll find they’ve merely gone for a more minimalist approach for mobile users. Unfortunately, the mood is somewhat spoiled by a banner ad in the free version nestled right below the main menu bar.
The BitTorrent client on an Android Tablet
You can search for a torrent file using the search function. Almost every other torrent single client’s ‘built in’ search function was useless, so I’m glad BitTorrent has allowed a browser pop-up for the search function. I also suspect that BitTorrent are using this to relinquish any responsibility over the actual content of a torrent file — copyrighted music, movies and so on.
Completed torrents, and currently downloading list
Items will display album art if it’s available. All the information related to the download is displayed neatly under the titles, as opposed to the antiquated columns of speed, estimated ETA and other info which a lot of clients — desktop and mobile — use. All in all, I found the BitTorrent client to be quite powerful. It downloaded large files over 5GB easily and handled dozens of downloads simultaneously. You can also set it up to only use WiFi to save network charges.
None of this however explains why critics have been saying BitTorrent Sync could be a Dropbox killer. The new app has only been recently made available for Android and is already getting a lot of publicity for its features.
On the surface, BitTorrent Sync is a pretty basic ‘sync’ app similar to other offerings but the synchronization has been integrated so well with the rest of the BitTorrent clients that Sync becomes something more. One of the unique features, for example, is backing up items on your phone to the highly secure decentralised BitTorrent network with a unique code to access these files from your desktop through the PC app.
This same back-up procedure also allows easy sharing for files from phone to phone. You can even generate a unique QR code for the file so others can access it.
Sync and Backup files securely
These are the new BitTorrent features that are targeting Dropbox. But hang on, how is any of that better than what Dropbox — or Google Drive, or Skydrive or SugarSync — can do? Sure Dropbox has a more user friendly interface and an easier to understand structure?
Unfortunately, there’s another problem with Dropbox. Recent government spying and security revelations are broadening the gap in the market for a secure, easy to use, decentralised file storage system. Dropbox’ cloud system could be easily subjected to government search warrants, whereas a BitTorrent network makes a search warrant seem like looking for a needle in a haystack — a haystack that’s growing indefinitely.
BitTorrent Sync also creates a new way to stream content to your devices. Say you have a movie on your laptop that you want to watch on your tablet. It now becomes a lot easier to backup that file, not into a cloud but into a broader network that’s fast and reliable. The ‘Pro’ version of the desktop app further supports Android in that it can convert files to different formats rapidly and compress them if they’re too large for a mobile device.
Bundles, Better Than Play?
Google’s Play Store is in the process of being monetized across most territories and already struggling to compete with Amazon on pricing. That’s why BitTorrent’s legitimisation of their content delivery by working with content creators on ‘Bundles’ can be seen as a threat — a small one for now, but with a lot of potential. Bundles are content packages that offer users a quality preview of the full deal.
BitTorrent’s new ‘Bundles’ feature in their new Android Apps
Right now content is limited to selected artists but BitTorrent says it’s working on an open publishing platform. The Subscriptions area of the client app is the home for Bundles. It displays music and films that have been offered by artists for free and available for distribution over the network. At the time of writing, The Pixies, who are making a comeback, had ‘Where is My Mind’ available and behind the scenes footage of the movie Absence was up for grabs. Popular online personalities such as author Tim Ferris and British YouTuber Alex Day are also involved.
For Android users, this means a substantial new ecosystem of content delivery is being pioneered by internet rebels who don’t consider BitTorrent a tool for cyber criminals like the traditional multimedia industry does. Right now, BitTorrent Bundles are too few and simply don’t rival the more mainstream marketplaces, but by putting content creators on their side, BitTorrent could be creating a fantastic alternative marketplace.
The final offering in terms of apps is BitTorrent Remote, which allows you secure direct access to your BitTorrent clients on other devices — desktop or Android.
Control your other BitTorrent clients from anywhere
The remote app is very secure. You don’t sign up via an email address or any other personal information. You must use the desktop app to pair your device through the network with a username and password. That’s it. As for the actual remote control features, the app updates almost instantly giving you a realtime view of your downloads, and lets you pause, resume, add or remove torrents no matter how far you are from your desktop.
Observant users might have noticed that uTorrent — an identical but lightweight client owned by BitTorrent LLC — is still active. Some say it’s to retain old users familiar with the uTorrent brand. However, if we look at the recent offerings from the company such as BitTorrent Live or BitTorrent Sync, we notice an absence of uTorrent versions. Previously, the company had always released identical uTorrent versions of their software, so my own personal belief is that uTorrent is being kept around but abandoned slowly, as the BitTorrent brand takes an approach based around content creators and file storage as opposed to piracy.
Along with the focus on mobile platforms as the heart of the new strategy, BitTorrent’s new direction is innovative and challenges the status quo of several industries and services.
All of the apps are very well designed, work terrifically both on their own and together, and have a secure 256 bit AES encrypted network behind them. It’s impossible to tell whether BitTorrent will begin to make serious waves of its own in online content but for Android users there’s a new, committed developer racing to the scene.