Apple has made it unnecessarily difficult to use the iPhone and iPod touch for file storage. I can understand why Apple doesn't want users poking around int the iPhone's file system (piracy) but making it intentionally difficult to storage files on the iPhone is foolish.
The iPhone could (and should) be the replacement for the modern USB flash drive, but it isn't because Apple makes it difficult to store, transfer or otherwise manipulate files on the iPhone. USB access only available via an expensive, proprietary cable and Apple provides almost no software tools to manage files, with the exception of its iDisk app (free) which requires a $99/year subscription.
While it's true that you can open email attachments on the iPhone, it's not a substitute for true file storage. The iPhone needs the equivalent of a Documents folder, where users can store word processing documents, spreadsheets, PDFs, whatever, just like you can on your Mac.
Enter the App store.
While there's no single app that's going to be perfect for every situation, here are a couple of my favorite apps right now for storing, editing and reading files.
GoodReader (99 cents) – This amazing gem is a PDF reader with local storage and WiFi transfer. It can search inside PDFs and opens large PDFs quickly and without crashing. I especially like the PDF reflow feature which extracts the text from a PDF file and reflows it to fit the iPhone screen – without left/right scrolling. Autoscroll makes reading PDFs even more compelling. Now I just want it to read PDFs to me, via Text To Speech. Oh, and make me a sandwich, too.
Documents 2 Go ($7.99) – In addition to a file system to store files the iPhone desperately needs a way to edit files - specifically Word and Excel files. The lack of proper Word Processing and spreadsheet editing is a huge omission on the iPhone by both Apple and Google (docs) that (hopefully) won't last forever. Being a writer I find it handy to be able to view, edit and create Word and Excel files on my iPhone. The iPhone obviously isn't recommended for long writing but Docs 2 Go is extremely useful when a quick file edit is needed. In addition, Docs 2 Go transfers files over WiFi and email. It earns its $8 price very quickly.
ezShare Pro ($6.99) – If you need to connect to a file server from your iPhone this amazing app can do it. With it you can access WebDAV (Mobile), FTP, SFTP, NAS (Time Capsule and Airport Extreme) right from your hot little iPhone. You can even stream music and videos from your computer or WebDAV server and access files from Google (docs) and Picasa (photos). I give high marks to this powerful swiss army knife for servers and look forward to the other features to come. A free version (lacking WebDAV) is also available.
I'd be remiss if I didn't also mention Apple's own iDisk app (free) which allows you to view (but not edit) files on your iDisk and access other people's public folders. Unfortunately the iDisk app lacks file editing and can only email a link to a file, not the file itself.
Apple could easily dominate the category by adding on-device file storage, editing and management to the iDisk app. Email attachments via iDisk integrated directly into the iPhone's Mail app would be the icing on the cake, but don't hold your breath waiting for Cupertino.
What apps do you use for storing, editing and reading files on your iPhone?