Saturday, January 21, 2012

iOS Lacks a Document Filing System

Pierre Lebeaupin:

The worst thing is, with the exception of file transfer in iTunes (which pretty much only shifts the issue to the computer, with some more overhead), the situation is the exact same as it was in iPhone OS 2.0 when third-party apps first became possible. iCloud solves exactly none of these problems: it is great to simplify working between your different devices, but it brings nothing to the single-device case. This has nothing to do with the hardware limitations of any iOS device, this is entirely the doing of the iOS software; in fact, while this is acceptable for the iPhone, I feel this gap already limits the potential of the iPad unnecessarily; and regardless of how you think it will happen (my take, which I will elaborate in a later post: Mac OS X is the new Classic), it is clear Apple has Big Plans for iOS, but it is hard to take iOS seriously for any device used for work if Apple hasn’t even shipped a first version of a document filing system, which is quite a design task and will require multiple iterations to get right for most people.

This goes back to what I was saying when the iPad was first released. It’s simpler because there’s no filesystem, but they didn’t find a better way of solving the problems that a filesystem solves. They mostly just punted. iCloud seems to be evidence that Apple is not interested in this area, or perhaps really does think that flat, app-specific silos are enough.

Update (2012-01-21): Jesper:

The current system of having everyone implement the fundamentals isn’t holding up very well. Everyone has to solve the same set of problems and not everyone are equipped to do that or will make odd workarounds. Even the good workarounds will need to be learned on an app-by-app basis and the assumed inherited complexity of file systems has been replaced by other complexity, both for the developers and the users of the app.

Apple can’t wish this away. If it doesn’t provide leadership, the community will evolve ways to let people do what they need to do, and they’ll be less elegant and standardized than if they were supported at the OS level.

Update (2012-02-02): Lukas Mathis:

Organizing documents based on their app is akin to organizing notes based on the pencil you used to write them.

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