Geeks have been holding their breath for direct file system access in iOS ever since the original iPhone’s debut five years ago.

Unless you jailbreak, your ability to get down and dirty with the file system is limited by Apple’s vision that basically boils down to Jobs’ mantra that the app is the only file system you’ll ever need.

It would be unwise to bet on Apple progressively breaking away from this kind of philosophy with the introduction of iOS 6 come next Monday, no matter how strongly you may feel about the rumored Files.app.

Here’s why. And before you jump straight to the comments, bear in mind that this is just one writer’s opinion…

It’s real simple.

File system is fundamentally evil.

The concept is broken by design.

Now, I know that Apple CEO Tim Cook is his own person.

That being said, the spirit of Steve Jobs and, more importantly, the principles of great user experiences he had established decades ago, are still very much alive at Apple.

Should these principles be altered substantially for one reason or another, Apple’s user friendliness is bound to take a major turn for the worse.

Taking that on board, Berlin-based developer Ole Begemann did a nice job combing through a total of six Steve Jobs appearances at AllThingsD conferences, released last week to the public.

He spotted a particular segment in Jobs’ 2005 fireside chat with technology columnist Walt Mossberg, with Steve laying out his vision of the post-PC world where an average consumer doesn’t have to deal with the file system at all.

Here’s that quote (emphasis his).

In every user interface study we’ve ever done […], [we found] it’s pretty easy to learn how to use these things ‘til you hit the file system and then the learning curve goes vertical. So you ask yourself, why is the file system the face of the OS? Wouldn’t it be better if there was a better way to find stuff?

Now, e-mail, there’s always been a better way to find stuff. You don’t keep your e-mail on your file system, right? The app manages it. And that was the breakthrough, as an example, in iTunes. You don’t keep your music in the file system, that would be crazy.

You keep it in this app that knows about music and knows how to find things in lots of different ways. Same with photos: we’ve got an app that knows all about photos. And these apps manage their own file storage. […]

And eventually, the file system management is just gonna be an app for pros and consumers aren’t gonna need to use it.

Remember, this was 2005 – two full years before the original iPhone got introduced – even if Apple at the time was well into the last phase of iPhone development.

Jobs pretty much described the basic idea for iOS back in 2005.

Fast-forward to today and his philosophy still holds true.

Now, some folks speculate that Apple with iOS 6 will finally expose the file system to end-users.


Keynote for iPad: this is as close you’ll ever get to the iOS file system.

I hate to burst your bubble, but it’s not going to happen.

Do you really think Apple would bother concealing iOS file system from users only to require them to adapt years worth of muscle training?

File system on a mobile phone is a major headache from Apple’s standpoint.

From the usability standpoint, it’s nothing short of a brain transplant.

It regardless of how you and I may think about the issue, at the end of the day we’re just geeks.

We really are not Apple’s target market.

Of course, that’s not to say that a better document management isn’t needed in iOS.

Quite the contrary.

One of the possible solutions is this nice concept by iMore editor Rene Richie, who thinks Apple should provide direct document access with iOS 6 through a dedicated Files.app.

Here, check out his mockup.

But even this, I must say, would confuse your average Joe Schmo.

One of the reasons why iOS has become so popular is its Simplicity.

And in the world of Simplicity, users only operate pretty icons that represent their documents on a per-app basis.

They never have to navigate the folder hierarchies and deal with cryptic file names on a system-wide level.

The app is the file system.

Direct file access is a nightmare from the standpoint of Simplicity. It’s also a potentially disastrous support issue and quite possibly a major headache for developers.

That’s why it’s never going to happen.

Actually, I’d dare to go as far as to predict that iOS-ified document handling will replace direct file system access on Macs in the near future.

And iCloud is already here to make it all work seamlessly and without any intervention on the user’s part.

Mac apps are already being sandboxed, another tell-tale sign of iOS-ification of OS X that will shift into higher gear with the Mountain Lion release late this summer.

And if the whole point of this merging is to create a simplified, consistent experiences across Apple’s mobile and desktop platforms, how long do you think before Cupertino hides the Mac file system from average users?

It’s not a pipe dream.

What do you think your mom would rather navigate: a complicated file system hierarchy to save her pie recipe in Pages or a much simplified representation requiring minimal effort to find her way through big, beautiful thumbnails representing just the documents she created in Pages and nothing else?

This is just an opinion piece and Apple could just as easily prove me terribly wrong so do feel free to extend an opinion down in the comments.

  • Ask your mom to put some of her recipes on a flash drive for me

    • this is no way to talk to a man!

  • great article!

  • Max Katzmann

    Pretty much sums it all up. I’d like to see a files app, though. Could be really handy if you have iCloud support. I like for example how android handles downloads with a dedicated downloads app. But the downside is that you can download files that you cannot use if you don’t have the app for it. On iOS, if you have the app you will (always worked for me) be able to download the file. If you don’t have the app, why would you download the file? So yeah I don’t think there will be a files.app in iOS 6.

  • Max Katzmann

    Pretty much sums it all up. I’d like to see a files app, though. Could be really handy if you have iCloud support. I like for example how android handles downloads with a dedicated downloads app. But the downside is that you can download files that you cannot use if you don’t have the app for it. On iOS, if you have the app you will (always worked for me) be able to download the file. If you don’t have the app, why would you download the file? So yeah I don’t think there will be a files.app in iOS 6.

  • Like if you read that quote in Steve Job’s voice.

  • Anonymous

    What’s a good jailbreak app for file access? Is there anything that works similar to the iMore mockup? That’s pretty slick.

    • Paul Maniscalchi

      iFile

  • I agree with your argument on Apple’s target audience, and even that we won’t see it anytime soon. But, in my opinion, I think Apple should implement it as an option inside “Utilities”. Just like on a Mac or a PC, using iTunes to manage music is all good and fine, but some people like the option to see physical copies as well. Apple has extremely limited the power of the iPhone in this fashion. They might have done it for their target market, but I feel that they alienated the so called “Power Users” that like to network and connect and have multiple options to get a task done. The face of the OS does not have to be (and very well shouldn’t be) the file system, but that doesn’t mean we have to erase any trace of it completely.

    • Your comment got me thinking about my iTunes experience on my iPhone 4 – ever since I added iTunes Match I have become increasingly more frustrated with the way it plays my music.

      There is no anticipation to download the next song before the current song is finished playing!!! This is especially frustrating during a workout and you have the rythum broken!!!

      Why not have better optional “power user” settings that lets you set this configuration???

      I have changed the settings to download the entire album, but this is such a waste when I’m playing one of my “mixed” music playlists which consists of many songs from many albums!!!

      Why can’t the player just sense that it will be playing the next song, and download just that song before the current song finishes???

      Well, I could go on complaining… Let’s hope someone from the iTunes / iT Match Division is reading this blog today…. 🙂

      • Oh, I completely agree. I am completely dissapointed with iTunes Match, and have since switched to mSpot streaming. It’s not perfect, but it works ok. iTunes Match is wayyy too buggy in this stage for constant use.

    • Paul Maniscalchi

      Thats why us “Power Users” jailbreak and the simple users (Apples target audience) well . . . keep it simple

  • As much as I hate to say it, I can also foresee Apple closing off the file system for average users. One more reason why jailbreaking will always be around.

  • Anonymous

    100% agreed. Many readers of this blog are tech-savvy enough that they would like a system liket this, but truth is what separates iOS from other systems is the ease of use. Especially the fact that going from iPhone to iPhone (generation) doesn’t require much new learning; often none at all.
    And so I think the Spotlight search it’s as advance a file system as we’re going to get besides having dedicated apps such as Music.app for music, iCloud for “office” files and so on.

    As you said, we “geeks” are not really Apple’s target, even though some of us, like me, would like to think so. If that were true, their sales would not be what they are right now.

    • hohopig

      Well, the so called convenience it firstly … not that great of a deal, especially considering my wife and my mom have NO problem converting from iPhone to Android (convinced them to buy the Galaxy S2 lst year and S3 this year) at all.
      Secondly, it comes with a great price by limiting and dumbing down what you can do. So basically, they are treating their customer’s like kids, so they make it so simple and idiot proof that there is little chance of damage (confusion still arise though). However, that is like giving an engineer a toy set to play with and is insulting and condescending to the max.

  • Christian – I think you are 100% correct!!!

    Your argument is very well thought out and presented. Especially when you mentioned your mom and her wanting to save her pie recipe!!!

    I just spent the weekend with my parents, and they can barely use their Windows 7 PC to check their email without somehow crashing the system!!!

    Honestly I was about to pull my hair out trying to figure out how they continuously screw up their PC when they maybe only use it 3 or 4 times a week – to check email and do a little surfing!

    Hey, they are Baby Boom Generation, and only my mom has PC experience from the old DOS based main frame systems!!!

    So, as you said, hiding them from the file system and only letting them access simplified Apps to check email or save her pie recipe would just be AWESOME!!!

    I would personally buy them a new computer just to save the remainder of my hair from being pulled out in frustration!!! LOL!!!

    Adding to your argument – looking at the preliminary mentions on CNET about Windows 8 and their new “Tiles” system – it does look like they are really working to make the computer experience a Consumer centric experience and not one of us computer geek experiences!

  • Two things:

    1) The filesystem is not evil.
    2) Who on Earth thought there would be a Files.app?

    • you could install windows 8 release pre. on their computer:)

      • hohopig

        Yes I suppose you could 😛 but why would you do that to Win8? 😛

  • Steve Jobs was human, i.e. brilliant some times, arrogantly short-sighted other times. I use my Mac for work, and it is a constant bane that I have business correspondence in a Finder folder, and other business correspondence in email. It would be a dream if I could merge MY folder structure to combine my Finder folders with my email folders. Sure, for consumers who send social emails, a file system is not required, but for business emails, I have over a thousand folders in my email program. It should be easy for the forthcoming Windows 8 tablets to coexist with Macs for syncing work, so maybe the Windows 8 tablets will be for the rest of us who need to do actual serious work on tablets.

    • hohopig

      O … you meant they actually restrict the access to the files and folders on a Mac???!!! I didn’t know that … I can’t even think of a word to describe this adequately …. without crossing the boundary of decency.

  • The file system is the only reason any of us can see any of this… Evil to the inexperienced? Maybe… But not evil to those who realize the power

  • I think iOS should be like Cydia, that is to sy that it should give you options of your skill level as in how the options show the different kinds of packages in Cydia, it should give things such as file system access and root access in the more advanced classes.

  • Anonymous

    What’s wrong with the people here? What a futile article.. Android can do EVERYTHING that iOS has to offer in terms of file access right? But wait… it also has a file system. CHOICE is everyrhing!

    Don’t know about you short sighted masochist who wants to be restricted with the power by Apple and trying hard to explain the non sensical move by removing the file system.. Hopeless thingking guys.. Hopeless. No wonder others shout “WAKE UP!” at your faces.

  • It’s not meant to be a symbol of the file system. It’s meant to show documents. Much like launchpad shows apps.

  • Either make a file system browsing app that can be downloaded from the app store(Not pre-installed) or a pre-installed app that can be toggled on and off(Defaulted to off so basic users don’t have to do anything)

  • Anonymous

    I don’t want a file manager app from Apple.
    I think: if Apple would make a “Files.app”, it would never let users to access the whole file system (root). Then it’s absolutely redundant. Advanced users will jailbreak their iOS, and use iFile from Cydia anyway.
    Fortunately, I’m sure, that folks at Apple, don’t waste their time with this.

  • Anonymous

    What’s wrong with the people here? What a futile article.. Android can do EVERYTHING that iOS has to offer in terms of file access right? But wait… it also has a file system. CHOICE is everyrhing!

    Don’t know about you short sighted masochist who wants to be restricted with the power by Apple and trying hard to explain the non sensical move by removing the file system.. Hopeless thingking guys.. Hopeless. No wonder others shout “WAKE UP!” at your faces.

  • My brother is a very techy savvy person. He used an iPhone for 4 years and now he switched to Android and he was delighted how nice it feels to just open the phone in Finder and manage the music with folders instead of using itunes for everything.

  • I don’t see why Apple can’t include a “developer mode” that is unlocked on all devices tied to a developer account. This would mean that we don’t need to jailbreak anymore because root access would be granted from the factory. I don’t need an onboard file browsing program if I can do it natively on my Mac(s) while i have my iPhone plugged in.

    I would pay the $99 for developer mode aka native root access.
    This would be a way for Apple to generate a massive amount of revenue

    • Kok Hean

      The jailbreak scene will die.

    • hohopig

      Except that stevie didn’t think that we are intelligent to handle that without our brain exploding 😛

  • Anonymous

    Crowing about filesystem access is this generations “command line or nothing” dogma.

    Back then it took a GUI to abstract commands and absolve people from the tedium of memorizing a bunch of commands. The computing market exploded.

    Now we’re at the same point again and the next step must be taken and Jobs and others at Apple know that the filesystem, or rather, the tedium of managing folder structure is an anathema to productivity

    If you look at some of the most brilliant minds of recent history (Einstein, Newton, Tesla etc) they were all adept at minimising distractions allowing them to push the envelope. Einstein said “never commit to memory what can be easily looked up”

    I care not how the data is organized, what is important is being able to retrieve relevant data effortlessly.

    Filesystem management is a crutch that is slowing most of us down.

    • Anonymous

      Yes, but computers still have command line. Most users never see it, but when you need it, it is right there.

      • Anonymous

        Indeed and i’m hoping that something comes along that relegates the need for dinking with folder structure as secondary or tertiary as going to the command line for most of us. I don’t mind its existence (filesystem, folders, etc) but it’s now time to leverage modern day technology to improve file management.

      • hohopig

        You missed the point. It is not about hiding or having another interface to SIMPLIFY access to the file and command system. Apple basically put in place an app centric file system WITHOUT a proper interface and did not think through the various issues that comes with it such as authorisation and sharing across apps, as well as the excessive increase in storage space that comes with this mess of a system.

  • Depite being a happy jailbreak user and having access to the root, there’s one thing I wish Apple would implement, a way of keeping my personal files stored in a Home directory, or File.app or whatever you wanna call it, so that I could share my work between as many different Apps as I wish.

    Suppose I’ve got a .doc file for instance, after editing it in Pages, for some reason I’d now like to open the very same file in another App, that’s just impossibe.

    Even who’s got iFile, and therefore is able to concentrate all their personal files somewhere in the file system, whenever they open a file from iFile, it asks the desired app to handle that file, it then gets copied into the app’s Documents folder, and obviously if you save your progress in that app, it wont get saved in your original file, and if you decide to open it again with another app from iFile, it will get duplicated again, making a complete mess!

    • Finally a thinking person here! Of course you need at least a simple file system! Yes, I do realize that many people only deal with photos, videos and email, but even more people nowadays deal with PDFs, DOCs, XLSs, etc. I refuse to commit to using only one app ever for managing each type of file. Come on, Dropbox has shown that people are capable of manage some small file system with their important files and sync that across devices. What Apple can do is just create a Files app and give access to its documents folder to all apps. Some apps can have read-only access, others will be allowed to write. Clean and clear. We frikkin need this! I don’t want to duplicate my 100+MB files – that’s plain inefficient.

  • I wached the interview yesterday 😀 And I don’t thing it will be a thing in ios6, but we will se! Only a week left 🙂

  • Anonymous

    “how long do you think before Cupertino hides the Mac file system from average users” Spot on, however I’m not the average user.
    Also try this on your iPhone/iPad, open mail.app and reply to a mail, now attach a presentation, an image file, and a spreadsheet, perhaps a document from another none apple app, and send it.
    Now you see the flaw with apps being sandboxed.

    • hohopig

      Amen to that .. and that is one of the greatest deal breaker. Thank god Android tablet has caught up and I could ditch my lousy iPad2 for an Asus Transformer Infinity.

  • I think Christian’s right. It will fuck up the iTunes system.. Everything. People even have trouble arranging their music in iTunes so I can’t see any better reason if they would include the files.app cause it would complicate iOS and iOS is known for its simplicity.

  • See I think that having access to the underlying file structure would be a step backwards. But I also think app sandboxing is a step backwards as well – it unnecessarily complicates working on a file with multiple apps. It is the hardest thing to explain to new IOS users because it is to be frank very counter intuitive.

    I think the killer file system would be to have a file system that sandboxes per file type – ie all apps which work on .doc files have access to all .doc files on your system, likewise those that work on .pdf’s have access to all pdfs and so on. And if an app reads mulitiple file types give it the ability to access both sandboxes at once. Give us that, with a sortable list and decent search embedded and you would have a killer simple file structure without the compromises implicit in the current implementation of IOS.

    Imagine working in on a presentation in Quickoffice – then later on opening the same document in Keynote to do your presentation without having to open up Quickoffice and then select to open in first – it would be relatively seamless and intuitive.

    However I don’t see it happening in IOS anytime soon.

    • hohopig

      Yes excessive sandboxing is a big step backward. But why on earth is access to the under;ying file structure a step backward at all? There should ALWAYS be the option for those who need access to the files, while those who don’t need it can safely ignor it.

      And in your example … why even bother sandboxing at all then?

  • Anonymous

    I agree with Jobs and with this article, but a hybrid type would be better… any app would have access to a few predefinded folders, like:

    Photos
    Videos
    Ringtones
    Music
    Documents
    Contacts
    External drives (flash drives)

    • Maybe I agree with Jobs and let app manage files, but so the problem is that you need to decide in every moment the app you want to use, and you can’t change with another

      I mean, I like how iTunes manage music, but sometime I’d like play a file and not add it to Library, so Winamp is a great app. If you let iTunes control all of your music you can’t play music with any other app. Similar happen with iPhoto.

      How is the deal? You would use 2 apps for manage their own library (so we have duplicated our files) or maybe you need married with an app for all your life?ç

      Now in my iphone I have several app for reading PDF. Some of them are better doing markups, other I prefer to see Brouchures en PDF, other I use for presentation … Where is my PDF? I need have one copy of the same file in every app

  • Some of the key folders in OS X are already hidden, and remember with Leopard they took away drives from the desktop. Granted, it’s a simple check in Finder options, but it’s a complete reversal from the usual layout.
    Gone is the Mac hard drive icon in lieu of folder stacks or Launchpad.
    It’s already underway. Personally, I’m glad to see this. After all, IT’S A PHONE, not a laptop.
    I have never used my mobile device for much else than what it was designed for. I’m a systems engineer by profession so I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty, it’s just… well it’s a phone.
    Do I really need File Manager on a phone? I really do not. What I want is INTEGRATION. I want to find a movie in the Fandango app and have it add a reminder to my calendar.
    I want notifications that make sense. I want people to stop trying to force this thing to multi-task like it was a desktop too. I don’t WANT multiple windows on my phone, and I don’t want widgets.
    Making it pretty is nice, but it’s a tool and at the end of the day, if the thing still can’t do the job it was INTENDED to do, then who give a damn what else it can do?

  • For most users the current file handling in iOS is just fine.
    Very easy to use and very clear.
    But there are allot of situations that are not supported by current iOS that makes me sometimes frustrated:
    1. Use wan’t to watch a movie, edit a document or play a song from flash drive.
    2. You wan’t to save files to a flash drive or network drive.
    3. I have 3 different navigation apps for my bike trips, I have a route on one app that I wan’t to share with another app – no can do.

    Basically my powerful new iPad is not a stand alone device – I need a PC running iTunes to do all these operations.
    Didn’t apple announce the post PC era?

    Apple needs to add a support for flash drives and a built-in app, similar to iTunes, that will handle the file operations.
    I had seen the demos of Windows 8 running on tablets. It makes the tablet a true standalone device.

    I think that Windows 8 is going to dominate the tablet market in two years, unless apple can match up the windows 8 abilities.

  • EpicFacepalm

    Fail… Computers always have the ability manage reach root/administrator filesystem. Even the computer noobs face off the filesystem. It’s the nature of a Computer. One of the best reason to use computers is to STORE, EDIT and READ, FILES.

    Apart of those, Apple should give us at least “mobile” (user) level filesystem accesss. It isn’t really necessary to have root access generally.

  • Hold on bookmarks bottum in safari app and u’ll be able to view system files var/mobile and even preview them through safari it self or apps lik ifile. Cheers

  • while iphone is a pretty nice phone, it does certain things quite well, i did gave ios few tries but ultimately went back to Android again. the phone storage is mine, i want to decide what files i can put on it. each app having its own file system is a mess. it means when that app is uninstalled, the files are gone too!

    on android, you can fully manage your files without any special software on any computer. just drag and drop, like a usb pen drive. all done without any hackery involved. of course when you “root” it, you will get superuser access.

  • Of course that Apple would never allow you to access the filesystem in iOS, they’re all about simplifying and dumbing down interfaces so that even stupid people can use their products. They could release a file manager app and label it as a tool intended for advanced users so that the grandmas and newbies don’t bother downloading it, but Apple doesn’t care about productivity, freedom or power users. If you don’t fall in the casual-user-who-only-needs-basic-functionality crowd, then tough luck.

  • gordonillan

    i-funbox.com has an iPhone file explorer that runs on Windows or Mac. No jailbreak needed.

  • This is a great article. Coming from the Windows world where my thinking was file system centric this article help me understand why I was failing to be able to do many of the things that would come naturally to me in Windows but are impossible in the iOS world (iPad).. I was thinking the failure to do many things was me just not finding the right app to use but this is really and underlaying feature of the operating system…iOS is meant to be a TOY rather and a production environment, something which I had failed to understand before.

  • hohopig

    So basically you are just reinforcing Stevie’s idea that every single consumer (or at least everyone of their target consumers) are basically idiots who cannot even handle a simple file system :P. Wonder how they go about keeping their books, files, etc in order then.

  • uberfu

    The quote you posted from 2005 — the last BOLD part you point out:

    And eventually, the file system management is just gonna be an app for pros and consumers aren’t gonna need to use it.

    …the file system management is just gonna be an app for pros…. contradicts your entire article.

    That part has not come to pass (without jailbreaking or Dev access).

    And I’m not talking about all these fluffy Apps that let you browse DOCs and PDFs and MP4s without leaving the phone or using an installed app.

    I’m talking about getting into the VAR or BIN or PRIVATE directories or accessing voicemail files – font files – accessing WebKit or getting into the Library Directory – etc…

  • Undecider

    You have people who can think for themselves and other who believe they should do the thinking for you. Apple is famous for limiting options because they.. know better!

    Let’s understand the iPad for what it is. It’s a multimedia entertainment device used to increase the earnings of Apple and its investors. They want to purchase the hardware then channel you through various App Store channels designed to separate you from your money and in an entertaining, distracting and diversionary fashion. That’s what it is first and foremost. Secondarily, it just might be used for productivity. The device is supposed to expire after a few years (planned obsolescence) upon which time you are supposed to purchase a new one.

    Apple’s not concerned with your getting super geeky with it. Just buy the device, the apps and be entertained. Stay plugged into the Matrix. That’s your role. Tinkering with the operating system and file structure? Forget about it.

  • Reel Tempting

    A good article. The more I learn about iOS the more and more disheartened I get. iOS is a lousy business tool. My employees need to DL blank docs then make copies on their mobile device, rename them, upload them to websites. When I select “choose file” from sites I only get ability to select photos??? No clue how to make copies….ANDDDDD….when DL’ing files iOS wants me to open them straight away in an app…SCREW THAT. I just want them stored on the device. I’ll open it when I am good and ready. I need access to PDF’s….AND cloud is O-U-T! We are a medical company HELLO???? HIPAA privacy….nothing ever goes on a cloud…healthcare is a trillion dollar business and for Apple to alienate such a massive business segment of the world by forcing cloud file storage is exceptionally short sighted, and a total non-starter for the medical industry and legal, any other privacy business, patents, IP, security, celebrity etc. You all are so right on with your comments…power users, ya know, those of us who push the industry forward, take a back seat at apple… What can I do on my iPhone? Have a monotone device call me a rock god…sweet. On my Android? Do business and make money. Enjoy your pictures of cats all, I’m signing $$$ contracts and developing business relationships on my Android.

  • Fabian Brown

    The user should have the choice. Provide both options and let the user choose. IOS forces you to do it the way they have decided on your behalf how it should be. I use BlackBerry10 and I have the choice. This is why I am able to get things done faster and easier.