Lack of user access to a document and folder level file system is one of the attributes I like least about Apple’s iOS mobile operating system. However, the iOS Development blog’s Ole Begemann reveals that getting rid of the file system was elemental to the late Steve Jobs’s OS game plan well before the iPhone’s debut.
Begemann points to All Things D’s release of a podcast containing videos of Steve Jobs’s five appearances at All Things D conferences between 2003 and 2010, specifically the session from 2005 in which Jobs reveals his ambition to make computing more user-friendly and easier to learn by getting rid of the file system as part of a computer’s UI. Begemann provides the following transcript:
…in every user interface study we’ve ever done , [we found] it’s pretty easy to learn how to use these things till 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, email, 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 consumer’s aren’t gonna need to use it.
What that sounds like to me is a Stevespeak manifesto for dumbing things down.
I’ll somewhat grudgingly concede that Jobs was probably right about the file system being confusing for many newbies and the indefatigably tech-illiterate (although I never personally found it so, even in my neophyte days on the Mac 20 years ago). However, the functional cost of getting rid of it in the iOS has been severe for production and efficiency oriented pro and power users, kneecapping iOS devices’ considerable potential as portable production platforms. If Jobs and Apple had followed through with the “file system management app for pros” Jobs alluded to in his 2005 comments, fair enough, but they didn’t, which makes, for example, such relatively mundane tasks as uploading images to illustrate articles like this one impossible to execute from an iPad.
And FWIW, when I’m looking for a file, I find the good old Mac OS Finder directory-based file system—with or without the aid of a good search utility—far less confusing and cumbersome, as well as usually much quicker, than digging through various iOS apps’ content lists when I can’t recall in which app the sought document was “parented.” I also much prefer to organize archived documents by subject matter category in respective folders, rather than having their storage and retrieval fragmented based on what particular app they were created in.
Not the first time I’ve philosophically parted company with Steve Jobs, nor likely the last, but this issue is pretty basic, and I’m inclined to bridle at dumbing-down in any context. Not that I worship making things gratuitously complex and difficult either. I use Macs (and iOS devices) and I’m anything but a command line jock. But my orientation is toward smartening things up, not the contrary, which is…you know…