Apple is dramatically rethinking how applications organize their documents on iPad, leaving behind the jumbled file system and making file access between the iPad and desktop computers seamless.
That’s an excerpt from a report at Apple Insider on how Apple is ‘re-inventing’ file access and wireless sharing on the iPad. The article talks about how conventional hierarchical file systems are seen as ‘a bit of a mystery’ to non-savvy computer users, and how Apple is looking to reduce the complexity of working with files and file systems.
This is put forward as the reason behind the way many things are done on the iPhone – which is said to ‘abstract away the file system entirely’ and offers no concept of opening or saving files – which in this case is meant to be a good thing.
Most of us who are anywhere above novice user level would likely debate how much of a good thing, if at all, that abstracting away of the file system is. I’d far rather see more allowance for user choices in saving and opening files, and at least a little bit greater access to the file system, for those who want it and who accept any greater risks associated with opening it up.
Heck, my 6 year old daughter can understand the idea of saving some files to a folder with her name on it, and others to different locations.
Anyway – here are some of the details Apple Insider’s report provides on how iPad will handle things in this area. I’ve highlighted a few blocks of text which I think are amongst the most interesting bits:
iPad’s new document sharing model
With the iPad, Apple demonstrated new multitouch versions of desktop-class iWorks apps with user interfaces that need to open and save documents. There’s still no file system browser with open and save panels. Instead, each app displays the files it knows about at launch for the user to navigate through directly.
An iPad developer has revealed to AppleInsider how this new mechanism works, without also requiring that users learn about the complexity of the underlying file system. Rather than iPad apps saving their documents into a wide open file system, apps on iPad save all their documents within their own installation directory. Delete the app and you’ll clean out all of its related files. This is how the iPhone OS already works.
Additionally, iPad apps can now specify that their documents be shared wirelessly. With that configuration, the iPad will make available each apps’ documents, allowing the user to wirelessly mount their iPad via WiFi and simply drag and drop files back and forth between it and their desktop computer.
On the desktop system, the iPad will show up as a share containing a documents folder for each app that enables sharing. For example, a user with iWork apps will be able to wirelessly connect to their iPad as if it were a directly connected drive, and simply drag spreadsheet, presentation, or word processing files between their local system and the mobile device as desired.
Documents copied to the app’s shared folder will be graphically presented by the app when it launches, sparing users from having to figure out where to look for their document files and avoiding any need to sort through different kinds of documents. The document listing also presents each file as a large preview akin to Quick View on the Mac OS X desktop.
Just like the iPhone, the iPad will sync some apps’ documents via either iTunes or MobileMe, including photos, music, movies, TV shows, contacts, calendars, and bookmarks.
I’ll be very interested to learn more about how this all works and to work with it myself as soon as I’ve got an iPad.
The continued lack of ability to make your own choices in terms of where to open files from and save them to is disappointing for power users I’m sure. It sounds like we’ll still have zero ability to organize documents within sub-folders unless it’s provided by the individual app, and I have seen very few apps doing that on the iPhone.
Simple wireless sharing and an ability to move documents back and forth from iPad to desktop sounds quite nice though. I hope, and assume, some of this wireless sharing goodness will come to the iPhone soon.
I also hope there are more powerful MobileMe apps coming along to help out with file sharing and documents access.
The mention of documents backed up within each application’s directories is another good reminder that we really need a good backup app for the iPhone and the iPad. iTunes does what it does well enough, but it has some major holes and flaws. For starters, it is quite common to find that a persistent iPhone problem can only be resolved when a restore is done AND the choice is made to setup as a new iPhone, not making use of a backup. Also, we have no ability control which apps’ data are backed up or not in any given backup routine run by iTunes.
I really want to see a backup app – preferably from a good third party – that lets me say ‘Today I just want to backup the data (documents) for three specific apps’ and lets me make choices to not backup my music or photo libraries, or my contacts and so forth, and not to backup all the data for my 150+ installed apps – just to go backup the three I want to backup right now. Of course that’s just a quick example of one scenario – to illustrate the need for more control of what is backed up, so we don’t always have to sit through a painfully slow full backup.
What do you all think? Does the described level of file system access and sharing ability sound good enough to you, or do you want more?