Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 30th Apr 2014 19:09 UTC

I deeply, truly, desperately want Apple to add a Files app and DocumentPicker controller to the iPhone and iPad in iOS 8. I've wanted it going on 4 years, and every year more than the last. It is, in my very humble opinion, one of the biggest, most frustrating holes remaining on Apple's mobile operating system, and all the more so because it seems like a model for fixing it has been in successful use for years already. Right now we're saddled with the complexity and frustration of iOS documents locked in app and iCloud jails. We're driven to outdated filesystems like Dropbox because Apple hasn't yet provided a next generation alternative. It needs to happen and so I'm once again asking for it this year and for iOS 8.

iOS has many complexity-inducing frustrations born out of "keep it simple", but none as big as this one. File handling on iOS is so incredibly frustrating and needlessly complex that I have a hard time considering it a mature operating system at all. My line of work requires constant opening and closing of a quarter metric frickton of files, and that kind of stuff is simply impossible on iOS.

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Member since:

But if that 'KISS' leads to more complexity... Isn't it time to stop pretending it's KISS in the first place?

The search for simplicity can actually create complexity. iOS' handling of files is a textbook example of that.

Not that Im arguing against your point (I get it), but just to nitpick...

File handling is iOS is incredibly simple - there is almost no complexity at all. Its only "complex" when you are trying to do something that the system doesn't directly support. I.e. it is complex to try and "work around" the system, but it is extremely simple to use the system as it exists without workarounds - its braindead simple.

What you are calling complexity is not in fact complexity - it is a combination of the side effects of sandbox security and omitted features.

1. Its security in the sense that the designers took the approach that apps should be sandboxed and should not have a view of the entire file system (i.e. each app is an island). This in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing.

2. Its omitted features in the sense that there is literally no OS mechanism to cross sandbox boundaries as far as local IO goes, short of things that are in central system repositories like music and whatnot. It just doesn't support doing that at all. All the complexity you see is due to developers/users attempting to plug this gap in the featureset.

Im only saying to point out that if you want 1 (and Apple strongly wants 1 because they run a curated app store and anything short of that is chaos), then you cannot have a "file picker". It just doesn't work...

There are probably a few ways to solve the problem, some of them generalized solutions (intent system ala Android), some of them more specialized (adding more system level repositories for certain kinds of data) - but the one thing that is not a solution to this problem is "add a file picker".

Just saying. It is a problem. It is a horribly bad problem. It is frankly ridiculous that they still have not addressed this problem. But the solution to this problem is not opening up the file system and adding a "file picker", because doing so cannot be done while maintaining the existing security model the OS is built upon...

Im sure the "but its my damn files and I should be able to do what I want with them" crowd will find this explanation woefully inadequate, I expect nothing less. But it is simply reality. You will never see a generalized file browser on iOS - it just isn't built to ever support doing that, and I strongly suspect it will stay that way.

Reply Parent Score: 4

brion Member since:

I wouldn't expect a totally generic Unix filesystem browser (though I'm sure you can get them for jailbroken iOS) -- but there are a few possible 'middle road's.

* iOS already has a document-management model that uses iTunes on the desktop as a manager: each application that supports file transfers basically has a subfolder, lists its supported types, and says "you can drop files in and out of here". In theory, a system app could provide a similar view in a with no changes to the data model, and allow deleting files, transferring files to/from online services or between apps, etc without having to hook up to iTunes.

* Windows Store apps on Windows 8/RT/Phone have a similar sandboxed model, but there are specific extension points in the OS that allow an application to serve as a provider for the standard in-app file picker, both for loading and saving. Whether they literally use the filesystem, a database, or an online sync service to do it is up to the app and abstracted away.

* Over in another thread somebody mentioned document providers on newer versions of Android -- -- offhand this seems to fall in this spectrum as well.

In theory it should be possible to create an interface for opening files belonging to another app... and for instance letting the Dropbox app handle *all dropbox files* might be a lot nicer than every app having its own half-assed Dropbox support with no central point of management.

Reply Parent Score: 2

galvanash Member since:

I wouldn't expect a totally generic Unix filesystem browser (though I'm sure you can get them for jailbroken iOS) -- but there are a few possible 'middle road's.

Oh sure, no doubt. Im not saying it is an intractable problem - its not. But most of the posts here in the past concerning this issue advocate for "generic Unix filesystem" type of solution - ignoring the fact that this is an application centric OS that was simply not intended to work that way.

The kind of solution I would like to see from Apple would be something like this:

1. They offer a versioned filesystem as a service in iCloud (think time machine but with the repository in their cloud service).
2. They write a simple time machine type iOS application to allow users to restore their "files" from a point in time backup quickly and simply.
3. The iOS device essentially has user level "document" folder that synchronizes with this service - all changes are automatically snap-shotted locally (just like time machine) - but importantly the change sets are pushed into the cloud when connectivity is available. That way you only need to keep x amount of history on the device - older stuff gets relegated to cloud storage and removed locally so storage requirements don't spiral out of control.
4. They create a new class of applications that can register to handle specific file types (and allow developers to register new file types). These apps would store their files in this centralized repository. You keep the existing app paradigm for apps that don't want/need to share data - but developers would have the option to go this route where they think it makes sense.

Why? Because this kind of solution avoids all the "do you want to allow this app to do that?" kind of tedium. It forgoes security for recoverability. Its still sandboxed, but its a shared sandbox and it is easy to recovery it to any previous state so users (and Apple) don't have to be so concerned about a rogue app wrecking things.

No bugging users to give permission for things to happen - apps would inherently have full read/write to this central document store. The key is giving users the ability to recover to any previous state easily.

No "file picker" necessary. If the app is registered to see a certain file type(s), it sees those files and can work with them. The app can decide how to present its UI to work with those files (just like it does now). It would be almost completely transparent to users AND developers. The key is to make it easily (and I mean really easily) recoverable - then you no longer really need the obsess with a byzantine security model. You could of course give users the ability to hide certain file types from certain apps if they wanted to - but I think it is extremely important to have the default be "everything can read/write all the file types it registers for" so that the whole simple by default ethos are maintained.

Reply Parent Score: 4

spronkey Member since:

I disagree that it can't be done. Add a new permission that apps must be granted to access a common file storage area.

Old apps wouldn't ever try to access it, so no harm done. New apps can just ask the owner for permission.

Reply Parent Score: 4

galvanash Member since:

I disagree that it can't be done. Add a new permission that apps must be granted to access a common file storage area.

Old apps wouldn't ever try to access it, so no harm done. New apps can just ask the owner for permission.

I completely agree (see my other post) - but that solution does not imply nor require a "file picker" - those two things are completely orthogonal.

Someone could of course write some kind of "file manager" for a common storage area - but the thing is, if apps are sharing a common storage area what exactly is there to manage? Apps can easily just continue working as they do now - they work with the file types they know how to work with however they choose to. What would you "manage" exactly? Apps don't need (and probably would prefer not to have) to deal with hierarchal folders.

So now we get into user created folders/organization and whatnot - and I personally see no point in ever doing that in iOS. Its not that it can't be done, I just don't think it serves any useful purpose (and I suspect Apple agrees with me).

Reply Parent Score: 4