Why the iPad Needs a File System

on February 24, 2013


Over at Monday Note, the always perceptive Jean-Louis Gassée writes about how the lack of a true user-accessible file system is holding back more intensive use of the iPad as a creation tool. Jean-Louis has been on this kick for a while, and I couldn’t agree with him more.

My creative process, and I expect many of your workflows too, consists of creating documents by writing original text combined with bits and pieces from a variety of sources, including web pages, image files, Word documents, PDF files, email messages, tweets, and who knows what else. On a Mac or a Windows PC, this is very easy to do, by openeing multiple windows and cutting and pasting between them. The lack of multiple windows can’t easily be overcome on a tablet; at best, you could manage two small windows on the limited display real estate.

But Apple makes this much harder than it has to be by imposing tight restrictions on communications between iOS apps and by denying users access to any sort of listing of files available on the system. There are lots of ways around this, using third-party apps such as SugarSync and Documents to Go, but like all workarounds, the are clumsy, halfway solutions. I love traveling without a laptop, but even writing a simple blog post on an iPad is a lot more challenging that it ought to be.

I like Gassée’s suggestion of a two-tier user interface for the iPad, with the advanced version exposing features such as the file system while the standard mode keeps them hidden. I don’t think Apple would ever offer this–it violates the canon of iOS simplicity–but it sure would be a big help to some of us.