The problem with the iPad

The problem with the iPad

Summary: The lack of an accessible file system makes it hard to keep track of projects that use multiple files. Does Apple need to make the iOS file system accessible to all, or is there an easier way for the Cupertino giant to allow users to manage files?


The iPad was one of those pieces of tech that people really didn't expect to succeed. Prior to Apple's entry into the market, Microsoft had tried — and essentially failed — to take the form factor into the mainstream, but the Cupertino, California, giant's vision of what a tablet device should be was an overnight success.

(Image: Apple)

As the iPad matured, it transitioned from being a consumer electronics bauble into also being a serious tool used by enterprise, with Apple claiming that virtually all of the Fortune 500 and over 85 percent of the Global 500 companies currently deploying or testing iPads.

The iPad's ace up its sleeve was simplicity. Everything about the device was built around making it as easy to use as possible. But it's possible to take simplicity too far, especially when enterprise users are concerned, and there's one aspect of the iPad that Apple may need to address to keep enterprise users happy, and that's file system access.

Jean-Louis Gassée of The Guardian succinctly summed up the problem facing the iPad.

"On a 'real' PC," wrote Gassée, "the file system is visible, accessible; on the iPad, it's hidden. The act of creating, arranging, accessing files on a PC is trivial and natural. We know how to use Finder on the Mac and Explorer on Windows."

But things are different on the iPad.

See also Network and network troubleshooting apps for the iPhone and iPad

"On an iPad, you don't navigate a file system, but, instead, you launch an app that has its own trove of documents that it understands — but it can't 'see' anything else," Gassée pointed out.

The more you work on an iPad, the more you notice this.

If everything you do is done in a single word processing document or spreadsheet, or you spend most of your time flinging birds and pigs, then you might never notice a problem, but if you work on projects that rely on multiple files or multimedia — and by this I mean multimedia in the loosest sense possible, in that you need multiple types of media — then this is when things start to get tricky. Even doing something as simple as keeping together a set of images that go with a word processor document is hard. Most of the time, you end up resorting to using a cloud storage service, a situation that can be far from ideal for some.

While there's little doubt that simplicity is at the heart of Apple's decision to hide the iOS file system from view, security and data integrity also plays a part. Apps are sandboxed from each other, and cannot, in most cases, see or tamper with data that belongs to another app.

Apple's intentions are honorable.

One way that Apple could solve this file system dilemma is to create shared storage space on iOS devices that any app — with the right permission — can access. This would work much like how photo storage works, where apps can ask for permission to access the camera roll, and then have the ability to access, modify, and save files. This would allow those who wanted to manage projects from their iPads — or, for that matter, their iPhones — the ability to create folders to hold a variety of project files, and then give apps the ability to access these folders.

This would offer the best of both worlds. It would allow Apple to keep the iOS file system from view, while offering enterprise and power users the ability to do more with their iPads.

Topics: iOS, Apple, iPhone, iPad, Storage, Bring Your Own Device

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  • Get a Surface Pro

    And stop worrying about limitations. The iPad has always been to thin of a client to get some serious forms of work done.
    • Even better yet

      get a "surface ultimate" (a laptop) with the "unified UI" (windows 7 and no touchscreen). It has improved positioning at any angle and doesn't fall off your lap as easy, requiring less table space and no gorilla arm. Much lower cost too.
      • Gorilla Arm? Not necessarily...

        Surface has limitations? Yes, yes it does. Don't like Win 8? That's also valid. Lower cost? Indeed. But gorilla arm? Unless you have a huge screen that's really far away from you, I don't think so. I have my two monitors at about a foot and a half from me, and I can easily reach them while resting my elbow in my desk. I'm not tall either; quite the opposite, as I'm only 5 feet tall. Gorilla arm is only an issue in a few isolated cases.
      • Or..

        In June when Haswell arrives and you get a W8 tablet with 10 hour battery life and graphics superior to Atom, Apple will likely be working furiously to merge their mobile and desktop OSs a la MS anyway. That'll address a number of iPad limitations. MS saw the need for a full OS on a mobile touch-based platform and took a great deal of criticism from Apple fans. We'll see how everyone reacts if/when Apple moves towards a unified OS.
      • No gorilla arm and not many alternatives for Surfaace Pro

        Surface Pro is equipped with a pressure sensitive stylus. This alone eliminates the gorilla arm and turns any "no touchscreen" into "no competitor".

      is that the Apple logo on the back doesn't glow!
      FFS, for $600, I want to see the LOGO in the dark!
      • "One of the" problems with iPad is...

        Lack of customer expandable storage (ie. SD card slot).
        You want customer access to files? Let iOS put a mount point on the SD card, call it "Home"

        Try accessing the Cloud when you are on a plane. Or a passenger in a car. Internet is nice, but it isn't everywhere (contrary to some peoples opinion)
  • A 'File system' is old thinking

    I don't miss it, I use dropbox as my cloud based file system which integrates well with most productivity apps.

    It really strikes me how hard we try to cling on to old modes of working, this is what the Surface Pro is hoping it will make money from

    Just better to let go and get on with with living in the future
    • File managment

      I like to be able to get to my files.. Ofcourse Ive been editing program and game files for the last 20 odd years... I can't imagine being totally locked out to my own file system...
    • sure but

      just like people say the PC is dead, in reality many people still need them. I use the cloud for most things, but there are times when having access to the filesystem makes sense too. We android users have that option.
      • If the people around here only knew...

        Its laughable how few here seem to understand that the vast majority of "the tech unsavvy", which just happens to be most of the world, dosnt use the cloud for anything major in so far as the kind of use it gets from many around here.

        For most, email from the cloud is the largest part of the cloud they use. And of course this makes some good sense as cloud based email has been around forever, and its no small wonder given email really needs an internet connection anyway.
    • We cling onto things that work.

      A filing system is not old. What you propose is we expect programs to take care of our programs rather then managing our own. Being able to know where files are will always work better then letting software take care of it. Some people are just too lazy these days.
    • Its actually really important.

      The problem is nobody seems to be able to agree on whats the best cloud to use, and that matters a lot when it comes to apps. For instance if I want to draw something in a program that backends to dropbox, and open it in something that backends to the , completely garbage, iCloud , then I have to get things back to a computer somewhere to move it between systems. Thats terrible! A shared file store means software can interact. iPad excels at simple and effective apps. The last system that thought that was was Unix in the 1980s. But the difference between Unix and the ipad was Unix let those apps talk to each other so the user could build their own workflow. Until this is resolved , frankly , the iPad is simply unsuitable for a lot of tasks. And thats a shame because the iPad really has no viable competitors at this stage. If "no filesystem" is supposed to be the future, I propose we hit the brakes and find another future.
    • Pssst...

      You're using DropBox as, are you sitting down for this?...

      A file system! Sure, it's "on the cloud" but the basic idea of the file system is there.

      It is, however, limited by the fact that you need to have access to it. You need to have access to the Internet and while this may be a trivial problem to a lot of people, it surely isn't so for everybody. A file system on the device itself would solve this problem.
    • all well and good

      until you can't access the cloud or the cloud server goes "poof" and you can say goodbye to your documents. ADMIT it. There is no real substitute for physical access. The cloud is only to make the iPad seem much more powerful than it is. If you can't physically manipulate files then you do have a hamstrung device. Apple does this on purpose. The less the OS can do, the fewer problems you have. Being a MS and Android user, there is still some beauty in this simplicity.
  • Document Manager?

    You don't need file management in the true sense. But some sort of internal document manager is sensible, and a different thing altogether.
    • Precisely.

      iTunes and iPhoto are good examples of how, with a good document management system, you don't need to ever touch the file system.
      • real world uses files

        the pretend world uses documents, images, songs, etc.
      • iTunes

        I am just trying to get my head around the idea that iTunes is a 'good' example of anything!
  • Mail

    The inability to add an attachment directly from Mail is partly the fault of this neurosis about us accessing the file system. You can (now) add a photo attachment from Mail, why not another file type? The need to start an attachment email from a 3rd Party app (together with 'cut and paste' if you are replying to current email) is absurd and not business-friendly, if Apple is hoping on competing in that regard. Heck, my old Palm TX was capable of it and BlackBerry does it without question.

    Apple has, with photo attachments, shown it is possible to cross-access files and so they could, if they felt so inclined, allow us to access other files thru, say, a Pages install or - if really paranoid, via Cloud services like their own.