Folders takes a minimalist approach to file browsing

The mantra for building a successful mobile app is: "Do one thing, and do it well".

Under the covers of Android lurks a real Linux file system, complete with directories, mount points, symlinks, and permissions. There are dozens of file browsers in the Google Play store and Amazon Appstore that let you examine the contents of your SD card and other public directories. None, however, was up to the ease of use standards of today’s guest columnist, Android developer Robbie Brown. --Ed

Folders by SAS is our attempt to make the simplest, most intuitive file browser for the Android platform. It’s free, has no ads, and starts up instantly.

We think the user interface is what sets Folders apart from other file browsers. The UI design started as part of a much larger app that hasn’t been released yet. After we worked out most of the folder exploring interface and technical problems in that project, we realized that with a few tweaks, we could reuse the component to make a decent file browser that would benefit from the attention of our great UI designers.

A lot of thought went into the browsing experience and how each action would be accomplished. Depending on your screen orientation and size, you can see one or several levels of your directory tree at once. The columns snap into position as you scroll left and right. The breadcrumbs provide an even faster alternative to swiping. Long pressing any item activates checkboxes in that item’s column allowing multiple selection. Target nodes appear in the columns when an action is started to make it obvious to the user how the action (copy, move, create directory, etc.) should be completed.

Bookmark handling is a feature that we didn’t originally plan, but when we showed the program to our local Android user’s group, quick access to often used items was their top suggestion so we included it. To create a bookmark, long press a  file or folder to enter selection mode and then tap the Favorite icon.  It will be added to the bookmark list which can be viewed anytime by tapping the Bookmarks icon in the toolbar.

Folders works on all versions of Android from 2.2 (FroYo) through 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) and beyond. To accomplish this we relied on version checks in the Android Lint tool, plus the ActionBarSherlock library by Jake Wharton.

During development and QA, we tested it on over a dozen different devices (both phones and tablets), fixed a few device specific and Android version specific bugs, and came up with some unique solutions to issues that, frankly, were harder than they should have been.  Anything related to scrolling, for instance, is unreasonably difficult once you get beyond the basics.

Get it on Google PlayThis is still a beta version so we would love to hear back about any problems you encounter, and suggestions for features you need. Advanced features such as network drives, cloud storage, or automatic backups that some more well established file browsing apps support are not planned for Folders, because that’s not its objective. Folders is designed to do one thing, and do it well. We hope you agree that it succeeds.

Robbie Brown is a software developer at SAS.

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