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iOS 6 and why we got Passbook instead of Files.app

iOS 6 makes coupons convenient but leaves files frustrated

At WWDC 2012, Apple Senior Vice President of iOS, Scott Forstall, did NOT announce the following:

Next up is a brand new app we're calling Files

Now Files is:

The simplest way to get all of your documents in one place

There are a lot of really great apps in the app store that let you create and edit documents, text files, spreadsheets, and presentations, inside apps. There are Apple's own iWork apps, as well as some competitors, and a host of note-taking and text-editing apps that all let you work with documents right in the apps.

Now this is great but the problem is, when you need to find a document you have to try to remember which app you created it, hope you still have it installed, fumble around your Home screen to find the app, and then find the document or not within the app.

So Files takes all of these documents and combines them together in one place. And integrates it right into the OS.

That would have been the simple, user-friendly, file repository I've been asking for in iOS going on several years now.

And it would solve the current problem of users having to remember which app holds what document. (Or deleting documents b

What Forstall and Apple announced was almost exactly that, but for coupons, tickets, cards, and other forms of vouchers instead. It was Passbook.

Passbook has a lot of the functionality I've been asking for for documents for years, but it's for commerce rather than productivity.

It does show -- once again -- that Apple isn't philosophically against repositories in iOS, and can handle them in a way that's drop-dead simple for iOS users. But it also shows what Apple's current priorities are.

Here's the actual Passbook announcement:

Next up is a brand new app we're calling Passbook

Now Passbook is:

The simplest way to get all of your passes in one place

There are a lot of really great apps in the app store that are starting to put passes, boarding passes and tickets, into the apps. There are some airline apps, like this one from United, where you get your boarding pass right in the app.

There are some store card apps, like this one from Starbucks, where you get the store card right in the app and you can use it to scan and pay coffee.

And there are some movie ticket apps like this one, where your movie ticket goes right into the app.

Now this is great but the problem is, when you get to the movie theater or to the airport, you fumble around to find the app, and then find the ticket or the pass within the app.

So Passbook takes all of these passes and combines them together in one place. And integrates it right into the OS.

Now, I'm thrilled with the idea of Passbook. The less I have to carry around in my analog wallet, the better. And it's not difficult to imagine the day when PassKit (the framework behind Passbook) layers QR codes behind more advanced systems like RFID/NFC, all tied to iTunes' hundreds of millions of credit cards-strong checkout system.

It's easy to see why Apple gave Passbook that attention as well -- mobile ecommerce is going to be huge. Billions of dollars huge.

File access isn't that goldmine. It's just a point of friction for iOS users.

Having to remember which app you created which document may be an unnecessary cognitive load. Having documents tied to apps, when apps can be removed or replaced from devices with a touch, jiggle, and tap, may not be the kind user experience Apple is famous for. But it's also not a high-order bit for Apple at the moment.

For many users, especially professional and productive users, files and documents are as important as pictures and coupons, maybe more so. But they won't be shared socially, or paid for or redeemed by the masses.

Apple showed they could do simple, user-friendly, flat file repositories back in iPhone 1.0 with Photos.app and the Image picker. For anyone silly enough to doubt it, they've shown us again with iOS 6 and Passbook.

Maybe in a future WWDC we'll see a Files.app and docs picture bullet pointed, and given the same few seconds of attention pull-to-refresh in Mail got this year. Or maybe iCloud's document system will simply evolve into this, automagically surfacing any compatible file type in any app capable of editing it. That would solve 80% of the problem all on its own.

Bottom line, however, Apple has proven once again that they can do repositories and do them well. They've simple chosen not to do so for files. At least not yet.

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, Review, The TV Show, Vector, ZEN & TECH, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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There are 44 comments. Add yours.

RodneyJ725 says:

I think there will be a type of files.app, and will be announced along with iPhone 5. We already know for certain not every iOS6 enhancement has not be implemented or announced. I think they are saving a couple of additional big features to go along with the iPhone announcement... I hope... :)

iDonev says:

I my opinion, if Apple announces new iOS features this fall, they will be tightly linked to the new phone's hardware (like Siri was, Facetime before that and video recording before that). All I'm saying is, even if they announce some new software, it will most likely never grace our current devices (with the exception perhaps of the new iPad)

Carioca32 says:

Yeah, like iCards.
So relevant that took 15 minutes of the most important keynote of the year and no one remembers it.

Sam says:

Yeah, I'm not so sure I actually want Finder or some simulacrum of it on my iPad/iPhone.
In fact, I don't think most of us work in a doc-centric way like you describe. It's more project oriented for me and most of the people I know. The "document" is just an artifice.
If there is a way to make the "file" completely disappear and for the OS to synthesize an aggregation across apps and actions, that might be useful. Or maybe just open up spotlight more on iOS.

theproducer says:

What would the point of having a Files.app be? To (pointlessly) organize your files into some kind of folder structure? So that you can tap the file to have it load in the app that reads/loads (when you can just go to the app itself)?
"In fact, I don't think most of us work in a doc-centric way like you describe. It's more project oriented for me and most of the people I know. The "document" is just an artifice."
I agree totally, especially within the context of the iOS world, which is centered around Apps, not files or documents. I think the issue is that many are still looking at mobile OSes with their legacy, desktop oriented eyes, where the orientation is on files.
I would even go so far to say that on a consumer level (non pro or power use) this same methodology of hiding the file system from the user would work on desktops, and would eliminate the "where did my file get saved to?" issue.

Rene Ritchie says:

The point would be to create a BETTER user experience.
Right now the user experience sucks for files as much as it does for coupons. Apple chose to fix coupons but not files.
They could just as easily fix files, and in just as easy, elegant, and user friendly way.
Stop thinking Finder. Start thinking Photos or Passbook for files.

Dev says:

Passbook is orders of magnitude simpler than a Files.app would be, because Passbook does not have to deal with user-created content, or multiple different applications having multiple different permissions (read only? read-write? delete?) on different documents. Passbook is little more than the photo picker applied to coupons, and will probably work well. The same level of effort into a files app would be a disaster.
(I am with you, though -- I want a files app; actually, I want the ability to control application associations with documents without jailbreaking, but I cannot see Apple doing that either.)

theproducer says:

But the question is if the average iOS user cares enough about their "files" for it to even matter? We have Photos and Videos...and I think for most that takes care of a bulk of what they would need a Files.app for.
Files.app would probably be only of use to power users and because of that, Apple likely wont waste the time. It might be better off developed and launched separately as a standalone app (similar to Apple's iTC Mobile app).
I'm an iOS power user (and developer)...and I wouldn't even use it. The stuff I write is synced in Evernote or via Dropbox in Byword. The little bit of web dev maintenance and basic bug fixes I do on my iPad work changes directly on files stored on a server. Being able to see in one central area all of the files across all apps would be nice for me personally...but I think that's where its usefulness ends.

Usrs Gustav says:

I think what many of us are saying with all respect is, " get off your soap box" cause most "users" don't need or want that I have Docs I open them in pages, numbers, or keynote. End of story. Are you really using so many Apps to make documents that you can't remember where you put it? Seems like you could simply just use only one document type app. Quickoffice, Documents to go, and so on.

johna says:

I agree with Rene. The problem is that product (work or whatever you are trying to get done) is fundamentally file-oriented. A document is a document is a document. A photo is a photo is a photo. It's not about how (app) you work on the document or photo. It's about the end result. A simple example is that I like the red-eye reduction in one app (photoshop), but I like the colour of brushes in another app (sketches). Currently, to get the final product I want, I need to problem solve how to weave my file through all the applications I want to edit it which seems extremely inefficient and silly. Apple should just let you see the product of your work, the file! Apple is simply shoving the philosophy that an app should be a complete solution to a task down everyone's throats. This is a poor philosophy for any real work because solutions to problems do not often fit in a preconceived mold (otherwise they really wouldn't be problems would they). The lack of a visible file system is my one major gripe that I believe Apple really misses the mark.

Camfella says:

I don't think you're going to get your files app. Rene. I recall reading somewhere that Apple has even started moving away from files in some Mac OS apps.(can't recall which apps right now). I believe its a case of Apple keeping it simple for most consumers.

xstat21x says:

Forget Apple's priorities. This is just as much about the users as it is about Apple. I would much rather have the Passport app than this imaginary Files app, as I'm sure would most users. Yes it's a gold mine, we get it. It's also more useful, plain and simple.

BradM73 says:

Rene, has this question ever been address by Tim Cook as to why Apple hasn't come up with a file access solution for document files yet?
My guess as to why? Microsoft Office for iPad.
I believe that has been working toward the goal of opening up more of the iPad for productivity, and I have a gut feeling that once Office hits the shelves ( app store ), we may just see a "Documents" folder appear. My guess is that they won't call it "documents" or "my documents" to avoid confusion with Microsoft's "My Documents" folder. And yea, I am still annoyed that the file browser on OSX is called "Finder", but I digress...
Regardless of what it's called, I think that document access is one of the major things hindering the iPad from being a true productivity powerhouse for the masses. With Windows 8 and Metro coming this fall, Apple is going to have to come up with a solution sooner or later.

Glenn#IM says:

Agree to a point, but I use docs to go for everyday files I do not care if synced to iCloud. I use Readdle docs for sensitive information I do not want to sync to iCloud. It is just a matter of time before Apple does something. When the iPad first came out, it was all about music, and games. Enterprise was just an afterthought. A lot has changed. You can now do both, and very well, but a file system with iCloud would be nice.

mike d shaffer says:

I think that (as you yourself conclude) that iCloud's document system will address the bulk of your concerns. As a user that is very comfortable with the notion of a file system, I too think that a files.app or similiar would be a good thing. But I think Apple is desparately trying to move the world, with iOS away from the file management notion of computers. I just spent the weekend with my mom (age 78), brother (49), sister & sister-in-law (47)...all non-computer geeks but all iPhone users. Sister hadn't upgraded to iOS 5, brother & his wife were better, but had 35ish app updates a piece. My mother had to be reintroduced into how the camera app "works". iCloud to this bunch is utter black magic. Dropbox? Forget about it. The bulk of their iPhone work is phone/SMS, Maps, Facebook, Angry Birds and the like, and the camera. They rarely (if ever) connect their phones to iTunes. The moral of this story: in a room of 8 people, everyone had an iPhone. I consider myself an expert, my wife & two daughters by osmosis and some talent are advanced, and the other four I've described. Only I would have any use for a Files.app...but when I described the Passbook app, everyone thought that it was cool and would definitely use it. So in this small, unscientific test it was 87.5% of the test group that is way beyond expert and 50% that were complete neophytes. And that's why Apple is not aggressively pushing a Files.app.

mike d shaffer says:

87.5% "below" expert...should've recited this to Siri instead of typing.

T-Will says:

I think the point of iCloud is that it IS just supposed to be "black magic" (to the non-technical users). Technical users have the know-how to use services like Dropbox/Box/etc. if they choose to.

Mark S says:

Never gonna happen. If anything the file system is getting more obscure. Don't confuse your hopes and dreams with Apple's goal of ever-increasing simplicity and abstraction of the underlying workings of the OS.

Ian Abbott says:

The whole point in iOS is to make the filesystem disappear. For that reason alone you will not see Files.app.
In addition, files are meant to be stored either in iCloud or sandboxed within an application. It would be slow for Files.app to iterate over each installed application and display the files as it may not know what are internal use only and what are documents to be "shared". A shared files folder would be frowned upon for security reasons - if an app had ability to read anything in a shared location, then it could read all of your data.
Filesystems are not needed for 90% of users these days...

SockRolid says:

Respectfully disagree, Rene. Easier to remember which app handles certain document types than it is to remember the contents of a file by its name. And "pro users" wouldn't like scrolling through hundreds or thousands of thumbnails.
Oh, and speaking of files, the extension for iOS apps is ".ipa."
Not ".app."

dloveprod says:

The lack of a files.app was probably my biggest let down, the second was no widgets.

mfm77 says:

I would appreciate a Files.app for the simple reason that I could email documents from the Mail app rather than from the individual apps themselves. In addition, if Suzie Q. emailed me to ask for a copy of a document, I could reply with the document instead of going to the app, sending it from there, and losing the "replied to" message. Long story short: file attachments are just as important as photo attachments, especially as the iPad becomes used in more business settings.

sfwrtr says:

Good opinion piece, Renée. However, Apple addresses the needs of the 99%. We, the developers and people using our iPhones to be productive, are not the target audience. If it would not be immediately understood by the average Joe, Apple is not interested.
What I would like to see, and what would address your concern, is that Apple make it so that when you accidentally or intentionally delete an application, your documents are still preserved and backed up somewhere. That way when you need to access that document, the document as well as it's application have restored from the cloud and, voilà, it's there for use..

Mikos says:

Most business users would love a file structure to attach documents to emails. There are so many workaround apps that manage files because of this very reason. To reply to an email inline, I have to cut and paste the email thread into the files app and essentially spoof the format so it looks like an inline reply with the proper attachment. That is just plain silly in 2012. We shouldn't even be discussing this as a "feature" it should have been in there since iOS1 let alone version 6.

pilotcap#AC says:

Cleverly written, and with good arguments. Let's hope that Scott Forstall reads it, too.

Dave says:

I completely agree. To keep up with completitors look at Windows Phone. They have office and access to all the documents you save or even create. Why not have this as basic functionality. We use PCs or Macs and go through the file strucure all the time, not like it should be any different on a handheld device. I would have no use for passports or movie tickets, heck your phone should be off in a movie theatre, why would you use it? Having a native file browser would mean wonders to alot of people, and the people who say it wouldnt would be the first to use it and praise it because we dont have it...yet.

SockRolid says:

Re: "We use PCs or Macs and go through the file strucure all the time, not like it should be any different on a handheld device."
Negative. Microsoft tried that for 10+ years with all manner of UMPCs, Pocket PCs, WinCE devices, and Windows Slates. And what did it get them? Nothing. HP sold 9,000 "HP Slate 500" units.
There is no need for a 1980s vintage "desktop productivity" metaphor in hand held devices. If you want to build web sites or run Office, use a MacBook Air. And if you're just doing simple document-based editing, and you still think you need to drag files around, then you need to change how you think.

theproducer says:

"There is no need for a 1980s vintage "desktop productivity" metaphor in hand held devices."
This couldn't have been put any better frankly.
Even without this dead metaphor being in existence in iOS, the last I checked iPads were enjoying some reasonable uptake of use in the business and productivity world.
I think the issue is that there is different types of productivity, and different types of people hold differing views of what each type means. Apple (and Microsoft) is trying to foster a modern concept of what mobile productivity is and how it goes hand in hand with other devices, while others are holding on to an outdated concept, or, are attempting to shoehorn an outdated concept onto modern devices.

Dave says:

Depends on how you use your phone. I use AutoCAD on my iphone 4 to review drawings. I have to review and edit word and excel documents when on the road. Having acess to the files I have made/edited would be a plus. Being able to bring up an old file at a business meeting would be awesome but there isnt a feasable way of doing that. My coworking with a Titan can bring up the word document and email it to me. That is a waste of time and resources to have him do it. Given that I was born in 88 I can elimate the vinage 1980s style computing, its just basic functionality that we all use.

theproducer says:

Lol, '86 here.
You bring up good points...which is why I have no issues with Apple creating an standalone app as I mentioned above, or, if its going to be pointed at power users, go a step beyond, and design it with them in mind instead of trying to pretend to make something like that consumer-level friendly.
My main concern is just the idea of adding things to a mobile OS (or rejecting new idea out of hand - see Metro) just because "well...thats what we had on Windows 98SE".

Mike says:

Hey, Rene. Interesting article. I think this issue of file management and productivity is tangentially related to another issue: the iPad needs a modified interface all it's own. It's is still largely (not entirely) a blown up version of the iPhone. In my heart of hearts, I believe they should be similar, but not identical, experiences. I'd like some help from apple on being being more productive on my iPad, but don't really care about files on my iPhone.
I was disappointed that iOS 6 was not more iPad centric, as I truly believe tablets are the future.
But they are not there yet.
Anyway, my 2 cents.
Thanks for iMore!

Fraydog says:

I think Passbook is important for another reason. It could very well be where the future of the iOS UI is headed. It almost doesn't fit with the rest of iOS from a UI perspective, but if you look at it from a perspective of a refreshed and maybe enhanced UI, it makes perfect sense.

mematman15 says:

It's .ipa, not .app, .app is for Mac apps :l

Snowyfurrkat says:

shows what you know about iOS. .ipa is the extension for storing apps on the PC but if you've ever explored the iphone filesystem with a program like i-Funbox you would know that apps actually installed on the iphone are stored as .app folders the same way they are on macs

Mr. Bean says:

It may not be needed but why not throw it in for the people who would use it? Cant hurt right? I wouldnt use it that much but EVERYBODY could get at least a little use out of it. Whether your using it for work files, school files, social event files or even just for notes. It would be handy to have all files in once place and would get used more than you think by more people than you think.

markdj#IM says:

A files app IS important. Different people use the iPad in different ways. I work where there is no WiFi and no computer is on the Internet. I use my 4G iPad to receive file attachments to transfer to one of the computers I work on. I use GoodReader and Cloud FTP to fetch the attachment and transfer it to a USB stick. It's good thing that GoodReader can handle files unknown by any app. An IOS-level file capability with mail allowing you to save a file and attach a file to outgoing mail would be great! I also like to have PDF user manuals for my gadgets at my fingertips. Remembering which app (iBooks, Adove Reader, etc.) has the manual is a pain. iBook's PDF reader doesn't support all PDF features. Finally transferring file/docs from one app to another if you chose the wrong one initially can be very awkward.

Steve Hultquist says:

I already have Files: it's an app called Dropbox!
This is only really an issue for those of us with multiple apps for the same function (like, for me, creating and editing Markdown). Furthermore, if Apple did one, it would have to be an iCloud app to sync all devices. Dropbox (and Dropbox-integrated apps) works well for me.

blancheblaise says:

just as Betty explained I am dazzled that a stay at home mom can make $6823 in one month on the computer. did you see this link makecash16com

djtech42 says:

I have been thinking of how Apple could possibly implement this. I made a concept for an app called iDocuments that would be included with iOS 7. I think it would be a simple solution to the document problem on iOS. I posted it on MacRumors:
Let me know what you think of it.

Snowyfurrkat says:

The reason that Apple won't create a Files.app is because all iphone apps are sandboxed to keep them from harming the filesystem. To know which files belong in Files.app, iOS would need to scan your files. So if someone found a vulnerability in that system, they could create an iphone virus that would render your phone unusable. Plus that could create unneeded drama because in theory Apple would know exactly on your phone, which could get people upset over privacy.