iOS 7 and my continued, unrequited desire for a Files.app!

Every year, for the last three years, I've asked Apple to consider what amounts to a Files.app and FilePicker control in iOS. It would be analogous to the Photos.app and ImagePicker control, but allow us to easily find, and easily open, all the documents we use on all our iPhones and iPads, every day. Now, on the eve of iOS 7, the need for better file handling -- not filesystem! -- remains, and if anything has become even more urgent. In a post-iCloud, post Steve Jobs and Scott Forstall world, how can Apple address it?

No filesystem but no real alternative

At the risk of making it obnoxiously clear, I don't think iOS needs a filesystem. Dropbox is a filesystem and while it's fantastic at what it does, it's the past, not the future. Apple doesn't seem to think iOS needs a filesystem either, but they haven't yet provided what's needed to make filesystems obsolete. Hence, Dropbox. From Stuck between the Dropbox that was and the iCloud that isn't yet:

The [current iOS] architecture is unnecessarily dependent on apps. If I create a document in Text Editor 1, not only do I have to remember the document I created but, if I want to access it again, I also have to remember the app I created it in. If I later switch to a much better Text Editor 2, my document doesn't switch with me. I have to either copy and paste every document from Text Editor 1 into Text Editor 2, or keep a list of which documents are where. That's a non-trivial amount of cognitive overhead. If at some point I move on to Text Editor 3, or delete (or switch devices and don't re-install) Text Editor 1, it gets even worse. I have to track my documents over multiple access points, and perhaps even re-install old apps just to get back to the documents locked inside. It's a mess.

Decoupled, documents that present themselves to any app that supports editing their type, and apps that simply pull any document whose type they support, would be much simpler and better. A smart version of a document picker would remove the cognitive burden from users and let the system do all the heavy lifting.

Apple doesn't seem to think iOS needs a filesystem either, but they haven't yet provided what's needed to make filesystems obsolete.

In a world with a Files.app, you'd just tap its icon on the Home screen, tap the type of document you want (the way you tap an album in Photos.app), and go to your document. Then you tap the document and choose where you want to open it. Conversely, you could open any document app -- text editor, presenter, spreadsheet, etc. -- tap the open button, and FilePicker would present you with every file (including iCloud files) that can be opened by that app. Again, with the ability to quickly filter to help with longer lists.

Faster still, you'd just type something in a search box and Spotlight would filter right to whatever you want.

Mapping Files to Photos

Back before iOS 6 launched, I did a series of mockups on how Files.app could map to Photos.app, FilePicker could map to ImagePicker, and File Stream could map to Photo Stream. From How Apple could provide direct document access in iOS 6:

We didn't get better file handling in iOS 6, however. We got Passbook, a repository for tickets, cards, coupons, boarding passes, and more. And not without reason. From iOS 6 and why we got Passbook instead of Files.app:

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

It's already in use everywhere from Starbucks to Delta airlines, and it's built in such a way that when/if Apple embraces radio transactions (be it via NFC or something else), Passbook should handle it as gracefully as CoreLocation handles GPS vs. Wi-Fi mapping. It's good now and could be terrific in the future.

But file handling on iOS isn't even good now, and needs to be terrific. It's far more personal, and will drive far less revenue, but great file handling is the difference between an operating system being truly useful and truly frustrating. Android has intents and sharing, Windows Phone has contracts. There's whole levels of app interoperability that iOS lacks at the moment.

Finding the future

I've evolved my thinking on Files.app and FilePicker somewhat since the pre-iOS 6 days. A flat repository with search, for example, is more future-proof than any single layer of folders or albums. A much better, more robust, and more useful version of Spotlight that has "just type" functionality similar to what webOS had, and BlackBerry 10 is rolling out, with the ability to see into iCloud and Files.app, would go a long way to making things easier and faster.

Apple could no doubt figure inter-app communication and file handling and do just enough to provide that functionality without compromising security.

The same way Apple knew "I want multitasking" was really "I want Pandora, Skype, and TomTom to work while I'm on the phone or browsing the web", and did just enough to provide that functionality without compromising battery life, Apple could no doubt figure out "I want inter-app communication" is really "I want to open and send my files where and when I want to open and send them", and do just enough to provide that functionality without compromising security.

Multitasking had a small group of different API, and inter-app communication would certainly require similar to truly address current pain points. Files.app and FilePicker would just be part of that, but an important, highly user-facing part. BackBoard, XPC, there are a lot of ways Apple could choose to handle these problems. I just hope screaming fast, ubiquitous file access is front and center come keynote time.

Bottom line

Six years into the mobile revolution iOS started and we're still stuck at the gates when it comes to file handling on iPhone and iPad. With iCloud, the need only grew greater. With fresh blood in control of the product, perhaps this year we'll see some movement. Perhaps rolled into more robust inter-app communications, perhaps on its own. Either way, I've been asking for it for a long time, other technologists have been asking for it for a long time, and other apps have tried to fill the gap that only system software can really fill.

What say you? Will iOS 7 finally be the time and version when great file handling comes to iOS? And if it does, will it be in the form of Files.app and FilePicker, something more, or something else?

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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iOS 7 and my continued, unrequited desire for a Files.app!

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I know. The idea is cool and many people may find it useful. But I generally use one primary app for editing files of a certain type. In case I ever feel the need to open it in another app, I generally can.

How do you find a file though, say, once you have a hundred or two of them?

And, the idea of DL a file from Dropbox, send it to some app, edit it, find some way to get it back to Dropbox.... isn't end-user friendly at all. Take Dropbox out of the picture (iCloud), and you just have to hope and pray Apple keeps good care of your data (and, my faith isn't too sure in Apple when it comes to cloud, especially given all the issues over their history, not being able to get basic syncing working... or even currently with the mess that iMessage often is).

Apple's current system only works if you use a few simple apps, with only a few files each. More than that, and it quickly becomes WAY more complicated than just using a filesystem.

It's, 'throw the power user under the buss' so it's more simple for the newbie. I just don't think it has to be an either/or.

I think you seriously overstate your case here.

I use Pages all the time on iOS and I have a hundred or so documents in iCloud associated with it. Pages is actually one of the more complicated "big" apps and a hundred or so documents is far more than "a few files each" as well.

The real problem is cross app communication and documents that may open in multiple apps as Rene says. Its vaguely possible that someone else might write a word processor for iOS some day, and then all those documents in Pages which are not a problem at all now, will become a big big problem indeed.

I have this problem already with PDFs, and I constantly have to open two or three apps searching for the file I want.

What about hundreds or thousands of documents that don't all belong to one app? What about people with existing collections of thousands of documents they don't want to lose access to?

If you have to find a document related to some project for a client, how do you find it among your hundreds of documents? Going to a folder structure of client->project is pretty darn simple. And then I can see all the other files associated with that project as well.

Amen! We need it asap. I recently switched to Z10 for its great file handling features, I could attach files in the email message composing screen and its file app was even connected to DropBox but why I switched back to iPhone is its ease of use.... I just beg for the File app on iPhone, we don't only play on iPhone, we use it as a fully-fledged work smartphone

The problems I see with the kind of thing you are talking about, might be similar to the problems on OSX with Spotlight. Sure, I use it now and then, but once you get more than a few files, the old, tried and true, folders works much better. Sometimes I associate files with apps (iPhoto, for example), but most of the time, files are related to PROJECTS I'm working on. A particular project might have a few text files, a spreadsheet, some photos, a Keynote presentations, an audio file or two, etc. One could handle this, I suppose, with proper meta-data instead of folders... but is that really any more user intuitive? Possibly it could be, I suppose.

The thing is, as I see it, simple (as current iOS is), works great until you get more than a few dozen files. Maybe the average user never gets beyond that??? But, it holds everyone else back. Simple in OSX meant giving the entry-level user an easy way in, but not getting in the way of the power-user. Apple needs to rediscover this UI aspect that made them famous, and loved, in iOS. (For example, visible, consistent pull-down menus in Finder, but also key-shortcuts once you get them down... use either.)

I think you hit on a key point, though, with the comment about Passport and driving profits. I think the bean-counters have assumed a bit too much control at Apple these days. It shows all over iOS in many of the core apps. There are too many folks coming up with ways to "drive profit" and too few testing and paying attention to actual software and OS needs. (For example, one still can't do something so basic as copy an entry in Calendar. How many versions of Calendar have we had now? I could go on and on.)

Ultimately, I don't care if they want to rework it or call it something else, but I think we need something that provides a kind of functionality an awful lot like a file-system. IMO, the idea that file-systems are a thing of the past is pretty ridiculous. It's kind of like saying, we have YouTube now, no need for Podcasts or that super old writing-in-text stuff. ;)

"... but most of the time, files are related to PROJECTS I'm working on. A particular project might have a few text files, a spreadsheet, some photos, a Keynote presentations, an audio file or two, etc."

+1

I agree, we need a way to at least manage files. I started on a Blackberry and Blackberry has a file explorer and you can get them for Android as well, but iOS has no way mess with files like that. It would be a nice addition and make iOS more appealing to the business minded people that don't want to use something like Dropbox.

I've been using iFiles.app for 5 years now. And I find it really useful. But the only thing i dislike about it the interface.

I would love a regular filesystem. Apple's quest for simplicity is actually making the process of dealing with files more cumbersome and convoluted.

You hit the nail on the head. For all they do to work around having a file manager it makes everything so complicated. It's just ridiculous.

The problem with trying to abandon the file/folder metaphor is that as complicated as some users might be with it, everyone has been exposed to it. On the other hand, iCloud is so uniquely Apple that I never trust any of my documents to it and instead use Dropbox.

This is where it's important to recognize that no matter how simple a construct may be, it has to compete with what users already know, not with how hard it was to learn the old system. And hiding my files from me does not help.

Re: "On the other hand, iCloud is so uniquely Apple that I never trust any of my documents to it and instead use Dropbox."

I LOVE that statement. It is so true! (Of course, maybe this is because I was a Sr. IT Operations person for so long... I NEVER trust data to invisible type stuff, especially not with Apple's track record in that area!)

And just so folks don't think I'm being too much a curmudgeon here, I've been an Apple-evangelist since the late-80's. I love them most of the time, but can also be quite critical when I think they are really screwing up.

For the record, DropBox has had more problems with lost files and poor security than iCloud. So your dual observation that it is somehow obvious that because Apple is behind iCloud there might be a problem in that regard is completely … faulty.

Apple actually has a better "track record" in this area.

There have been many articles in the last year about DropBox having security problems, losing files etc. I am not going to look them all up for you.

iCloud on the other hand gets a lot of criticism from the young tech bloggers (because: Apple), but I can't think of a single example of lost files or any kind of security breach involving iCloud.

I can think one. A few months ago after I updated to Mountain Lion all my Notes on my phone disappeared. Over 75 notes, just gone. That's why and most people in my industry don't use iCloud. We don't trust it with important files.

But your "personal experience" isn't very scientific. Is that how you decide what you're going to use and buy?

And the worst part is there is no way I know of even trying to troubleshoot the problem. With Dropbox, I could look back at the file change history and quite possibly get my data back.

Apple's system will efficiently replicate any change, mistake, technical issue, etc. to all of your devices, with no way to see what is really there or look back in history.

I don't know if Apple has lost documents, from say, iWork apps in the cloud or not yet.... but their other various cloud-sync services can be quite problematic. From talking to friends, I'm one of the few with more than 2 devices that hasn't had much trouble.

BTW, they even tried to buy Dropbox. The cloud isn't Apple's strong point (or networking stuff in general). I hope they've made great strides now, with all that is resting on it... but historically, it has been a big open wound for Apple.

I just want one place to keep all my important stuff. Be that Photos, documents, spreadsheets, whatever. Then, if there something I would like to share, I can easily get to it from the email app. An expanded "Insert Photo or Video' if you will. One that points directly to the files.app Rene is referring to. Would also be great if I open the file within the files.app I get a menu or key allowing me to open with any app that can open and edit whatever type of file it is.

I don't understand this allergy to a file system, where it must be disclaimed immediately almost to innoculate the poster against charges of heresy against Steve's vision. You rightly point out the shortcomings of an app centric view (although you do not consider scrolling through lists of 100s of text documents every time you want to open one in any app) but Android-style intents fail as badly with multi-app tasks. Think of something as simple as an article posting, where you might have words in Notes or Pages, Images in Camera Roll or Photoshop. Intents might allow you to open the text in either app, but what tells you that image A belongs with article A? A file naming convention? Tags? That simply moves some more cognitive overhead out of the system and into the user's head. I love tags in gmail and Evernote, but I can't imagine Apple considering that power/overhead trade off a suitable mass-market solution.

But they could release an app to manage the naming, placement, and management of these files.

At that point, they might even call it Finder.

Re: "Dropbox is a filesystem and while it's fantastic at what it does, it's the past, not the future."

Exactly. Moving files around manually is a holdover from the 1980s desktop productivity metaphor. The post-PC era has largely moved beyond that.

Re: "...FilePicker could map to ImagePicker, and File Stream could map to Photo Stream."

Yuck. Can't stand Photo Stream. I think photos uploaded automatically to iCloud should end up exactly the same as if you had plugged your iOS device into a desktop computer. Organized by "event," split up by date, etc. Not as one gigantic photo dump.

I think Photo Stream exists as it is to prevent anybody from storing more than 1000 photos at once. Just to limit the amount of storage that anybody can burn up with photos.

But that's beside the point. I think a file dump like your "File Stream" idea would be awful. Exactly the kind of complexity that Apple wants to avoid in the post-PC era.

Need to drag files around? There's a Mac for that.

Actually Photostream exists because if it didn't, wireless syncing of your devices would include everything *except* your pictures. The solutions Apple came up with for wireless syncing and syncing with the cloud were unable to deal with photos, so they came up with Photostream instead.

It has "moved beyond it" by pretending the problems do not exist.

Odd that your "post PC" solution to that need is to buy a separate PC (ok, Mac) for it.

Apple has never said that the iPhone or iPad is meant to replace the PC. The "post PC" meme comes from idiotic business analysts who are trying to make money by stirring up controversy.

Split hairs all you want, but if you say it is the future, and it does not solve as many problems as the "holdover", then the onus is on you either to demonstrate why the "future" is a superior method for the problem at hand or explain in detail why the problem had been made irrelevant.

Simple assertions don't cut it.

Apple is slow to embrace new ideas. The basic 2007 iPhone was very cool, but lacked when it came to power users. When the iPad came out, it was more for fun. iWork was put in as a last thought. "In case you want to write War and Peace" They were not really looking at enterprise. Even now, seems like the App Store is always pushing the next big game. Just open the App Store, and check out featured apps. Mostly games. Then there is iCloud. They will most likely never have a files, stating that is what iCloud is for. I am like others, some files I do now mind going to iCloud, but sensitive information, like all my co workers personal information in the cloud, makes me nervous. I use documents, and have it turned off to any sync. If it crashes, or I have a crash, yes I will loose all the information, but it is written down. I can start over, and reload. Search is another problem for files. You can search anything, and find it on the device, but that is not the same. We need to be able to work with files, and know what is going on. Apple has a great opportunity here, but I believe they will be happy with iCloud, and search. Heck is Siri still in beta? They may get there one day.

I won't say that Apple is necessarily slow, just that they have a fair bit to consider when deciding what new features and capabilities to give their IOS devices.

The ipad was never intended to do serious work, or at least, not the sort of work you would expect to do on a laptop. It was designed to be a complement to the Mac, and so must never replicate its functions (though it does get some productivity tools like iworks and google drive as it was originally positioned as an alternative to netbooks).

Android gets more "power features" since Google "sells" the OS, not hardware. So Google is hardly concerned about phablets one day replacing laptops or cannibalising their sales.

Gosh, I sure hope you're completely wrong about this, or Apple will be failing soon now. While tablets do make nice complements to desktops and laptops, it seems to me Apple is one of the few companies who actually sees them as their own thing, sharing data.

Whether the work is 'serious' or not, is going to depend on the nature of the work, and how well the platform's strengths fit that kind of work.

I like Dropbox because it lets me decide which apps I want to access my files with and how to arrange them. Depending on the job at hand, one app may be best suited to doing something to a photo or text document and another may be best suited to doing something else with the same photo or text. If an app breaks, I don't have to worry how to get to my files. I can just use another app that works with that file format. I don't even need an Apple device to access my files (most companies still use PCs at work).

Here, here. iOS remains a tentative assistant when it comes to text documents. I think most resort to the Dropbox fallback, but, as you noted, that isn't the best viable solution.

Here is to hoping iOS 7 has employed greater minds than ours to fill this need. With it, the iPad/iPhone/Mac triad could be even more ubiquitous when working on the run. I'd love to be able to code with an iPad in a pinch and not worry about how I'm going to sync that info later. Until then, I'm stuck having to tote around a 17" MacBook Pro...

I think Apple pundits have to let go of this "move beyond" or "take to the next level" mentality and call the File.app what it is, a file system. Yes, you're going o dress it differently, put it in thumbnail mode etc. but in the end of the day it is a file system, and that's exactly what we need. Let's not be ashamed of that, please.

No.
A "Files.app" is not necessarily a "File System" at all. That's kind of the point of the article.

It would be an app that "sees" all the files on the device, but displays them in a flat hierarchy within the Files.app instead of in their "actual" locations. Perhaps it would have a single level of folders as already exists in Pages or any other app when it's managing the files, but that's it. It wouldn't allow the user to create hierarchies of folders or move things from the documents folder within one app to a similar place within another etc. It would hide all that mess from the user.

In other words it would be a level of abstraction on top of the file system, not the file system itself. Users don't generally need, like, or know what to do with ... file systems.

No OS in the world show the file system as it is, they all dress it in some way to make it easier for the user. You and Rene have just described one of those ways but make no mistake, it IS a file system. Sure, its simple, direct, and easy, but still a file system. The fact that you cannot create subfolders do not change that.

I agree that most users don't need file system abstractions, and make no mistake, those users will never open the Files.app either because they won't have files on their phones or tablets. The rest of us do need a file system cause we have files, and may want different apps to do different things with the same files (I have that need with PDFs for instance).

People seem to be ashamed of the term "file system" because its unApple-like, and Apple *must* have moved beyond that by now, but we must remember that iOS is a files based OS, exactly like every other OS, and until we create a new abstraction, we will need file systems, in whatever form they come.

iOS already has a filesystem - you can see it if you're jailbroken or if you use a PC app such as iFile. The difference is that this filesystem is hidden from the users. The proposed Files.app is not a filesystem in and of itself, but rather an array of symbolic links to files in their original locations, and the symbolic links are arranged in a hierarchy.

I think we are saying the same thing. There are several abstractions to manage files and that's what's being referred here as file systems, in other words, software constructs that allow the user to manage files. iFile shows files in the most common way, as they are organized in the OSs FAT, but thats not the only way to show or manage files. What's being proposed as a Files.app is a filtered way to display those files, much like the Camera Roll on iOS, just in a more generic fashion. You can get any modern file system to search for files across a device and display those together. It is still a file system, just displaying information in a different way.

What I argue is that the proposed Files.app is a file system, since it would be built to manage different file types across the device. I feel people are afraid to call the Files.app a file system in fear that file systems have to be cluttered and hard to use, but most modern file systems already let you filter content, show thumbnails, search, etc. File systems are not evil, when done right they can be perfectly nice and useful.

I would agree (I do agree), but I would also argue that you are kind of splitting hairs at the same time. :-)

A "Files.app" as Rene describes it would be the most supremely abstracted file system in history. It is so far from what is typically/colloquially described as a "file system" that I think it merits some other kind of designation.

Hi Rene...I think Apple with many of the new possibilities would not have much trouble adding this into the the OS. For all we know it might be on their long list of what to add in the new SO when it comes out.

Maybe it is time Apple concentrated more on what brings life to the phones and make that the priority and then build the phone around it.It is IMO this is a much needed part of the new OS and have everything work together.

They don't need a file system just a way in for the Developers or a Builtin text Editor so that things can just callback to that the way photo editing apps do

As a developer I don't even want to start thinking to what happens when you save a file with an app, open it with another app that screws the format up, and then open it back with the former app to find out you are screwed. I think we have all been there when we used different versions of MS Word in the past (and probably it still happens). Since we have had a chance to avoid this so far on iOS I'd not mess things up.
As a user I don't feel the need to have a central repo of files.
Finally, many have started their "technological life" with an iPhone and don't even know what is a "file": they know pictures, contacts, books, songs, etc. They don't browse for a file and then pick an app to open it (like we do on the desktop); instead they open the app they need and expect to find the resources (songs, pics) "within" the app.
That said, I see your point: I have started on the desktop many years ago, I am used to have files, folders but honestly I don't miss a Files.app on iOS.

On the other hand, I go to my iPad and there is an interesting PDF I want to see, a product spec for instance, and my iPad shows me three or four installed apps that can show me that file. Two weeks later I want to see that PDF and...where is it? I have to open Kindle, iBooks, Adobe Reader and every other app that opens PDFs in search of the damn file, or keep track in my head of the different PDF categories that I open on which app.

No, I don't want to keep all my PDFs in one app, because different apps do different things. One has better file management, other has a better night mode, other has better fonts, other lets me edit, copy/paste and share etc. What I need is all my PDFs organized in one place, and the option to chose different apps at different times.

I can see the saving problem you mentioned, but that mostly affects proprietary formats like MS DOC. There are well established formats like RTF, MP3, GIF, JPG, PDF that will not suffer from that problem.

My everyday pain is when my designer says "I've updated a bunch of banners in Dropbox" and I'm like "please send to my email, I'm out of my office" thinking "Did they add to Dropbox the ability to send multiple files in iOS yet? It was easy on my android."

And I bought a device with 32gb onboard. Wait, you say I can't use it as flash card? Not even part of it?

"Can I open a PDF from Dropbox with an ebook reader?"
"Let's see if I will have Evernote option behind this share button... Hm. No Evernote here. Will use email option then"

But, it is only 5% users tops need this functionality. iPhone is for fun and simple tasks. Lack of apps interoperability draws iOS back.

Being a new iPhone 5 owner having a few Android devices and having hacked just about every Android phone I've owned I can say that IOS is in desperate need for some kind of file management. The extra needed tasks that you are forced to do just because Apple is squeezing all the extra bucks they can out of you. They make it very difficult for the fairly ordinary owner to make songs a ring tone, to move music to your phone. IMO the reason IOS doesn't have or want a file management system is very simple, they are making big bucks off of everything they sell you. To make music a ring tone in Android it is so simple a rookie can do it after using the phone for ten minutes, the same goes with putting your own downloads, music, movies etc. in your phone, very simple. To go to your file management and being able to see what is exactly is on every aspect of your device is very rewarding. IOS would be so much easier and fun to use with a real file manager. Can not see how anyone who has ever used An Android phone and has an open mind can not see the need and need it bad. As I said the only reason there is no file manager is because it will cost Apple money, they will not sell as many ring tones, music, movies and anything else they sell on ITunes. IOS needs file management.

Google macking a native Google Drive with full support of the features of Google Docs would be all I need but this is good too they all ready have this for PDFs. So an Apple app that does this would be a way to do it for powerusrs and keep it the same for regular foks.

I like the idea, I just hope that if they implement it, they do it right. Shared app storage seems like a tricky thing to get right. The current iOS method basically forces you to use a single app for each filetype, or a shared solution like Dropbox. That's OK, but not great. They don't want to just have a 'local' dropbox style of storage either. Then you'll just end up with a blackberry like file manager that turns into a catch all clutter pile. I could see a files app working if it were very similar to the photo album. Or perhaps, don't even have a files app, but keep the shared document functionality and just delegate the file listing to the individual apps. Someone will make a files app soon enough if the shared documents functionality were added.

I used Iphone for past 4 years and I switched on to Android for one important feature which was missing in IOS. I could not attach a file to reply my client. I am in business and I need to respond to my client in the same thread, which was technically not possible on a IOS platform. I use a Note 2, even though the graphics are not as appealing as IOS, but it serves my business purpose. Wakeup Apple.

I am an Android user, and I have to say that this particular issue - the way you can handle files - is a reason I don't really want to switch completely to iOS. I have an iPad, but I don't do any "actual" work on it.

To be sure, I am not saying that you can't live with the way iOS works, but I personally feel there are better ways. I am glad Rene insists on it year after year.

I still want a files.app, I want it to sync across all devices and all apps to be able to have access to it like photos and music with my permission.

I strongly agree for the need of some kind of shared file access among apps in which one app can open a file created with another app and synced with the cloud. Currently app developers must support DropBox to offer a feature like this. Each file should be instantly previewed (by using an existing technique of requesting one from an app that supports the file format). When iOS opens the file the user should be asked if they want to install the app that created it if it was not already installed. Users should be able to associate a file with any app and change that association whenever they wish. There should also be some kind of organization for files. I don't want to see a giant list and I also do not want a folder hierarchy but some kind of organization is needed if we are to use iOS devices for real work. We may have hundreds of files.

There is currently a nice feature in iOS which lets an app easily implement a "Send To..." feature. However this is rarely supported and there is no standard way to support it. In my app, a user taps on a file in a list and one of the options is Send To... When they tap it, iOS provides a nice user interface to select any of the other apps that support that file format. This works great to send files from my app but those other apps would also need to support the feature to send the file back again. I think that a consistent way to handle supported file formats should be a requirement for apps in iOS 7. Of course as you point out iOS itself needs a built-in app to browse, preview, open, print and share files.

Slightly off topic, but don't you think it is time that Apple expand the 5 GB of iCloud storage it provides for free? How about we get 5 GB for free for our first registered iOS device and then 2 (or more) GB for each additional iOS device we register on the same account? When I buy a new $3000 computer from Apple, it would be swell if it came with an additional 20 GB of iCloud storage. This would cost Apple almost nothing and would be a nice perk for their customers.

Rene: Do you think Apple will ever give us that flexibility on a stock phone? I doubt! We can ask for it but majority of the people who use their phones, specially ones with kids playing games would not care. The locked eco system has helped Apple gain enterprise traction too... just saying...

This article should really just mention the elephant in the room:

"iOS is locked down and it should adopt more Android features, namely a file system."

It amazes me that some Apple people will go to greath lengths to defend the Apple's honor and justify the lack of freedom in the OS. Come on guys..it's 2013 and you still can't simply drag/drop, open docs/files with the app that YOU want, assign app defaults, customize your GUI without jailbreaking, or merely have a live wallpaper.

I have an iPhone for work and an S4 for personal use, so let's just call it like it is.

I try to keep all my files/documents in one place and use the app Documents by Readdle, Inc. It's easy to use, has a nice interface, and works very well. This is my "file system" for now until something better comes along.

Make it work like Pocket does.

Having the ability to add a 'tag' would be useful...that way if your file references more than one thing, you don't need duplication and the file can stay anywhere, but be tagged.

So when saving a document, it asks if you want to tag it.

I would do anything for an "undo" especially on anything to do with typing such as notes and email. I would love to have an option to uncheck any standard apps (kind of like how they do with twitter and facebook) if you are using an alternative app.

One thing that stinks for the students that have iPads at our school is they do online courses of different things. One needs to record an MP3 file and go to a webpage and upload the file. Well we were able to find an MP3 recorder App but when it comes to uploading the file to their instructor it doesn't work because when you hit the browse button nothing happens because "lack of filesystem". And there is no way for the MP3 app to put the file some place accessible.

"when it comes to uploading the file to their instructor it doesn't work because when you hit the browse button nothing happens because "lack of filesystem". And there is no way for the MP3 app to put the file some place accessible."

That is untrue. There is nothing that prohibits whoever developed that app from downloading/uploading files. Not to mention giving the user a choice of apps to open a file. Off the top of my head, GoodReader would be an example of a app that does this well.
Those students should look for a better app.

There are a lot of misconceptions in this thread. Most of what people are requesting from Apple has been available to App Developers for quite a while.

I'll add one thing - the grief Apple has received due to App Developers getting access to data outside their app's sandbox has been much greater than the grief they get for not providing a stock method for users to access the filesystem. That is why the writer is apt to be disappointed again when iOS 7 is released.

For those whose interest runs deeper than an iOS user, I recommend reading (or just skimming) the following documents.

http://developer.apple.com/library/ios/#documentation/FileManagement/Con...

http://developer.apple.com/library/ios/#documentation/FileManagement/Con...

http://developer.apple.com/library/ios/#documentation/General/Conceptual...

OK, hairsplitting and name-calling aside, I have a real need to carry reference documents with me in the field, where I may not even have decent cell-signal. The files I need HAVE to be on the phone. Or I have to lug my laptop to the field. The office has provided me with an iPhone 5 and it does 90% of what I need flawlessly. The closest I get to drag-and-drop file transfers is the "Documents To Go" app. I used D2Go for many years on my Palm Products because it allowed me to create, edit and format Word, Excel , & PowerPoint from my phone, as well as read PDF flies. And it still does, but in a more limited way.

I do miss the convenience of plugging in the USB cable and dragging files directly to the folder/subfolder I want. I can have over 100 active projects to be attended to while I'm in the field, and a structured filing system is a necessity. This one issue will probably force me to have the office replace my iPhone 5 with a Samsung Galaxy 4 (or soon the 5), even though the reliability MAY be a little suspect.

To me, the solution is relatively simple: keep the phone's operating system just as it is, but include a Micro-SD chip that can be organized for data files, tunes, photos, or what have you. No programs allowed, just data. That way you can used whatever method you have to put the files on the chip then plug 'n read.

Great point and I agree I've had times in the past where I was frustrated trying to remember what app I installed way back when. When the app store has over xxxx million apps many of them doing the same things it's not an easy job the more time goes on. However I don't see it being on Apple's radar and I'm very doubtful there will be anything come iOS 7 :0(

LOL. I've always wondered how iPhone users put up with no file system!!!
It gives me a headache when I try to help my mum open email attachments on her iPhone... couldn't even manage to download mp3 attachments.
Before she could even open a simple .docx, I have to go to the App store, try to figure out what is a decent document reader and download it. After downloading a free version, it crashes every single time we try to move a file (no multiple selection as far as we could tell). And then even when she has some photos and doc files that she would like to keep together, it seems more or less impossible to have them in the same folder to be easily accessed at the same time.

When I had my iPad, I could never remember which app I opened the documents in and always had to open multiple ones. And when they are wrong, not only can I not close them immediately, I have to go back to home screen, and bring up the applications bar, then close it.

Now with my z10 I can access my phone, SD card, Dropbox, Box, my laptop's files all in one place without downloading any app...

I'm an extremely loyal and long standing Apple customer* about to upgrade from an iPhone 3G (not even the 'S') which I've had to jailbreak to allow file management, and home-screen-service-toggling (bluetooth, wi-fi, and data). It ENRAGES me that I was FORCED to JB by the very company that cripples and stigmatises that process, simply to find out why my battery suddenly started draining within hours. I replaced the battery, but the problem persisted, so I had to turn off all radio services, only enabling them when required. You drill down through settings to toggle 'data' and 'Wi-Fi' ten times a day, and tell me how far you'd like to throw your effing handset. When the hourly frustration of that got too much (and now I'm wondering why I haven't already switched... I must be an idiot to put up with this much crap from a phone!) I selectively disabled LaunchDaemons until the drain-behaviour stopped. And yes, it did stop. JB and iFile were my only hope, Obi-Wan. And if Apple think it helps their cause in the slightest to make me jump through arbitrary frickin JB hoops to fix a problem that they've created, they are delusional. I'm sick of fighting my phone, matter of fact, I'm sick of fighting Apple. It's OT, but the same smart arses that have made me so angry with my phone also have no way of knowing that I'm not upgrading past 10.6 because I use design and cutting tools that won't work without Rosetta support, but that's a whole other rant... and it's mainly Freehand, if you must know).
Bottom line, if iOS7 doesn't do at least 2 of the following things, I will be going over to Android on Samsung, and who knows, I might even get a taste for an OS that, (gasp) might let me do what I want with the files I create, and skip 10.9 Snow Mountain Ferret Rat and go straight to Windows 9:
- let me plug in a friend's usb stick to get a frickin' file across... PLEASE.
- configure the home screen with any available settings toggle I choose. One tap.
- let me see the frickin' files, on the frickin' computer, in my frickin' hand. Yes, even the scary system ones, because I'm not a child, and I'm not retarded, and sometimes I want to do legal, reasonable, interesting, curious, quirky things which weren't anticipated by an Apple use-case.
I used to smile when I used a Mac, but I'm sick to death of this high and mighty, grudging support of half of what we want all the damn time. The hockey puck mouse was always a pig, and yet it persisted because we were just whining users, what would we know? Well I'm telling Apple and anyone else who'll listen, the lack of configurable home-screen toggles, USB volume access, and some kind of file management are simply the aggravating contemporary equivalent of three round mice!

*currently own and still use: iPad2 (Wife's - daily), iPod Touch 4th Gen (kids' - daily), iPhone 3G(mine - daily), iPhone 3GS (wife's - daily), iPod Mini (kid's - monthly), 27" iMac(mine - daily), G4 Power Mac(running a cutting sign plotter - monthly), G4 PowerBook(kids' and occasionally as my typewriter - weekly), G4 eMac(iTunes shed use - monthly)
Have long since ditched: a MacPlus, a PowerComputing clone (I know it wasn't Apple, but they did get royalties), G3 iMac, G5 iMac, Apple Quicktake 150 camera (don't even start me on them dropping hardware support with the G4), and enough proprietary Apple display and peripheral plugs and accessories to sink a small Island.

I never understood what was the real rationale for Apple to force users outside of a proper file system - and we differ here as I think it is still the most natural way to organise files, and mostly how people think and store things - there are by nature data sets composed by files of different nature that need to be gathered and located in the same location.
However, dogmatically ignoring the need to store data in folders and file trees or not to offer a proper alternative is very weird!
I shouldn't be complaining though, because fulfilling this need is exactly what I do for a living since the opening of the App Store - and not really surprisingly the app is called FileApp - we should have added an 's' in the middle, haha :)
That said, your question about real alternatives has been in our minds for some time, it's not easy, but I think we have the beginning of an answer...

Rene,

For years, I have watched this merry-go-round where a whole rationale is created around the intended capping of functionality in Apple products, then two versions later, voilá. Great article.