When we made our "Dear Santa Jobs: All We Want for iPhone 4.0 is..." holiday post, one of the items we didn't include but which came up frequently in the comments is a Mobile Finder app. And it's definitely something we want in iPhone 4.0 as well.
Now we're sure most of our readers want a full blown Mac OS X Finder or Windows Explorer type file browser -- and full, free file system access to go along with it. But let's keep things real. Given past history, we very much doubt Apple would provide that, at least not any time soon. The iPhone isn't a Mac in a phone for power users, it's an iPhone that hopes to redesign how mainstream users engage mobile technology (and it's sales success to date show that's a pretty compelling approach). Power users are the ones who Jailbreak to get that kind of system access anyway. But could there be a middle ground? We think so, and we think Apple has already shown how it could work...
Let's start with the iPhone Photo app. Not only can you sync your pictures to it, you can save pictures to the default directory either via the iPhone's camera, or via screen capture or tapping and holding to get the "Save Image" popup on the iPhone or iPod touch.
You can also access those images from other apps, including a host of 3rd party App Store photo editing apps, and then save them back or save new version based on them.
Imagine a Finder App that did the same for all types of files the iPhone currently handles -- anything that could be played in iPod app (music and movies) or displayed via QuickLook (Office formats like Word, PowerPoint, Excel, iWork docs, PDF files, text and rich text, etc.). Built in functionality already exists to trim short audio and video clips and crop photos, and could be rolled into Mobile Finder. But it could also be used the way Photo app is currently used -- as a repository by 3rd parties to open, edit, and save files, especially Office Files.
Instead of the wonky work around already in place, iPhone users could "tap and hold" any document to save it to Mobile Finder, then use any 3rd party App Store app they like, including Documents to Go or QuickOffice (or both!) to open it, make changes, and save it back or save as a new version. Then, from within Mobile Finder, they could also share the docs via Email, and other 3rd party apps could also offer ways to move them back and forth to iDisk, Google Docs, Microsoft Office 2010 Online, or anything else enabled in an iPhone 4.0 SDK.
Adding in something Photo app currently lacks, the ability to move content between folders, would be great. The mobile Mail app already lets us do that with email, do bring that to the party as well.
With what's essentially a document repository, however, security is a legitimate concern. One of the reasons there are such wonky workarounds for document editing right now is that Apple is very strict about what apps can access. Everything is sandboxed. Allowing only simple documents, parsing out scripts and macros could be the tradeoff to prevent bad guys from writing exploits specifically to target iPhone users via their documents. It would be sufficient to meet most mainstream users' needs, and that's what Apple and the iPhone have excelled at. (No pun intended).
Maybe Mobile Finder is too grand a name for such an app; it would confuse the power users used to Mac OS X Finder or Windows Explorer. But the idea itself is something we want for iPhone 4.0.
How about you?