I think Apple made the right decision by hiding the file system on iOS. This system and our available tools have evolved over the years, and rightly so, but the core approach is still radically different than that of classic computers. Thanks to improvements over the years, apps that help fill the gap, and some key additions in iOS 9, I think Apple has struck a great balance between removing frictions for regular users to do their things, while allowing more technical users a lot of the power and control they want.
After working in various forms of customer support, campus laptop rental support, classic computer sales, and ‘friends and family support’ throughout the years, and doing my fair share of people watching in cafes, businesses, and Apple Stores, I believe the file system never actually worked for regular folks who don’t live and breath technology. The Windows and even Mac file systems were something they barely tolerated, stumbled through, or, more often than you probably think, simply avoided by saving everything to the desktop.
iOS removed that layer of unnecessary complexity by flipping our relationship with files and apps on its head. By obscuring the file system in favor of an interface composed entirely of the tools we use to create, users don’t need to remember where a file is, or sift through a bunch of folders and incompatible formats, to get back to what they were doing or start what they want to do next.
Tap a single, recognizable, always-present icon, and you’re there. That’s powerful.
Of course, more complex file-based workflows are still alive and well. That’s why iOS gained things like file managers (such as Documents and GoodReader), and features in iOS 9 like Document Providers and Open in Place. With a little habit shifting and muscle memory training (tip: learning new things can help keep you young), anyone who needs more than the basics, and those who often move or process large numbers of files, now have powerful tools to nail these tasks.
For example: I subscribe to the Unsplash newsletter, which offers 10 beautiful, do-whatever-you-want free stock photos every 10 days. An optional zip file is included, which I download with Safari on my iPad. I use Open In… to send that file to Documents, which unzips them into a Downloads folder. I then tap Edit, Select All, and Upload, tap Dropbox for my destination, find my stock photos folder, and tap done.
In this scenario, Documents takes on the handful of tasks that I previously did in Finder. To me, the main advantages are that I don’t have to deal with what now feels like the Finder’s clunky file system most of the time, and what I used to do with a mouse and drag-and-drop is now accomplished with a couple of simple taps, which feels much faster and more precise to me. In fact, these kinds of processes are practically habit for me on iPad now. They even make dragging stuff around with a mouse feel strange and inefficient.
I’m not saying iOS 9 and these features are perfect or don’t need improvement; everything needs improvement. But after I spent some time trying these new processes, apps, and habits, they no longer feel foreign or inefficient compared to the previous, ingrained ways I got things done. If you’ve been curious about doing more on mobile or filling those last few workflow gaps, your options have dramatically improved these last couple years, and especially with iOS 9.