Why a visible filesystem in iOS is key for iPad Pro

“Powerful as the iPad Pro is, there are still a number of tasks that need the additional power offered by a Mac,” Ben Lovejoy writes for 9to5Mac. “Video, audio and photo editing are obvious examples: you can do them on an iPad, but it would be a poor choice of primary device. Software developers, too, need Macs.”

“But even if you need neither the power nor the specialist apps of a Mac,” Lovejoy writes, “there’s still one area where I think the iPad falls down when comparing it to a Mac: the lack of a user-accessible file-system.”

“Steve Jobs, of course, argued that a file-system was an outdated concept. Why should a user have to either know or care where their files were stored? They simply open the app and do whatever it is they need to do,” Lovejoy writes. “That works fine for simple tasks, but not for complex ones involving multiple apps.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: As we wrote near the end of last year:

Imagine an “iOS Pro” mode.

Turn on iOS Pro on your iPad Pro
1. Tap Settings > General, and make sure iOS Pro is turned on.
2. There is no step two.

Hey, we can dream, can’t we?


    1. That depends on who you are. I know many people that have no idea how to “use” a computer simply because the archaic file system scares the bejesus out of them. It’s an asset to people who don’t want to deal with needing to know where something was saved.

      1. And then you run into absurd limitations like not being able to rename photos before you share/email them.

        Not *strictly* a problem due to lack of a filesystem, but workarounds like importing them into another app, rename, then export back into the Camera roll, are absurd.

      1. I use my Mac to make a living producing web motion graphics. I use between 3-10 3rd party apps that are not available on iOS and can’t be developed for it because it doesn’t have the horsepower, no real file system which makes interchange of files within the project etc, etc. If you consider a match between a 747 cargo plane and a Prius to be a contest, for heavens sake, drag it out.

        The important production tasks can’t be done on iOS, so where would the contest be. You would be able to brag about the gas mileage on the Prius,but…..

        1. I agree with you though thinking back to Top Gear with the celeb driving a Prius around the track with a 747 in the background i suspect that there would be only one winner there even if Captain Slow drove the Car and the Stig the 747. And thats the point in certain things the iPad would win but in increasingly heavy duty work related stuff it starts to fall massively behind.

          I do not want a full-scale Mac file structure on my iPad (at least as a starter) however it needs a form of visible system as and where needed or/and seamless file access between Mac and iOS systems when using related software or software capabilities. There must be a way of giving us that without a full blown bloated Mac file structure which would simply destroy the iPad’s ease of use. MDN’s solution looks a potential starter but really by now Apple should be offering some of its own ideas.

    2. It also be nice if all iOS devices had a proper exposed file system because a single level of folders just isn’t very good for organization. You should be able to mirror parts of your Macs’s file system instead of having to manually move over individual documents.

  1. Or..allow more consistent “sharing” of files between applications. For example, download a pdf from the web into iBooks..it is stuck there. If you later want to edit, mark up, you have to either send it to yourself and open it in a 3rd party app, or revisit the site and save it in a 3rd party app. 3rd party apps have no issues with this. Apples own apps are too limited and dumbed down for the pro.

    1. This is the only legitimate gripe about the lack of a filesystem on iOS. M’s change would make the lack of filesystem access a mute point.

      Seriously, don’t get stuck in the past. I agree with Jobs. I also see how most people in my family are totally flummoxed over file systems. They don’t get them, they don’t understand them. This makes the iPad really cool and accessible to them. If you are a power user, push Apple for the changes that M suggests, but don’t ruin the user friendly experience for the rest of the world please. Only 1 out of 100 people are geeky enough to understand file systems well. I am one of those geeks, but I also see how computers need to be more friendly to the common human. iOS does this, with a few minor changes it will work for power users also, without compromising user friendliness.

      1. But “common humans” don’t do creative work that may involve 6 different apps, none of which are conducive to the touch interface. Creation of multi app projects that require multi-level functions cannot be done efficiently with the touch interface. Even if it theoretically could be done, it would require such a complex sequence of nested multi-level touches that I know i could not keep track of it. And if that particular “touch” that triggered a work sequence was NOT pre-programmed, ———nothing! Those that believe that touch will supplant keyboard and mouse have never worked in any complex creative project such as CAD-CAM or the creation of motion graphics with 50+ timelines. And those, in some form or another make up the vast majority of the content on iOS. With a touch interface, they can’t be done in any efficient form.

        1. I am not sure that is the discussion we are having here, no one is saying that iOS and touch should replace the Mac and the mouse for all things, just that they should be able to interact better where it matters with the work each can produce.

      2. -Take a Manila file folder and label it “vacation 2016”.
        -Take an envelope labelled “vacation photos 2016” and put it in the folder.
        -Take a travel brochure labelled “travel brochure” and put it in the folder.
        -Take an airline ticket labelled “airline ticket” and put it in the folder.
        Hand it to them and say “this is all the stuff from our vacation”.

        Hand them an iPad and say here’s all the stuff from our vacation.

        Which system is easier?

        1. “because the archaic file system scares the bejesus out of them”
          “I also see how most people in my family are totally flummoxed over file systems.”

          Then let there be a simple interface for them, without a file system. Wonderful! Great! But don’t force someone with 100,000+ docs in Pages to “search”.

          Multiple app work is not the only problem. Just having a micro business generates way too many docs for an in-program interface. I have searched for documents I KNEW I had, but didn’t remember the name of. After searching several ways, I went back to the file system and, in each case, had the document in seconds.

          And if I want to look at the various proposals, evaluations, agreements, marketing resources, etc. etc. that I have sent a particular client, I don’t want to look in six separate programs. Ridiculous. I want to go into one folder for that client, that may have sub-folders in it.

        2. Maybe you don’t but people who produce more than a simple letter or a photo with a caption do.Yes it can do more things with some massively inefficient work-arounds, but thats not serious business.

        3. In away that is part of the frustration. Both of those would do most of what is needed, iCloud will probably as and when they get it truly sorted for the task most of the answer and Dropbox can do most of the rest of the requirement. However a Dropbox type facility should be designed into iOS itself so it it can as and when desired, be an integral part of the system. It could then be a ‘file vault’ something I have visualised for years where each contributing program (Apple or otherwise) can simply save to and access, and files created to accommodate them as the user desires, while giving internal and external access wired and wirelessly. All that technology exists and though part of the system, would not interfere with the simplicity of the base OS. Yes Dropbox does fulfil most of this concept but it still feels like an add-on, more like an export option psychologically rather than an all embracing save option in use and has less seamless usability than being an integral part of the Apple eco system.

        4. So you are advocating the return of mainframe computing. Just rent your iOS device from Apple and make sure your connection to iCloud is always on, and your monthly subscription paid up. The END of personal computing, where the USER has control of his files.

          The day of the 1984 ad has arrived, and Apple now wants to be Big Brother.

      3. People are good at creating files but not good at finding them. Computing devices aren’t creative but are great at sorting, comparing and finding files. Why would anyone who uses a computer want to spend their time maintaining a file system instead of creating things when it is trivial to get the computer to find files for us? I agree with your point completely.

        1. Very simple. When you create things with any degree of complexity that may require a 50-100 files from 6 different apps all combined together in one project, which is apparently for more common than iOS entertainment consumers are aware of, you absolutely have to have a file system 1: to build the project, and 2: to manage and store those files.

        2. Why would anyone want to organize their paper documents in file cabinets when they could just put them all in one big box and find them by color? /s

          Large projects require personal organization. Files of completely different types, but associated with a single project should be together. Large projects consist of smaller sub-projects.

          People don’t need access to the whole file system. They just need access to an **optionally** hierarchical documents folder.

          Simple users would not create subfolders. Pro’s could.

  2. First of all, let’s cut the BS. iPad Pro is not a laptop replacement, it’s a more functional iPad but that’s as far as it goes. Until the day I can have three spreadsheets open at once, it can’t replace my Macbook.

    Here’s the solution: iPad Pro with dual OS mode. iOS and Mac OS. I would buy that in a heartbeat and so would millions of others.

    1. But why bother when OS X is out there with a better input system already. I can’t see when iOS will ever have the power of OS X, and you still would have to have a better input system than touch can possibly provide.

        1. I think the iPad will suit the needs of most users. Of course there will always be a sizeable minority that need more. I’m not a programmer or other type of highly technical professional, but opening separate apps and simply not being able to do many things without clunky, time-consuming workarounds makes the iPad a third-place device to me (after my Macbook Air and iPhone).

          Apple’s trackpad still makes mincemeat of a touch interface in my opinion. Touch-enabled OS X would suck compared to what we have now. Raising your hand to touch the screen is a step backwards from moving your finger an inch or two.

  3. Apple is struggling with interface appropriateness. On a small touch-screen device. it is appropriate to have disappearing UI elements to save screen space, gestures that must be memorized instead of visible UI controls, and a single app running at a time, which lends itself to hiding the file system. On a large screen device with a mouse or trackpad, those tradeoffs are not justified.

    Apple has said they recognize that a one-size-fits-all approach, a la modern Windows, is not good. (Although they have already gone too far in iOSification of OS X, IMHO.) But a problem is what to do in the middle of the spectrum: large touch screen devices with “pro” aspirations.

    Sandboxing files within an app harks back to the early Windows app-centric model, where a single DOS app became a single window (which spawned the atrocity of the multiple document interface, where you had windows within windows). A visible file system is fundamental to allowing a document-centric environment, where more than one app can access a given file. A file system should be easy to understand because it models the real world. And modern search tools make it easy to use too.

  4. Well, amen to this, I’m glad I’m not alone in seeing this glaring weakness in iOS. And no, Dropbox is good, but it’s not a replacement for a native iOS file system.

    This is one opinion where Steve Jobs was flat out wrong, a file system is not old thinking. You need a way to organize things, period, whether it’s with computer files, music, or a library. I keep several hundred gigabytes of data well organized by subject on my Mac, and I’d like to do the same on my iPad Pro (though not several gigs, of course).

    This is so obvious to me that I have a hard time even understanding the logic of not “needing” a file system, this is the thinking of a simpleton to me, an amateur. If you’re serious about what you do, you need a way to organize it, period. Finder in OS X is *the* killer app for me, it’s one of the Mac’s most powerful features.

  5. There already is a visible file system. You can go into settings and enable the iCloud Drive viable app. You can even browse and choose files from iCloud Drive on any website that accepts uploads.

    1. That’s awesome if you have a network connection. Not awesome when your meeting is in some sub basement conference room, on a plane, ect.. If you are over 20, I’m sure you’ve experienced one of the sure things in modern life..you can never 100% rely on a network connection to be there when you need it..and should always have an offline backup. This is the iPad pro we are talking about..Pro..for pro stuff..like work.

      1. The point entirely, a visible file structure on the device, but only as and where needed by the operator, has to be an option even if iCloud becomes the true unlimited file structure in the sky for iOS devices combining seamless storage, manipulation and connectivity.

  6. the trouble with iOS since day 1 is not perse the lack of a proper (even external – think iCloud, external storage), but an acceptable way to group data into projects.
    For work on any nontrivial task, such a project would entail regular office documents, links, emails, sound, videos, all pertaining to the same project.

    1. Precisely thats why my file vault idea would solve that very problem, it could even display what software could open what file type if developed far enough which would be exceedingly useful for files that can be opened by a range of software and indeed encourage new more compelling software to take advantage of it.

  7. I’ve been using Windows 10 a lot lately on a little Lenovo laptop. I gotta say, I really enjoy moving between the conventional mouse/keyboard to touch screen interface. It’s no big deal but at a certain point, you’re reading the screen, and rather than reach for the mouse, you start to intuitively tap the screen, and move into a more iOS like mode of operations.

    Personally, I don’t want or need an iOS Pro, I want an OS X Touch.

    1. I agree a combination of the two will be the fundamental answer but it needs complete integration into the system (naturally or a turn on option). I remember an IT doofus I knew from old who always said that something OSX could do natively could be mimicked by added software on a PC so dismissed its importance. He could not see how having it seamlessly at your fingertips, ready to exploit in your interaction with the device was so much more useful, compelling and easy to use for those of us who wanted to put those qualities before tinkering beneath the hood.

  8. iOS 9.3 is a step in this direction with its multi-user capabilities in Education. But I haven’t seen it so I can’t say for sure. But if documents are usually stored in app-space and there are multiple users, perhaps iOS 9.3 will segregate files by user. And, as a consequence, make them more accessible in general. This is pure speculation, but I can dream, can’t I?

  9. You want a filesystem? Install Dropbox. It works extremely well and it’s cross platform. It has a finder equivalent that works well on multiple platforms as well as Web access.

  10. I wish you can use an iPad Pro as extra monitor plugged into a Mac like a Cintiq. Then I can run Photoshop on the mac but draw on the iPad (so far iOS drawing apps are not equal to desktop ones)

    and yes I’ m one of those who want a file system for the iPad plus a better way than iTunes to sync.

  11. I agree that iOS in its current form is quite suboptimal for file management. But I would posit that OS X and Windows could be greatly improved as well. I also think that many file management proponents on this forum are going to need to unlearn a lot of what they believe file management it about.

    At work I’m on a Windows machine (not my choice) where I manage thousands of files through a combination of hierarchical folders and strict use of file naming conventions. I keep it clean and well structured but it’s a manual process for every single file. Meta tags can also be applied but the current implementation isn’t very useful.

    I see a huge opportunity for Apple to automate file naming, tagging, searching and sorting in the OSX Finder. They could make it dead simple for the machine to manage your files with minimal intervention. HFS should become a real relational database. But you shouldn’t be a database expert to use it. The user should be able to manually intervene in any part of the file management process but the default should be fully automated. If it can be done on OS X it can be done in iOS.

    1. Apple removed the brilliant and convenient “Coverflow” view option when selecting files to attach to an email. I don’t expect them to move in the direction of improving their file system, just removing options and control from users. The writing has been on the wall for power users or anyone even in the same ballpark. Apple knows it can make the most money off of the vast majority of casual users. It’s not worth the extra investment for the rest who are a loud, though ignorable fraction.

Reader Feedback

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.