iOS File Browser

Steve Jobs said that iCloud was the end of the road for document storage on iOS at WWDC in June.

I don’t believe it. There are too many loose ends remaining. What about uploading files through the browser? What about attaching files to an email? What about organizing my files across apps? What about being able to open the same file in multiple apps? Yes, iCloud takes care of the multiple device issue (assuming OS X gets caught up with iCloud document syncing soon – seriously, where is the OS X iWork update that enables iCloud?), but there are so many use cases that iCloud doesn’t address.

Don’t worry, though. I’ve got solutions. First solution: Give up on the hope that iOS will one day have a central file store. “Open in…” is here to stay. File storage has been app-centric on iOS since the beginning. The design of iCloud guarantees that won’t change. Sorry. Take that dream of a “Files” application that works like the “Photos” application out back and shoot it in the head.

My solution for file uploads in Safari and attachments in Mail isn’t so brutal. It is obvious, however: give us a file browser, but give us one that works with the way iOS works. Just because we need an interface to select a file doesn’t mean that it has to work like traditional file selection interfaces. iOS doesn’t have file folders, it has apps. So show us our apps in the file browser. Apple’s already done this, it’s just not in iOS yet. Remember file sharing in iTunes?

iTunes File Sharing

I should probably unmercifully execute my last solution for organizing files across apps just like I murdered my hopes of a “Files” application, but I just can’t let go of it yet. Here it is: what if our mythical file browser had a second option for organizing your files in addition to the app-based way? What if, say, you could view all your files grouped by tags? And what if those tags were a system-wide service? This is probably too much complexity, but I would love it if I could choose between “By App” and “By Tag” organization in this (still mythical) file browser. “By App” would show me a list of apps and allow me to drill down into the files in each app. “By Tag” would show me a list of my tags (system-wide, remember) and allow me to drill down to the files in each tag, regardless of which app they were found in.

Yeah, this is basically folders again. But no nesting! It’d be much simpler! Okay, yeah, Apple will probably never do it. We can wish, though, can’t we?

Regardless of what they do, I don’t believe that iCloud “completes the iOS document storage story” as Steve Jobs said at WWDC. In fact, as far as it is building the foundation for a completely app-centric file storage system, the likes of which has probably never existed before, I think it is just the beginning.