New iPad Pro amazing for work, but iOS not up to the job


If you look at the trend over time in what iOS lets people do, it’s been a very slow (perhaps too slow for some) process of essentially building up a fully-featured modern mobile-first OS that plugs as many of the security holes that’ve been baked into the user space of every other OS in use right now as possible. Some of it has been Apple unsuccessfully trying to abstract away the major complexity pain points of desktop OSes (like the file system, which they’ve done a big 180 on since the days of, say, iOS 6), but a lot of it just seems like it’s just been them taking their sweet time to make sure they build some extremely solid foundations.


As someone who’s been riding along with iOS since the day, I almost understand where they were going to. Abstracting away the idea of file systems frees the user from a whole bunch of boring, unfulfilling, and arguably “dangerous” maintenance tasks which people using a cellphone oughtn’t have to deal with (bear with me). In the first few release of iPhone OS and then iOS there was no cut, copy and paste which turns out was a highly useful feature, but VERY challenging (to this day!) to implement on a touchscreen device.

The advent of iCloud – pushing all concerns about documents into the industry buzzword “cloud” – seemed like a good choice, but the implementation was a bit botched – for some reason Apple has done large-scale, server-side hosting very poorly (look to iTunes and the two app-stored for some prime examples).

But the continued abstraction of file systems to a single, flat, barely hierarchical directory belies the struggle those of us from the early era of Macintosh remember – the introduction of the various hierarchical file systems and how it improved the user experience many hundreds of times.

I can almost understand the original iOS’s design intent – a phone user ought not have to worry about managing a bunch of files. But maybe with the introduction of the iPad – a device which wasn’t quite a laptop/netbook nor a a phone – should’ve brought with it some deeper reckoning – this might eventually become a platform for running first class (as opposed to small, convenient phone) applications (as Apple has REPEATEDLY reminded us of).

And of course computer users from around the entire planet already intuitively grokked a vast, hierarchical file system for couple of decades now. Even when naive Mac users were secretly swapped an entire browsable Unix file system, they quickly understood it, and were happy with it. It seems some of Job’s decisions then, with the advancement of the iPad were purely ideological and aesthetic, a price which Apple is finally reckoning with?


After all these years Apple still can’t seem to figure out how to have a sync engine that’s not a massive pile of trash. Look, I’m a software developer - I know how deceptively difficult that problem space can be but having things sync properly has been a problem since the iPod/.Mac days. You’d think they could have solved it by now.


I almost think that people were so – oh Apple Gods forgive me in advance – adherent to the vague yet game-changing aesthetics of the original iPhone, that they forewent common sense to implement something so vague as to be unusable.

I can think of a few technologies in the Apple API which were so buzzword-worthy in a similar fashion (ask my co-workers what I think about certain Apple things). The company has hegemony based on so much of a lot great ideas, but eventually the shitty ideas which riddle them through might ultimately become a disadvantage.

That’s tech for you.


Hey, you didn’t even wait for the drop where the Surface is running OpenBSD with Enlightenment as a desktop. Or something. QUBES and REXXDesk…


But my Surface for work is running Showstopper on 2/5ths of its processors and the gin&tonic won’t load to the motherboard. So I have to make do.


I have a small synology server at home. It comes with an ios app to transfer individual files, and could therefore be used to keep an archive of files. I actually use it to keep a copy of the pictures I edited.

It is far from perfect, but may fit your wants.


The present ios comes with the “files” application, which implements a hierarchical file system.


In my own personal experience, “normal” non-tech-oriented people don’t tend to grok or enjoy the full complexity of a hierarchical file system. They put up with it, and are capable of using it in a limited capacity, but they don’t really get it or put it to any considerable use. macOS includes a full UNIX file system, sure, but most people never interact with it in any meaningful way outside of the Documents, Pictures, Music, etc. folders that the OS provides for them in their user directory. Even I managed to brick my first Mac for a few hours because coming from a Windows background, I didn’t realize /usr was a separate and important part of the underlying OS from /Users, and so I deleted it while trying to troubleshoot my PHP setup not working (to the Mac’s credit, it did not immediately kernel panic, it just refused to boot after a restart). Most people have file hierarchies that are one or two folders deep at most, assuming they don’t just split everything between their Documents folder and the desktop. In that sort of context, with apps that at the time weren’t really designed to interoperate the way desktop apps can/do, Apple’s reasoning for siloing files inside of simplistic, single-nesting-level, app-specific containers made a reasonable amount of sense, because it was a decision aimed at exactly the kind of person who has a flat Documents folder littered with several thousand files of various types/associations. The moment iOS became capable of even the smallest amount of app interoperability, though, the restrictions of that design decision became immediately apparent.


PLEASE show me how I can make arbitrary directories in the “On my iPhone” or “On my iPad” section! I am preeetty sure you can’t but oh my god if I am missing something… PLEASE show me!


I deal with data storage and management systems for a living. One of the interesting things happening in data storage now is the transition from hierarchical directory structures as the means of organizing files on disk, to the more nuanced notion of “object storage.” Object storage is not new, but it has only really surged in popularity recently as a significant offering associated with public cloud technology. Most cloud storage is object storage.

I think Apple has smart enough folks to realize that the 50+ year old notion of hierarchical file systems has completely fallen apart as a useful mechanism for storing and organizing data. You have more digital data on your iPhone right now than there was ON THE ENTIRE PLANET EARTH at the time hierarchical file systems were invented.

Object storage treats data as, perhaps unsurprisingly, multi-faceted data objects. A file system gives you, call it, “two dimensions” for data organization – naming conventions of the files and directories, and the structure of the hierarchy itself. Object storage gives you an arbitrary number (essentially) of key-value metadata descriptors you can slap on your files. This means it is, more or less, a multi-dimensional means of structuring data. It really comes down to the application layer itself, to decide how to show you things in one or more ways that makes the most sense to that particular application, or task.

This is all really good and smart. It’s much more flexible. It’s much better. And it can even emulate a traditional hierarchical file system, if you want it to (this is what it’s like when you use a traditional FTP app like Transmit with an object storage platform – Transmit supports hitting object stores using the S3 APIs, and they can make it look like you are navigating a hierarchy, if you want to use it that way).

The problem is, very few client-side real-world workflows have been developed around this new data storage paradigm. And it can be challenging to plug these contemporary paradigms into workflows that are still heavily oriented around utilization of mounted file systems, which most workflows are indeed still geared around.

Apple is, to put it simply, doing what Apple always does. They are quite happy to introduce a new, bleeding-edge technology paradigm a little bit ahead of it being fully fleshed-out. I mean, look at the original iPhone and iOS – you couldn’t even install apps! Their appraoch to data organization in iOS seems to represent this tactic. They are fine with building up the new paradigm somewhat slowly, making it much more useful over time. Their introduction of the Files app does seem to show that they will introduce new functionalities over time, but they are not going to rush into emulating the old way of doing things, necessarily.


You cannot make arbitrary directories on the top level. Each directory in the top level is associated to an application. Applications only see their directory.
You can make arbitrary directories in any of the sub-directories, by pointing the dedicated icon or long pressing anywhere. With the “files” application, you can copy data between the application directories.

I am not really sure whether you really wanted to know or whether you simply wanted to mock me by pointing out that the user cannot create a directory in the top level (which I never said they could). But since you said “please”, I give you the benefit of doubt.


Was hoping you would indeed be able to show me an iOS trick that would have been very useful.


I think the problem lies in the way the iphone started out as an ipod + phone. So it’s still using the ipod synch system (which works passably for syncing music, videos, and photos from your computer to a device that can play them but not make them), with an ever-higher pile of add ons and extensions for other types of data piled on top. By now it’s an unmanagable rube goldbergian mess held together with string, duct tape, and chewing gum. Some data types appear to have fallen through the cracks and never had an extension created for them (local copies of sent emails, for example, are gone forever when you backup and restore. Hope you didn’t care about any of that data of yours.) Layer over it all with a byzantine set of rules about transferring your media from one device to another (in an attempt to cut down on piracy to placate their music store partners) which have explanatory dialogs that are confusing enough to have been written by Microsoft, and you have the shambling horror that is Itunes.

This is why there’s no simple way to back up everything on your phone and restore it to a different phone, creating an exact copy of your old phone’s data. Aside from those data types that just plain don’t transfer (sent emails, the cards you’ve registered in Apple Pay, etc), you have this arbitrary and stupid split of user data into “stuff that syncs,” and “stuff that backs up” plus “photos you’ve taken” which appear to obey yet another set of rules, and it’s a confusing mess.

Analyst: Apple's poor earnings will recover now they've switched from innovating to rent-seeking

So you where mocking me. Good to know.


The decisions they’ve made in this regard have always confused me because there is a data store in IOS that is easily interoperable and accessible to all apps - the images and videos on the camera roll. So why the heck not extend that system of having a data silo separate from any app for images to include a few other silos - a documents silo (pages, pdf, doc, rtf, html, ppt, etc), an image silo (camera roll off to one side, plus jpg, png, psd, etc), an audio silo (music and voice memos off to one side, plus mp3, etc) and a video silo. I think that would cover 90% of the data people might possibly want to have on their phone, would enable you to delete apps without losing your data, and would enable the interoperability that is so difficult on IOS without burdening the OS with a file system or sacrificing the sandbox approach to app security.


I’m not sure how you get that from my saying I was legitimately hoping to learn a new iOS trick that I might not have known about.

sadtrombone was because the feature does not in fact exist, and it would be nice if it did. I suppose if you are the individual who decided not to include this feature, you could argue I was mocking you.


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