Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Would you really miss a File Browser if there was none available?

By default the link shows different items in the horizontal bar menu
at the bottom. You need to scroll to the right to find what you see here.
First, take a quick peek here. It's the Apple page showing the iPad, due to hit the streets on April 3rd. The page displays a gallery of  iPad screenshots showing off a few apps that will ship along with every iPad sold.

You've probably heard that the iPhone does not offer any  file browser functionality as we know it on standard PCs or Macs... In other words, on an iPhone, data files cannot be managed like with traditional file browsers (i.e. File Explorer on Windows or Finder on OSX Macs).  Also, you can't double-click a file icon to invoke the app that is supposed to work with it. You wouldn't even know where to start to make this happen on an iPhone. You simply invoke apps by touching with a finger the app icons on an iPhone desktop.

On an iPhone, data files only become available from within the apps that create and maintain them, not via any standard iPhone file browser. In many iPhone apps you can save your own data files... by all means so; but, as a user, you've got no clue where these files end up to. iPhone apps will let you use only the files saved in a dedicated storage area that the particular app's creators have foreseen in their app by default. It is also possible to use files within an app created elsewhere (by another app so to say); only if its creators decided this to be a standard function. For example, most photo processing apps will typically allow you to read and store data files (i.e. photos) into the photographs storage area (the albums) that Apple provides for the needs of its standard 'Photos' app. In conclusion, the iPhone desktop is a place where you can only find shortcuts of installed apps, and no data files whatsoever. It's not at all like the PC/Mac desktops that you are used to, except for the fancy wallpapers...

Finally, except for a few apps that can run concurrently, the iPhone won't allow you to keep open more than one app running at a time. Concurrent program execution is what technerds call multitasking. On the iPhone there's none of it. Is that a big deal? Well, I've often seen people keeping a gazillion apps open on their desktops at work. They ignore that humans can only do one thing at the time... especially male workers. A gazillion multitasking apps will typically clog your live memory... next thing you know your CPU starts swapping files in and out from your persistent storage, slowing down your box to unpopular 'launch and going for coffee' levels. Remember that...

The iPad promises to work the same way as the iPhone, more or less... No multitasking (with a few exceptions) and no Finder-like file browser. Is that a problem? Really?

You see, we are used to work with computers based on operating systems that from the outset were built to support "file management" as a core function. That was so important that it always formed an integral part of the OS. When GUI came along, we learned to drag and drop files all over and organize them in hierarchical trees of a gazillion directories. We still keep doing that even as we speak. However, my experience from watching middle-aged persons learning to work with PCs is that they really despise this mode of work. They don't think it's intuitive enough. The metaphors used for 'files' and 'folders' and 'file drags and drops', however simple most of us think they are, are actually experienced by old folks as rather hard to grasp. I often witnessed baby-boomers getting constipated by pulling their mice by the cable and, with bespectacled eyes wide open, clicking file icons, struggling to maintain the mice "clicked-on" while dragging them further... And, sweating cold sweat by the time they accomplish the 'mission'.  I don't know why, but that's the way it seems to work.

Thus, having said that, do we, honestly need a file browser of any sort, at all? I repeat! At all?! Like File Explorer, or Finder, or more like that. Do we actually need to know where our files are eventually kept and stored? Even physically? They must be somewhere in our computer box, right? If I need to find them, my app will do that for me, innit?

Well, watching Apple, I'd say His Jobness clearly decided that we don't need file browsers anymore. Nada. How do I know that? Well, go check their gallery pages on the link I gave you above. No Finder shown anywhere! Just plain apps! Mind you, these apps are more than you'd ever need (well, if you only added to this bundle their Office Productivity apps too, that they plan to sell for $9.99 each, that is less than 30 bucks for all three of those). With these you can do whatever necessary that every normal person needs to do on a 'personal' computer.

Think for a moment about what you normally do with your iPhone. Apart from calling people, I must confess, I do an awful lot with it these days. From finding my way to bed while the spouse is sleeping, using it as a flashlight (you never thought of that, right?) to... just name it folks; I'll have to spend the rest of the day talking about it... I actually find news and stuff I care about must faster on the iPhone than on my Macbook Pro. Only detail that bothers me is the size of its real estate. I actually need an iPad size appliance to get rid of my laptop altogether. Honest! I might still need my 27inch iMac desktop for a few things here and there... for the time being, that is.

Basically, El Jobso decided that humans need to think more about what they are using computers for rather than having to learn about how computers themselves were built to do the job. How reasonable is that, not? That's the key difference, by the way, between the Borg and Steve Jobs. Microsoft thinks that a Joe 6-pack will typically enjoy doing computer work the same way bonehead developers do. However, Steve Jobs thinks that J6Ps love to do what J6Ps enjoy the most. Drink beer and... check time to go home, looking at their wristwatch now and then. Only difference, wristwatches have been replaced by iPhones nowadays. Everybody knows that! Therefore, using cell-phones or personal computers should be as natural and simple as checking the time on a wristwatch, innit? But, this is not how nerdy Microsofties see us casual PC users work with Windows boxes.

The Apple way (or El Jobso's way, better said) is quite different than what we have traditionally learned from Microsoft. Unfortunately for the Redmond aficionados, the Apple way will be the long term winner in all this. The iPhone started a popular revolution that will change the computer world for ever.  Get used to it. And trust me, the New Way is far simpler and waaaay better. Computers need to adapt to you, not the other way around, exactly like Apple's Jonnhy Ivy declares in the iPad commercial video. And the change is gonna be good, not only for casual end-users but for those darn developers too. Already 140,000 apps available on the Appstore and counting. All done in less than two years? Are you shittin' me? If the Apple SDK wasn't created as function rich to help them develop their iPhone apps so easy, how the heck did they get so productive otherwise, all of a sudden? I mean, productive and developers don't usually meet in one and the same sentence, duh? Anyways, for us regular J6P end-users, it boils down to this... we now have got lot more choice and far better price/performances like we've never ever dreamed before. Competition drives prices down and improves quality... heard that?

The phenomenal acceptance of the iPhone by human flocks, despite direct competition from blunt copycats like Google, Nokia, HTC, Samsung, Motorola, RIM and Palm, proves the point that normal homo sapienses will exactly do what His Jobness wants them to do. And those of you who don't believe the iPad will eventually make it, well... watch its space folks. Sadly, you will be deeply disappointed.

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