The file system is vanishing, a friend of mine told me earlier this week. It started with iOS.
iOS launched the era of apps with self-contained files. Buy the New Yorker and you’ll find the this week’s issue only in the app. Type a shopping list, you’ll find it in the Notepad app. Buy some music, you’ll find it in the iTunes app.
Try as you might, you won’t be able to find that magazine, image, or song in another app. Each file is accessible only to the app that created it. This is quite a departure from the open file system in desktop OSs in which any app can write to any file. This design simplifies the user experience
The first metaphors for computing, windows and a desktop, greatly simplified the syntax of command line interfaces and reduced the complexity of operating a computer. With iOS, Apple casts aside these metaphors for a simpler one still: workspaces.
Documents are app specific and each app is purpose-built. If I want to edit a presentation, I use Keynote confident that all my presentations are there. Unbeknownst to the user, the app manages files and the filesystem.
In addition to the simpler interface, this kind of OS has security benefits. Each app is constrained to changing a certain narrow set of files. Lack of data portability is the drawback. If only one app can access certain data, users can’t switch from one spreadsheet editor to another. This a problem that Android’s Intents attempts to solve.
The workspace metaphor is much more natural and intelligible. It’s why we see videos of toddlers playing with iPads and grandmothers reading newspapers on iTouches.