Favorite quotation: Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes, that way when you criticize them, you're a mile away and you have their shoes. - Jack Handey

Monday, March 19, 2012

The wild success of iOS devices has Apple thinking that we all prefer iOS to Mac.

However, the success of iOS devices should not be used as evidence that iOS is a better OS than OS X. Or that users prefer how iOS organizes our files and programs to how it's done on the Mac.

The success of iOS is not because its interface is preferable to Mac OS X. No, the success of iOS is actually due to the superiority of the hardware, the excellent retail and marketing strategies of Apple, the growth in the market, and the shortcomings of the competition. iOS's user interface and approach to file handling is not why people pick the iPhone over a Droid. They pick iPhone because it has a better screen, more apps, better battery life, better resale value, better build quality, better customer support, etc.

We don't have to dig very deep to find lots of people who are frustrated with many aspects of the iPhone user interface, frustrated with iTunes, frustrated with no way to access files directly from the Finder, frustrated with the inability to sort and organize files, etc. For example, just look at HTC Sense for an example of the kinds of things that many people would like to see on iOS. I have never personally used HTC Sense, but I have often wished that I had something like it on iOS. (See for cool features of HTC sense). The same thing could be said for certain features of WebOS, like its notifications, which Apple's notifications are not as good as (WebOS notifications can be set not to disappear until you dismiss them, so that you don't forget to do a To-Do for example).

Further, many reasons have been given as to why iOS has been gimped by Apple compared to OS X. For example we were told that unlike the original iPods, the iPhone did not allow the user to access files directly via the Finder for "security" reasons that were specific to it being a phone. However, the iPod Touch and iPad are not phones, yet they still deny Finder access -- so the real reason isn't "security," then. The original iPhone didn't have a "Finder" or way to organize documents, which we could imagine was simply because it was too slow and didn't have enough memory or screen resolution to accomplish this. However the new iPad has more screen resolution than any computer I've ever used, and so there is no excuse for it not having a Finder of some kind.

We also figured that iOS was intentionally gimped by Apple so that people would still have to buy a Mac also. Apple did not want to cannibalize its own laptop sales by making the iPad a viable replacement for a Mac laptop. They wanted to keep the iOS devices as independent accessories that go with a computer, rather than stand-alone devices. However, now with iCloud, we are seeing that an iPhone or iPad is really just another device along with a Mac that exists in a network of devices that you may own, and that data can exist on across of them, in some form or another.

So now, the argument that iOS devices are not stand-alone devices is another bad reason why iOS should not have a Finder or have its files be accessible through the Finder on another computer.

Further, everyone agrees that iTunes needs to bite the dust. It is the worst interface of all time for any major software package. It's a piece of bloatware from hell, a kludge-tastic mess that is so convoluted that it makes me want to jump into a meat-grinder. It's terrible! It used to be a simple music player. Then Apple started selling music, and so iTunes was how you did that. Then Apple started selling iPods, so it was how you synced those. Then Apple started selling iPhones, so it was how you synced those. Then Apple started selling apps, so it was how you synced those. While you were at it, you might as well use it to sync everything else, too, they figured. The result is that now, I have iTunes playlists with a music note icon, which have nothing but PDFs in them! Even though none of them can be "played" by iTunes!! What a mess.

Yet somewhere along the line, the fanboys started to believe that the shortcomings and gimped features of iOS were somehow meant to be that way by the Gods of Cupertino. See, for years, Apple was on the ropes, and so publications like Macworld largely stopped being critical of Apple, and increasingly became giant ads for Apple's latest products, spinning things in the most positive light possible. In many Mac-centric internet forums, especially Apple's Discussions, you just can't say anything bad about how any Apple product works, even iTunes, without being flamed relentlessly by fanboys. And for awhile, perhaps, Apple needed this mentality from the media and its fans, in order for Apple to survive.

However, now that Apple is in a position of dominance in the market, I have started to wonder where the fanboyism is really coming from. Why are there still people who take the position of being Apple's yes-men, who tow the party-line and defend the circled wagons? Why is it impossible to find a single flaw in iOS? Why is Apple's most successful product looked to as the model for how all its products should be, in every respect?

Case in point: HTC Sense. I have known many people who went Android because they really like HTC Sense, and see the iPhone's interface as archaic by comparison. Now, sure, Apple is doing just fine in the marketplace, and does not seem to be suffering in over-all sales. However, if the iPhone's interface was better, perhaps more like HTC Sense, maybe a lot of those people who went with Android would have gone with iOS instead. Maybe iOS could be EVEN MORE popular and dominant, if Apple were willing to address many of its shortcomings and frustrating aspects.

Why is it so hard for you fanboys out there to accept that even though you cannot find a single thing you'd change about iOS, that perhaps there are additional options that other people really want, and who would also join the camp if iOS had them? Why can't you accept that options and features that iOS does not currently have and which seem to be counter to the direction Apple has appeared to be going in are not, by default and by definition, bad? Have you considered that Apple is not perfect and that its idea of how things should be might not be the best, 100% of the time? Have you considered that even Apple knows this, which is why they have a Feedback page?

Now, back to the concept of adding a Finder to iOS. I read an appalling and disturbing article by Andy Ihnatko in Macworld a few months ago, which caused me to cancel my subscription. In it, he argued that iOS's way of organizing files by the application used to create them was better, and seemed to be hoping that OS X would eventually move towards something like iOS. So, let me get this straight: Apple intentionally gimped iOS for various reasons ("security," "so you'd still need a Mac," and so on), but suddenly now people want the Mac to be gimped too?

I suppose if all you do is e-mail then it wouldn't matter, since e-mail is already associated directly to the application (Mail, Eudora, or whatever client you use). If you prefer to let iTunes organize your music (which many of us don't), and if you prefer to let iPhoto organize your pictures (which many of us don't), then between email, photos, and music you are not using the Finder or files and folders directly, anyway. So, I guess the thinking goes, "Wouldn't it be nice if all programs were like that?"

Really, no it would not be nice. First of all, I use a variety of programs to work with files that I use -- not just one. I use several image editing programs to edit the same set of pictures. I use several audio workstation programs and audio editing programs to edit the same set of audio files. I access my files on my Mac Pro remotely from my Mac Book Pro via file sharing, or locally on the machine itself. When I access files sometimes I just want to convert them to another format for emailing (using an independent conversion utility), or I want to back them up to Blu-Ray, or I want to copy them to an external hard drive.

Having all my documents grouped by the application that created them would be a huge nightmare on my Mac. And on iOS it is already preventing me from using that device to its fullest capabilities, which is very frustrating. I own just about every synthesizer app there is for iOS, along with Garage Band. All I want to do is press record in a synthesizer, play some stuff, save it to a common folder, then go into Garage Band and add that file to a project. Or, I want to organize the photos on my iPad into folders so that they are not all in one big list, but I can't. I can't organize my photos at all on my iPad without locking myself into syncing the photos with an image organizing program on the Mac side, which still will not accomplish the task of organizing the photos into folders the way I like to do it.

Why is Apple -- the company that invented the timeless desktop metaphor and proved that it was the easiest way to work with a computer -- suddenly turning its back on the desktop metaphor entirely? Why is Apple suddenly turning its back on the file/folder system that we all know and love? And more importantly, why aren't more users enraged about this? Why are fanboys like Andy Ihnatko actually supporting this madness and calling for the perma-gimping of OS X?

I don't see why in a non-multi-user OS like iOS you cannot simply have a local documents folder for the user, where all their documents are, which can be accessed over USB mass storage protocol, or AFP, or FTP, or whatever. Currently using the iTunes file sharing for that is way to kludgy. But it seems like using the file path of the file to store it in the creator-application's own sandboxed area is a terrible idea for many reasons. It means users can't organize content within applications in a hierarchical manner (just like in iTunes, you can't put a playlist into a playlist). It means users can't easily access their own data.

The setup of iCloud shows that Apple really likes the application-centric model for document syncing. The fact that they did away with iDisk shows that they don't want applications to be able to synchronize documents that users might move around or modify with other programs. However, why don't they just come up with some extensions to the file system that would enable an application to see whether a document has been modified with another application? Why not treat the entire file system as an iTunes Library, essentially, and the Finder as the master to it all?

I think Apple can have its cake and eat it, too, but they just need to think different instead of drinking the kool-aid and thinking that the gimped iOS is actually better. No, it's gimped. Don't be stupid!

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