It is not possible for users to access the filesystem on the iPad since this access is not permitted on devices running iOS.

  • How is the function of the iPad improved by preventing users from accessing the filesystem?
  • no comment on the downvote... how's a person supposed to grow?
    – DQdlM
    Commented Mar 7, 2012 at 2:30
  • Sorry for the no comment. The iPad and iPhone are designed by Apple to create a consistent user experience. Just how is an Apple Genius supposed to respond to the user who was caught by that oldest of virii format C:. Yes, there are limitations we endure by not having access to the file system, but then these iOS devices are not traditional computers. I gave a downvote because this is a philosophical question that doesn't have an answer.
    – afragen
    Commented Mar 7, 2012 at 2:56
  • @afragen thanks for the feedback. It would have to be a question of design philosophy though - so there would be an answer. I guess my second question is supposed to get at this. You admit their are limitations but what are the advantages? Is it simply to prevent users from damaging the device, as you suggest? If so, why not offer limited access? I am not trying to be snarky, I really want to understand how to think about these devices.
    – DQdlM
    Commented Mar 7, 2012 at 3:26
  • 5
    I disagree that it this question does not have an answer. Designers/developers do not make random choices without cause (at least smart ones don't). Apple chose to do it a certain way; there is an explanation or justification.
    – user8697
    Commented Mar 7, 2012 at 4:30
  • I have edited the question to clarify that my question is about the function of the iPad and not the motivation of the designers (although I would think they would be related). While I agree that we can only speculate on the actual motivation of a design decision, it does seem that it is possible to answer a question about the implications of that decision.
    – DQdlM
    Commented Mar 7, 2012 at 14:28

2 Answers 2


First, I think it's about how people think about their workflow. It's an emphasis on "how" instead of "where": http://www.malcolmgroves.com/blog/?p=633

Windows has been promoting the doc-centric view of the world for a long time. I remember that being one of the supposed big advantages of Windows 95, the ability to focus on your documents and not the apps that create them. File associations, OLE embedding, etc all attempted to push people this way. Yet my experience suggests most users resisted it, or missed it altogether. For example, I still much more frequently see people start Excel and create a new spreadsheet, rather than use the Start Menu option (or right-click option in Explorer) to create a new document. Most users still seem to think in terms of applications, not documents.

If you are primarily interested in creating a spreadsheet, you create the spreadsheet first. What you call it and where you put it come later, or in the case of iOS that step is removed entirely, you just don't have to think about it at all. On the other hand, I see people editing particular files on their desktop all the time--it's no longer I want to create a spreadsheet anymore, it's I want to edit this spreadsheet.

Second, I think it's also a matter of simplification. I have a lot more files on my computer than I do applications, and I don't necessarily want to sort and organize them so I can find a particular spreadsheet that I'm interested in. Taking away the documents and just focusing entirely on applications, which filter you down to the documents they know about, simplifies things.

Third, if your focus is consumption, does it matter as much to you where your files are? I think maybe not, and the iPad and the iPhone feel like consumption devices to me. If something doesn't matter to the target audience and it's just adding unecessary complications, maybe it should be taken out.

  • 2
    dividing your documents into silos based on what program created them results in project fragmentation where the resources for a project are spread across many application without any way to see all of them in a single list.
    – Dan D.
    Commented Mar 8, 2012 at 6:15
  • @DanD. I agree and this basically what motivated the question.
    – DQdlM
    Commented Mar 9, 2012 at 3:04
  • @DanD. Yes, the app-centric model absolutely has drawbacks---I won't be giving up my file system any time soon, myself. If you need to see all of the pieces of your project together the simplification argument falls down. On the other hand, I wonder if the goals you're addressing by looking at the files in a single list could be addressed in another way that works within the app-oriented model?
    – Pam G
    Commented Mar 9, 2012 at 21:05

From the comment "this is a philosophical question that doesn't have an answer" - Yes, it indeed is. The philosophy behind this is Steve Job's obsession to be in complete control over the user experience of the device. By allowing access to the file system, Apple is relinquishing control to the user, who may be a bit naive and do stuff Apple may not want to encourage (for example - install "unapproved" apps, hack the OS and experience crashes, viruses etc.).

The whole idea is that Apple believes it knows what the user wants, better than the user himself.

  • 4
    Not true. I don't think that's the case here.
    – cksum
    Commented Mar 7, 2012 at 4:33
  • 1
    This is true, actually. And perhaps the primary reason for Apple's success.
    – DA01
    Commented Mar 7, 2012 at 19:41
  • 2
    @DA01 is correct. Steve Jobs very firmly believed that people needed to be told what they want in a computer. Apple is more-or-less built around this concept. He also believed that
    – staticsan
    Commented Mar 9, 2012 at 2:31
  • This answer sounds more like a rant against Apple than a fact-based answer to the question. Plus, the question asked for advantages of such an approach, not complaints. Commented Dec 19, 2012 at 21:31

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