The Stochastic Game

Ramblings of General Geekery

Posts tagged with ios

Computer Files Are Going Extinct

Although it’s somewhat ironic that this article was written on Medium, this is a very good rant on obsolescence of files:

I love files. I love renaming them, moving them, sorting them, changing how they’re displayed in a folder, backing them up, uploading them to the internet, restoring them, copying them, and hey, even defragging them. As a metaphor for a way of storing a piece of information, I think they’re great. I like the file as a unit of work. If I need to write an article, it goes in a file. If I need to produce an image, it’s in a file.

I also love files. That’s why I put them in a NAS. And then I have another NAS to backup the first NAS. That’s why my blog is essentially generated from a bunch of files, and why my notes are in a wiki that’s also generated from a bunch of files. Files are easy to edit, store, version, backup, recover. Sure, they don’t scale very well to giant online services, but for personal use, they’re the absolute best in my opinion. Of course, they’re also the worst for companies who want to lock you in and profit from your data under cover of “convenience”.

But Apple doesn’t make it that easy to get to your files. Images are dumped into a big stream, sorted by date. Audio is somewhere in iTunes. Notes are… in a list? Apps are scattered around the desktop. Some of my files are in iCloud. You can email photos to liberate them from the iPhone, and through a convoluted method via iTunes, you can access some files within certain apps. But those files are transitory — cached, and may be deleted without warning. These aren’t like the carefully crafted files and folders on my computer.

This one of the reasons I have a love/hate relationship with my iOS devices. And if you look at the number of apps that support some Dropbox or Box integration or similar, I don’t think I’m the only one. I’m actually not even sure Dropbox would have been as popular if Apple had initially released iOS with friendly support for moving files in and out of the device. Most of the apps I use on a regular basis on my iPad are ones that can interact with the files in my home network, like Plex or GoodReader. I refuse to store stuff on iCloud (except as a form of extra backup), regardless of how many times Apple insists on running advertisements on my phone in the form of notifications you can’t disable1.

Anyway, read the whole article, as it’s making several other interesting points on the subject.

Bottom-line: I also miss files. We eventually got the big companies to sell music as DRM-free files, but it looks like it’s never going to happen for video. Everything is a cloud subscription service, now. Everything is streaming. Everything is a timeline. It’s not just about files going extinct, it’s about the very concept of “ownership” going obsolete.


  1. Apple has been getting worse on that front, lately. 


Fucking pick one

Paul Stamatiou has been getting a lot of attention about his article “Android Is Better”. And beyond the obvious flamebait (which seems to be working quite well), he makes a couple of points that I agree with:

  • Most people probably use more Google services (for good or bad) than Apple services, and will find the Android experience better integrated if they tried it.
  • Notifications on Android are a million times more useful and productive than on iOS.
  • It’s a lot easier to customize your phone to your specific workflows.
  • The back button and intents make it a lot easier to work between apps.

These are actually the main points that made me switch to Android a couple years ago, along with a bigger screen.

Some points however I disagree:

  • Google Now is not “magical”. It’s downright creepy and makes your device slow.
  • I don’t find Android’s UI inherently better or more elegant than iOS', or vice-versa. I’m used to both either way.
  • You still find a lot more polished and refined apps on iOS, which is not to say they are more useful or functional, as people often mix up the two (if anything, Android’s ugly apps actually do more things). But since I’m not an app-whore – I must have only a dozen non-stock apps on my phone and they’re almost all cross-platform – I frankly don’t care. The only app I miss is Sparrow, but that bird is flying away.

Marco Arment has written a nice commentary on the story, where he first criticizes Stamatiou’s use of absolute statements (emphasis his):

Paul’s headline is his thesis, conclusion, and call to action: Android is better, and everyone should try it and will likely convert like he did. But after reading the article, I’m more convinced than ever that the best mobile platform for me is currently iOS.

That sentence contains two huge qualifiers: the best mobile platform for me is currently iOS. I’ve learned to write and think with a broader view, since it’s less insular and more accurately reflects reality. (The world is a big place.)

While reading Paul’s article, I was often struck by how differently he and I use the same technology.

His article exudes a narrow tech-world view by having no such qualifiers.

That’s fine, and as a guy who has always chosen his tech (hardware and software) based on specific needs, and not on generic opinions and reviews, I can’t agree more. I often say that if I ask a question like “_what is the best X?_”, and someone answers “_it’s Y!_” without even asking for more details about my situation first, I’m probably not going to listen to that person, quietly labeling him as fanboy or short-sighted in my mental notebook.

I wish Marco would talk to his online buddies about this, actually. For example, MG Siegler, once wrote:

I don’t know about you, but when I read my favorite technology writers, I want an opinion. Is the iPhone 4S the best smartphone, or is it the Galaxy Nexus? I need to buy one, I can’t buy both. Topolsky never gives us that. Instead, he pussyfoots around it. One is great at some things, the other is great at others. Barf.

Fucking pick one. I bet that even now he won’t.

Maybe he just doesn’t read reviews like I do. I just want a reliable opinion of what a product does well, and what it doesn’t. And then I’m going to decide which one is the best, based on what I need. But apparently, Siegler wants somebody to tell him which one is the best.

And then there’s John Gruber. I’m pretty happy with my Nexus 7, myself, but apparently “most people […] agree it was a turd”. In comparison, his first-generation iPad “works just as well as the day [he] bought it”. But oh, wait:

Update: A lot of pushback from readers on my claim above, arguing that their first-gen iPads have been rendered slow and unstable by iOS 5 (the last OS to support the hardware). My son uses mine for iBooks, watching movies, and playing games. Mileage clearly varies with other apps. (And yes, the App Store app in particular is a bit crashy.)

So yeah, mileage clearly varies on the iPad, but not the Nexus 7. And funny enough, my iPhone 3G was also rendered slow and unstable by iOS 4, the last OS to support the hardware. If I was paranoid, I would think Apple likes to leave users with a broken device to force them to upgrade, but hey, your mileage may vary, maybe your iPhone 3G is doing great.

In the end, it’s important to keep in mind that everybody’s got different requirements, budgets and usage patterns. One thing that often gets overlooked by Apple fans, for instance, is that in some countries (like here in Canada) you can’t get an iPhone unless you spend a minimum of $40-ish/month on a data plan. If you want a cheaper plan like me (I use a 500Mb plan which lets me do everything I want except streaming music/video), you have no choice but to go with another OS.

As far as I’m concerned, my iPad and my Nexus 7 get along fine in my backpack, and they must know I love them just the same – just for different things.