It seems that every week for the past few months, there’s been at least one or two announcements of app developers, cloud service providers, and mobile management vendors developing strategic partnerships to create or integrate their products into a single unified workflow.
Box’s OneCloud initiative, in which the storage provider teamed up with more than two dozen app developers to create seamless workflows for several different business and productivity tasks, is probably the biggest example of this trend. Others include Quickoffice launching its own cloud service as well as integrating with Accellion’s kitedrive, LogMeIn’s new Cubby service, and CloudOn’s virtualized version of Microsoft Office that integrates with Box and Dropbox for storage.
All these partnerships are getting positive responses for one very good reason. They’re effectively creating file managers like the OS X Finder or Windows Explorer and offering users a truly functional file system – something Apple has been refusing to provide since the iPhone was announced five years ago.
Apple has always been of the opinion that we shouldn’t have any need to manage files on an iPhone or iPad the way that we do on a Mac or PC. Instead we should simply work with data or files through the app that created them in much the same that we organize photos in iPhoto or music, TV shows, and movies in iTunes.
That sounds like a nice idea and, in some situations, it works well. It doesn’t really matter to me how or where my various Newsstand-enabled apps store the content of their issues so long as I can read them, for example. The same goes for iBooks – so long as I can read highlight passages, and make notes and trust that iCloud will sync those notes or where I left off reading between my iPad and iPhone, I don’t need to be concerned with ePUB files and how or where they’re stored on either device.
But that effortless experience breaks down for certain types of use – such as creating and organizing content, particularly if I need to share that content with others or access/edit the related files on the iMac in my office. Around this type or use, the iOS method of associating files with apps becomes a drawback. Even for data stored just on my iPad, it can be challenging if I want to work with the same file in more than one app. Apple’s method of transferring files using iTunes is, of course, an option – but that’s one clunky user interface that is far from intuitive or seamless. And Apple’s passion and success in creating seamless end-to-end user experience makes this clumsy solution stick out like a sore thumb.
Avoiding these issues is why most productivity and business developers build in access to various personal cloud services and/or create cloud services of their own. It makes working with and organizing files a much more fluid and streamlined process – particularly for services that automatically sync with your Mac, PC, or other devices. It’s no wonder that so many companies are willing to be part of Box’s OneCloud and to develop similar arrangements.
These partnerships truly represent third-party companies fixing what many consider a deficiency in iOS – the ability to work with files the way we’re used to working with them on almost every other device. The fact that cloud services can also offer additional benefits like document versioning, backup, collaboration with other users, and even security if documents aren’t synced onto an iOS device itself.
Unfortunately, it seems that Apple is unlikely to change its mind when it comes iOS file management. Mountain Lion certainly seems destined to build this iOS model out even further using iCloud. Whatever road Apple does take with respect to iOS file storage and sharing, at least there are companies offering alternative solutions for those that want something more or different.