First look at Files, the new file manager in iOS 11

Better late than never, as the old saying goes. At WWDC 2017, Apple announced that it would be adding a new app to iOS, appropriately named Files. It’s coming with the launch of iOS 11 later this year and, as you can imagine, it’ll let you browse and manage your data – media, documents, and anything else you might have stored offline or online. But we have a feeling that the introduction of Files may have left quite a few questions unanswered, so in this article, we’ll give you a deeper look at the new iOS file manager.

How do I get files onto my iPhone or iPad?

Files is a free app available on iPhone and iPad in the fall. It will appear on your home screen as soon as iOS 11 is installed on your iPhone or iPad. Yes, the app is also available on the iPhone, although Apple’s presentation focused exclusively on how Files works on the new iPad Pro. We currently have it installed on our iPhone 7 Plus, running the iOS 11 developer preview.

One way to get an early build of Files is to install the iOS 11 public beta once it’s available, but it may take a few more months before it’s released. Another is to have an Apple developer account and install the iOS 11 developer preview which is already available for testing. However, this build is very unstable, so flashing it on your daily driver is probably a bad idea.

What do the files look like?

Files are about as exciting of an app…as a file manager can be. Here are some screenshots:

What can I use the files for?

To be clear, Files is do not designed to access the entire iOS file system. Important system and app data are always out of bounds, and that’s surely for the best. The purpose of Files is to allow you to manage the files you have stored in the cloud and locally on your device – to move, rename and organize your stuff as you are used to on your computer, for example.

We must point out that we are unable to access the local folders that we think we should have access to, such as the one with all our photos. This may change with the final release of iOS 11.

Now, when we say Files is compatible with cloud services, we mean its reach goes beyond iCloud. Third-party services are also supported: Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, Dropbox, Box, as well as Baidu, Tencent Cloud and Adobe Creative Cloud.

What’s so cool about Files?

As a native app, Files is designed to take advantage of iOS functionality – drag and drop, for example, is present in the app, and on the iPad, placing the app on the dock gives you quick access to files with a long press on them. Side-by-side multitasking is also present, allowing iPad owners to do neat things like drag an attachment straight from their inbox to a selected folder.

And those colored dots that you may have noticed are file tags. These are added to files that you want to group into a certain category without having to put them in the same folder. Naturally, the tags will appear in the search bar, but you can tap one to view all files tagged with. New tags can be created, while existing ones can be renamed or deleted.

On our iPhone 7 Plus, there is also a Files widget. Additionally, Spotlight Search returns results from the Files app. And if we turn the iPhone sideways, we get a cool split-screen view: with the contents of a folder on the right and a navigation panel on the left.

And a note before you go:

The Files app in the currently available iOS 11 developer preview cannot be described as fully functional. Many features are still unavailable, including management of locally stored files and compatibility with third-party cloud services. We were therefore unable to test them. But we welcome the introduction of a user-friendly file manager on iOS – a feature that took longer to arrive than it should have. For a final verdict on how well Files does, we’ll have to play around with the final version of iOS 11.

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Donald E. Hollingsworth