It looks like developers were just waiting for Apple to introduce the Files app in iOS 11. Within hours of the introduction of the feature, we’ve seen multiple developers introduce Files support, and it seems abundantly clear the app is going to transform how people approach iOS productivity.
What is Apple’s Files app?
Files is Apple’s approach to real file storage, edit and retrieval on iOS. It is an app in which you can access every item you hold in online storage services.
The idea is that you can work on something on your iPhone, edit it on your iPad, and finish up on your Mac, PC or other device. Edits made inside an item in Files or one of the file services it hosts are automatically synced to all the other systems you have that use that service.
The introduction is a big step forward for iOS productivity. (Files replaces and improves the previous iCloud Drive app). It makes it very easy to use iOS within mixed platform productive environments.
- Use a PC with Office at work and want to access those files on an iPad? You can, through One Drive.
- Android user with documents in Google Drive? Now it’s easy to get to them on your iPad.
- Got a client who wants to use Box for secure enterprise-focused design projects? You can get to it from iOS.
This realizes what many iOS users have been hoping for — that’s why when Readdle introduced its own take on a file management system for its apps on iOS, it attracted so much attention earlier this year.
Opening up: Files compatible with third-party services
Apple’s decision to make Files compatible with third-party services through provision of an API developers can use if they want to build Files support into their products is also a big deal, as it means iOS devices can now be placed at the heart of non-standard enterprise deployments on Apple platforms.
Enterprise developers can build support for Files into enterprise-only, highly secure but iOS-supporting intranets.
To add a service, you must download its iOS app to your device, and it should automatically appear in your Files account. Inside Files, you’ll find your accounts, tags and Favorites menus to help you find data.
Files app supports all the big online file storage services
For most users, it’s just reassuring to know that all the big online file storage services are now (or will soon be) supported inside the app. Dropbox, One Drive, Box, iCloud, even Google Drive.
(Box has been particularly smart in how it has approached the app, standardizing its own service around the Locations, Favorites, Tags set-up Apple has created in Files.)
Files support is not confined to the big services.
Look around, and you’ll find less well-known apps/services combinations have moved to introduce support for Files, Omni Group in OmniGraffle and OmniOutliner, for example. Procreate 4 is also supported. You may also find files belonging to specific apps stashed inside your iCloud Drive inside the Files app.
Of course, off-the-shelf online storage services aren’t suitable for every user.
NAS systems with Files support
That’s why it’s good to see that NAS storage vendors also climbed inside the Files carriage aboard the iOS train.
This acts as a private (and shareable) cloud that also happens to be compatible with Time Machine. Plug the system into your router, and you have an instant private file storage system that lets you access your stuff from anywhere. You use an app to access files from an iOS device, and that app has been updated to support iOS 11 and Files.
This is good news for SMEs because it is now possible to create shared, private and highly secure online file storage systems for your teams.
Files isn’t yet perfect
The Files app is not a perfect solution yet.
While some storage services let you work on the file they host, others need you to download the file to get edits done. You can’t yet customize the way items are stored or change between grid and list views. However, those are relatively minor challenges that will be resolved going forward. For the present, however, Files makes iOS a far more practical productivity solution than it was before.
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