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Updates to the Files app in iOS 16 and iPadOS 16 bring it closer to the macOS Finder. This is the new.
The Files app offers basic file management features for iPhone and iPad. While not as robust as Finder on Mac, it can accomplish most of what a user would need to manage files.
Files started out as a way to see everything stored in iCloud Drive, then expanded to third-party cloud services like Dropbox, and finally ended with local and network storage options. Now the feature set has been expanded again with some much-needed updates to file navigation and control in iOS 16 and iPadOS 16.
Files app updates
Most of the changes made to the Files app focus on creating macOS-like interaction paradigms for better ecosystem parity. These new updates make it easier to locate, manipulate, and organize files.
Save, open and transfer functions
The “Save to Files” feature has been enhanced with a new modal window. Whenever a user saves something in the Files app, the entire app UI appears with options to select the save location, add a tag, and rename the file.
Opening files with third-party apps gets a similar UI when the developer correctly points to the Files app as the storage location. The modal window displays the entire navigation UI for finding a file, including the new navigation options described below.
When moving a file to a different storage location, such as from one cloud service to another or to an external SSD, a file transfer progress bar appears.
See options and navigation
Apple has improved the list view with better controls over organization. The file or folder is displayed on the left, as usual, with the date modified and the file size on the right with the column headings in blue.
Tap a column title to sort the list by that data point, and tap it again to reverse the order. Grouping by file type, date, size, or who shared it offers more organizing options.
The navigation toolbar also received a small but welcome change. Instead of displaying the parent folder or previous folder at the top left, the Files app now displays forward and back arrows next to the current folder name.
Tapping on the folder name opens a recent folders navigation view and offers some control options, such as rename, copy, and move.
Within the view menu, selecting “View Options” displays the “Group By” options for any given view mode, in addition to the “Show All Extensions” button which we’ll discuss next.
When interacting with a file, there are a handful of new interactions available depending on the file type and context. These are hidden under the “right click” or press and hold menu.
Using “Get Info” on folders will now reveal the size of the folder’s contents. Previously, this did not display any size data. Also, the “where” section shows the file structure leading to the selected file or folder.
When selecting certain types of files, new quick actions will appear in the menu. For example, image quick actions include rotating the image, converting to PDF, or removing the background.
When “Remove Background” is selected, a new PNG image is saved with the object within the same folder.
The Columns layout offers a hybrid view of information and action buttons typically found when selecting an image or file in the file selection menu. The hamburger button reveals additional file actions similar to those listed above.
Also, some actions can be performed with multiple selected files. For example, select multiple image files to add to a PDF file that is saved separately.
Other batch operations include changing file extensions, removing backgrounds from all selected images, or creating a new folder with the selected items. However, the Files app cannot batch rename files.
File extensions tell you what type of file you’re dealing with, such as whether an image file might be JPEG, PNG, or HEIF. Users can now freely convert an image between these extension types using the “Convert Image” action in the quick actions menu.
For more advanced users, use the “Show all extensions” option in the layout menu to see the file extension after the file name. With this enabled, simply rename a file and change the extension displayed after the period to actually change the file type.
Be careful when making changes to files in this way. Some file containers have additional information, such as location, tags, or notes, that won’t appear in a new file type.
Understand the Files app
The iPhone and iPad are fundamentally different computing platforms from the Mac, so users shouldn’t expect Files to have the same feature as Finder. One of the most significant differences between the two is access to system files.
On Mac, users can dive into hidden file structures and modify program files for installed applications or even system files integral to the normal operation of the operating system. On iPad and iPhone, the only things users have access to are user-generated files.
Apple hasn’t opened that up at all, and users shouldn’t expect that philosophy to change anytime soon. Instead, updates to Files focus on quality of life improvements that make managing files easier.