The iOS 11 Files app really sucks

So I got around to installing this iOS 11 on my iPad Pro 12.9 inch (yeah, the one with those keyboard shortcuts that suck). And on my iPhone 8+.

I was excited to try out the Files app in particular, as this is the first time Apple has been willing (or forced) to concede that a “Pro” device needs a proper file manager. Amiright?

Well let me tell you, put the celebratory pornography and champagne away. While it looked cool in this Apple ad, the iOS 11 Files app is utterly useless.

There are two things here: the service (or “cloud”) and the client app. Let’s talk about the service first.

The Service

While everyone seems to be over-engineering their cloud services, Dropbox’s concept is the most straight forward. It’s just a folder that syncs with the cloud. That’s it. There is zero learning curve or mental burden in using it. There are no hidden files you have no idea exist.

An indicator shows you if something is synced locally or with the cloud. It’s dead easy to throw your files into it, and it integrates beautifully with everything from 1Password, iA Writer, and other iOS apps I happen to use. It’s just as easy to export stuff out of it, as it is to import stuff into it.

In short, this is what I wish iCloud was.

Instead, we have two distinct (but not really?) things: iCloud and iCloud Drive, and I don’t know where one stops and the other begins. Apps you use sync via iCloud, but files you make in apps are (maybe?) saved in iCloud Drive. iOS saves a bunch of stuff in iCloud (but not iCloud Drive) like certain preferences or your iOS backups. Confused yet?

It does the same for MacOS — iCloud Drive now syncs your Desktop and Documents folders, (and apparently now your iMessages) but iCloud still syncs random settings like your custom keyboard shortcuts, and there is no way to get at that at all. You can delete some things in preferences → iCloud through some arcane dialogue box in bulk, but you can’t see individual files. Still confused?

For fuck’s sake, just give us a single root folder where we have access to and complete control over ALL our cloud data, with a few pre-defined subfolders for things like “Documents”, “OS Settings”, or “iOS Backups”. Don’t make us weed through four different places in iOS settings and dialogues to get at it.

Bitching aside, Apple is at least finally giving us a way to control what’s in iCloud, which used to be just a blackbox, and making it more transparent. It’s not Dropbox, but it’s a step in the right direction — ish. Though, at this glacial pace, I’ll be a corpse before they make a straightforward easy-to-use cloud service.

The Client

This is where I will throw endless compliments at Readlle’s Documents app. While it doesn’t look terribly “iOSy”, it’s a superb file manager that does almost everything: gives you a local storage root folder you can save and export things out of easily, it integrates with everything via the iOS sharing sheet, it works seamlessly with Dropbox, Google Drive.

Within its sandbox, you can do everything from copying, duplicating, deleting, previewing, zipping even editing your files of many different supported types. It lets you download from Safari. It let’s you listen to MP3s and work with PDFs. It makes you omelettes and gives you back massages. It truly gives the iPad Pro a “Pro”-ness. Want to edit a Markdown file? Go for it.

This is what I wish the new Files app was.

Instead, the new Files app is a really raw, terribly basic, and poorly designed substitute. For one, it by design pushes you to upload everything into iCloud Drive. The local storage option is not even visible when you launch it.

It took me a while to figure out that you have to drag something into the Files app to get it to even show the “On My iPad” folder which is hidden by default. This feels like an incredibly sleazy and user-hostile decision. The Cloud should be an option, not a requirement — if I want to work on files locally, let me fucking do it.

It’s very poorly integrated with the rest of iOS. Importing or exporting files from/to other sources like Dropbox or Google Drive doesn’t even work properly — so not sure why it gives you the option to show them.

In spite of the illusion that you have a unified repository for all your files, there is no “Open with…” option. You can’t set a default for what extensions are opened with, so you’re forced into whatever app Files decides for you. You can’t edit files in place, you have to duplicate them.

If you want to edit the same file (like a JPEG or TXT file), you can’t. You can only copy it over and over into each app by importing-exporting, creating a bunch of duplicates of the same bloody file along the way.

Say I want to take a photo, edit it in the Photos app. Then open it in Photoshop Express, make more edits. I now have multiple copies. This workflow is simply idiotic.

Name a feature Document’s does, Files doesn’t do it. You can’t unzip files, who uses ZIP anyway, right? Forget any other archive format. You can’t edit an extension of a file. You can’t edit TXT files, which really should be a feature.

Here’s my biggest grub (but is it, really?) with the new Files app: no dedicated Downloads folder. This is the first time Apple gives you a place for local, sandboxed storage. It was the perfect opportunity to finally introduce a way to download files from Safari. What a missed opportunity. Idiots. IDIOTS.

The whole interface is confusing as fuck. On Mac OS, all the things you would want to do with a file are in the right-click menu. In Files, you have some options in the bar on top, (err.. or on the bottom?). Some other options in the Share button. Some more options by holding down briefly and getting those thin black bubble buttons. To see yet more options you have to try and stab that stupid right arrow button. (Why can’t you just slide it to reveal more options anyway? Idiots.)

The Files app barely has the beginnings of a something that vaguely resembles a file manager, if you squint hard. Dragging and moving files around is beautifully executed. Tagging is too, for those weirdos who use that feature. But otherwise, this is practically useless given how much hype Apple is throwing behind it.

If you’re into sadomasochism, the Files app is for you.

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