After all these years, Apple has caved. iOS 11, the software update for iPhones and iPads coming in September, will introduce a new “Files” app. It sounds like a small addition, but it looks to solve one of the biggest remaining frustrations with the iPhone. And best of all, it’s arriving just in time for the rumored iPhone 8 launch.
Unlike regular computers and Android smartphones, iPhones have avoided exposing any sort of file structure to users. If you wanted to send a file to a friend, you had to think which type of file it was, open up the appropriate app and use the in-app sending system to send it over. In many cases, this meant learning new interfaces every time.
iOS 11, which entered beta testing earlier this month, replaces the limited iCloud Drive app with one that allows for both offline and cloud storage, as well as easy access to third-party services like Dropbox. Users can now manage files inside folders, like a traditional computer.
So why did it take so long? Because while it’s a useful addition, Apple didn’t seem to think think that file managers are that important. During a session about the recently-released Mac OS X Tiger in 2005, Steve Jobs explained how computers always seem straightforward until the point where you reach a file manager. This, he claimed, was a relic that would eventually disappear for most.
“There’s always been a better way to find stuff,” Jobs told the audience at the “D: All Things Digital” conference. “You don’t keep your e-mail on your file system, right? The app manages it. And that was the breakthrough, as an example, in iTunes. You don’t keep your music in the file system; that would be crazy. You keep it in this app that knows about music and knows how to find things in lots of different ways.”
And so it was with iOS. You want to play a song, you go to the music app. You want to read a PDF, you open that app. Users were expected to think on an app-first basis, which isn’t unreasonable when you want to complete a task, but when you’re working on a project with multiple types of data, it becomes more frustrating.
“The file system management is just gonna be an app for pros, and consumers aren’t gonna need to use it,” Jobs said in 2005.
The iPhone 8 is rumored to launch later this year, 10 years after the first iPhone came along. It’s expected to come with a radical redesign, and with iOS 11, it’s going to solve one of the biggest issues that’s plagued the iPhone since its inception. Jobs may not have thought too highly of the file manager, but even he admitted that professionals may have a use for it.