How to use the new keyboard shortcuts in iOS 11’s Files app

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Files app keyboard shortcuts
Files app keyboard shortcuts
Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

The Files app is iOS 11’s Finder. You can use it to browse the files in your iCloud Drive, along with files and folders in your Dropbox, and inside other apps that open up their file systems to iOS. Apple has also added some keyboard shortcuts to the Files app. This lets you carry out many common tasks without touching the screen when you have a hardware keyboard attached.

Most of the new keyboard shortcuts are great, and show how serious Apple is about the new user-accessible iOS file system. But some serious limitations mean you’ll still need to reach up and tap the screen to do the most basic things.

Files app keyboard shortcuts

Press the Cmd key to pop up this list.
Press the Cmd key to pop up this list.
Photo: Cult of Mac

You can use the following keyboard shortcuts in Files:

  • Create folder: Shift-Cmd-N
  • Copy: Cmd-C
  • Duplicate: Cmd-D
  • Paste: Cmd-V
  • Move Here: Shift-Cmd-V
  • Delete: Cmd-Backspace
  • Select All: Cmd-A
  • Search: Cmd-F
  • Show Recents: Shift-Cmd-R
  • Show Browse: Shift-Cmd-B
  • View as Icons: Cmd-1
  • View as List: Cmd-2
  • Go to Enclosing Folder: Cmd-up arrow

Most of these are self-explanatory. Some need a little more detail. We’ll look at those in a second. First, we’ll see …

Which iOS keyboard shortcuts are missing?

Files’ new keyboard shortcuts are fantastic, with some really deep options like switching views and navigating up the the enclosing folder. However, the great power of these existing shortcuts really shows what’s missing. For instance, if you can go up a level in the folder hierarchy (Cmd-up arrow), then why can’t you use the arrow keys to navigate in general, like you would on the Mac?

There’s even precedent on iOS itself: If you use Cmd-Space to enter Spotlight search, you can use the arrow keys to move up and down the list of results. Some of the search results have a little arrow to their right, indicating that you can tap them for more info (Wikipedia results, for example). You can use the left and right arrows to navigate in and out of these sections. Why, then, can’t you do this in the Files app? You’d think that this most basic of keyboard shortcuts would be added along with the others.

In the Mac’s Finder, you can type the first few letters of a file, an app, or whatever is in the folder, and that item will be selected. This doesn’t yet work in iOS 11, but type-to-search — where you can search inside a folder and its subfolders — is almost instant.

What do those shortcuts do?

Creating a folder.
Creating a folder.
Photo: Cult of Mac

Creating a folder works just like you’d expect, although if you change your mind halfway though, you’ll have to reach up and tap Cancel — hitting escape doesn’t work.

Copying, pasting and moving files are also empty of surprises, but you have to select the files first. You do this by reaching up and tapping the Select button at top right, and then tapping the files you want to copy. Further, the keyboard shortcut for Select All only works after you have reached up and tapped the on-screen Select button.

Find is equally hampered. The find function itself works great. It’s instant, and presents the results in a list than can be switched to icon view and back (Cmd-1 and Cmd-1). But you can’t navigate this list with the arrow keys. You must tap. Tapping Escape does cancel a search, though.

And while we’re on the subject of search, Files only searches document titles. It doesn’t yet peek inside files, making it only partially useful right now.

One neat feature that would also be good on the Mac is Move Here. This takes a file that you have already copied, and pastes it into a new location. This is subtly different from cut and paste, because the original file is only copied, and only “disappears” when you explicitly tell iOS to Move it. The copying operation itself is instant, likely thanks to to the new Apple File System recently added to iOS.

Wish list for future keyboard shortcuts in Files app

This initial release feels pretty strong. The view-changing shortcuts prove most useful, as they can be used alone, at any time. Find is also pretty great, but limited. You’re better off using Spotlight to search inside files.

Apple seems committed to adding useful keyboard shortcuts to the iPad — even the video player has full keyboard control in iOS 11. So I’m hopeful about improvements in Files. First on my wish list is a way to use the keyboard to navigate files and folders. It could work just like it does on the Mac, with the arrow keys highlighting files as you move over them. Cmd and Shift could also be used as they are on the Mac, to select multiple files.

Perhaps there could also be a shortcut to enter the Select mode, which now requires a tap of the screen before you can actually use shortcuts like Copy and Duplicate.

Escape should work everywhere, to cancel the current operation. It should even work when using a finger to drag a selection on-screen (bonus tip: you can already cancel a drag-and-drop operation by just dragging the files to the edge of the screen).

There should also be a shortcut to switch keyboard focus between the main folder section on the right, and the source list on the left.

Tags should be assignable by keyboard, too, and Space should work to invoke Quick Look.

Those are the obvious additions I’d like to see, but there are probably a ton more. It used to be that you could excuse the lack of completeness because iOS was “meant to be simple.” With all the other changes in iOS 11, though, that’s obviously no longer the case. You should have as much keyboard control over the iPad as you do over the Mac.