Files app makes iPad more Mac-like in iOS 13 [Video]

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Files app on iPad in iOS 13
File sharing was pulled from iCloud Drive during beta testing.
Photo: Ian Fuchs/Cult of Mac

Apple has slowly been turning up the dial on what iOS can do, trying to make it more and more “computer” like. With iOS 13, one of the points of frustration with computing on iOS – and especially on iPad – is finally being addressed thanks to changes in the Files app.

With iOS 13, the Files app is taking a huge leap toward the Mac model of file management. There’s a whole bunch of smaller changes, as well as some big upgrades that make it really compelling.

External storage comes to iOS Files app

With iOS 13 and iPadOS 13, the Files app now supports external storage devices. These can be in the form of flash drives, external hard drives, or just about anything you can adapt to USB.

Older iPads – that is, any without USB-C – will need Apple’s Lightning to USB 3 adapter. This allows you to connect a lightning cable to the adapter for providing the needed power for USB drives, as well as a USB port for the storage itself. The latest iPad Pro models won’t need this adapter, instead allowing you to use power of the USB-C port to make those devices work.

Having external storage support was one of the biggest requests of iOS power users. It allows them to quickly access working files of almost kind in the various apps on their device.

The basics are pretty simple – connect the external drive, and the requisite power as needed, and open the files app to browse the contents, move files around, or open them in various apps.

Your iPad, your storage

Another change to files in iOS 13 is the ability to use local storage. In previous versions of Files, if you wanted to save something from an app, or the web, it had to go into photos or a cloud storage provider like iCloud Drive or Dropbox. There were apps that found ways around this, but for the most part, saving things directly to your device wasn’t readily accessible.

Now, in iOS 13, you can create folders locally on your iPhone or iPad and save files directly to the storage you rightfully paid for. The option to throw things into cloud storage is still there, too, but if you just need a place to save something temporarily, being able to save it locally is a huge plus.

Finder-inspired file browser

The Files app also has some new view options when browsing your files, as well as the addition of an info view – complete with macOS inspired quick actions.

In addition to the list and tile view, you now get the three-column view, which I find very convenient for moving files between folders. When viewing files in the column view, you automatically get the new info panel, and in any other view, this can be loaded by long pressing a file and choosing “info”. The info panel shows when files were created, where they exist in your structure, the size and type of file, and include available quick actions for marking up images or documents, or converting some file types to PDF.

Within the file browser view, there’s also the option for compressing files or folders to a ZIP archive for saving space or sharing more efficiently. You can also combine multiple images into a single PDF – an action that used to require a Shortcut to achieve.

It’s nothing specifically remarkable, but it adds a ton of flexibility and convenience for using your iOS device as a true computer.

Files app gains SMB server support

One final addition in iOS 13 is the ability to mount and access SMB servers in the Files app. This will likely be a bigger deal for enterprise customers and tech nerds, allowing them to access internal file servers without the need go through cloud document providers or third-party software.

Outside of that, Files is pretty much what you’d expect – a file browser for your Cloud-based and iOS device storage. It still supports drag and drop, and maintains it’s place in the share sheet across iOS for making it quick and easy to save documents and files as you see fit.

iOS 13 offers plenty of great features for making iPhone and iPad much more powerful. The updates to the files app bring the Mac forward, and allow it to edge closer to the dream of a true computer replacement.