Hands on with improvements to the Files app in iPadOS 17

Hands on with long-overdue improvements to the Files app coming in iPadOS 17


Hands on with long-overdue improvements to the Files app in iPadOS 17
There are new options in the iPad’s Files app when accessing thumbdrives and SSDs.
Image: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

With iPadOS 17, Apple is finally adding new tools to the Files application for working with external drives. These include some basic capabilities, like the ability to see how much space remains on a thumb drive.

I’ve been testing iPadOS 17 and ran across these welcome changes. Here’s what’s new.

iPad Files app gets incremental improvements in iPadOS 17

iPads have been able to access the contents of external drives through the Files application since iPadOS 13. Documents can be opened, moved, deleted, etc., but the app still lacks some basic tools for working with drives. That changes with iPadOS 17.

Obviously, the first step in taking advantage of the improvements is plugging a drive into the USB-C port on the iPad. (Those whose tablet still uses Lightning will need an adapter.) Open the Files application to access the drive’s contents by tapping on its name in the left sidebar.

But all that’s been possible for years. Bring on the new features coming in iPadOS 17.

iPadOS 17 Files app adds new tools for working with thumb drives and SSDs

iPadOS 17 Files app external drive popup
Tap and hold on the icon for an external drive in the Files app on iPad to get new admin options.
Image: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

To see the new features in iPadOS 17, just tap and hold on the name of the external drive in the left column. Right-click or long-click the drive name if you’re using a mouse or trackpad. This opens a pop-up window with the additions coming in iPadOS 17 (see above).

It’s now possible to Rename an external drive. Simply choose that option from the window.

Also, iPadOS 17 can Erase an external drive, which earlier versions couldn’t do.

iPadOS 17 Files app drive info popup
iPadOS 17 shows users how much space is left on an external drive.
Image: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

Perhaps most importantly, you can find out how much space is still available on the drive. Tap/click on Get Info in the first pop-up to open a second pop-up window that shows the total capacity of the drive, as well as how much has been used and the amount still available.

Not all the standard fields shown in the Info window get populated. None of the date fields ever do.

Just so there’s no confusion, these new options aren’t available for cloud-storage drives that also appear in the left column of the Files application. You can’t, for example, use the pop-up to see how much open space remains on iCloud Drive.

Significant improvements

The changes for working with thumb drives and SSDs are long overdue. They should have been implemented when iPadOS 13 added support for accessing the contents of external drives.

Still, iPadOS 17 will fill in some irritating gaps in the Files application’s feature list. There’s still room for improvement, of course.

Even now, much of the file system remains off-limits for users, but there are questions about how many iPad users actually want that. As it is, we can work with, move around and delete documents without being able to muck up the tablet by moving or deleting system files.

These are just a few of the changes that will be part of iPadOS 17, which Apple unveiled at WWDC23 in early June. Beta testing is going on now, and full release is expected in early autumn.


Daily round-ups or a weekly refresher, straight from Cult of Mac to your inbox.

  • The Weekender

    The week's best Apple news, reviews and how-tos from Cult of Mac, every Saturday morning. Our readers say: "Thank you guys for always posting cool stuff" -- Vaughn Nevins. "Very informative" -- Kenly Xavier.