Why I love the Files app in iOS 11: iPads can finally replace notebooks

You can have your augmented reality and a more human sounding Siri. The killer app in iOS 11 is its Files app, the iOS equivalent to the macOS Finder.
Written by Robin Harris, Contributor

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I've always found a lot to love about tablet computers and iPads in particular. Lightweight, long battery life, excellent displays, low-cost apps -- all things I like and want.

But I could never pull the trigger on replacing my MacBook Airs or my newest notebook, a loaded MacBook. Why?

My workflow is file-based. I may generate a text file in one app, copy and paste it into another, re-format it, and then export it as a PDF to mail to a client.

Like many mobile workers, I also make frequent use of cloud resources such as Box, Dropbox, and iCloud Drive. I often start a project on one machine, such as my office iMac, and then work on it on my MacBook while enjoying the outdoors, where I am as I write this.

Crippled iOS

With iOS 10 or less though, I could not integrate these common -- for me -- workflows. If an app had both iOS and macOS versions, and they shared the same cloud resource, such as Simplenote or Scrivener, or Apple's office apps, no problem.

But moving files between apps, or different clouds, much more difficult. Instead of "it just works," it was "maybe you can make this work."

The Files app

Files presents as an app with a Folder icon. The app opens with a list of Recents or, if you choose the Browse pane, a list that includes Locations, Favorites, and Tags.

Near the top of each pane is a Search function. Hit the Edit button and you can turn off access to a Location or rearrange the order of the tags.

Tap on a file to download it. Tap on it again to stop the download if you change your mind.

The app also makes it easy to share files with others. Instead of mailing copies back and forth, give a co-worker access to the file in the Sharing option, permission to edit, and you can both work on the same file.

Wanted features

The most glaring Files app deficits are in customization. There's no way to configure Files in Settings, and other than the Edit button in the Browse pane, there's no way to customize how Files presents your files.

I, for example, prefer a List view that can be organized by name, date, or file size, depending on what I'm working on. The Recents pane presents files as fairly large icons with the file name, hardly the best use of scarce iPhone display space.

I trust the iOS team to give Files more configurability over time. I can wait.

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The Storage Bits take

I made occasional efforts to use a tablet as a notebook replacement, but quickly aborted the project because of the limitations of iOS file handling. While the Files app is far from perfect for my needs, it succeeds as a Minimum Viable Product.

I'm planning to get a 10.5-inch iPad Pro with an Apple Smart Keyboard to see if it can replace my MacBook. Yes, the screen is smaller, the battery life no better, and the weight is about the same, but I want to test if the simplicity and ease of use of an iPad offers significant advantages.

Thanks to the iOS 11 Files app, I'm hopeful it can.

Courteous comments welcome, of course.

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