Use your iPhone to manage and sort documents – fast

Apple initially eschewed a visible file system on iOS. Instead, documents were saved ‘inside’ apps. If you wanted a file you’d created in Pages, you opened the app; only then could you see your list of files. This was alien to people used to the likes of Finder on Mac, and Windows Explorer. But Apple argued it was simpler.

It became apparent this was a big mistake. Forcing documents to live inside the apps that created them was horribly limiting, and restricted the utility of devices. You couldn’t move documents between apps without peppering copies at various stages of completion throughout your device.

Dropbox for a while existed as a kind of ‘surrogate’ file system to help with this, but then Apple eventually relented with iCloud Drive. And as of iOS 11, that app evolved into the fittingly named Files – a full-fledged file manager. It’s powerful and surprisingly invites third-party storage providers to join the party on an equal footing with Apple’s own cloud storage service.

This beginner’s guide offers the tips you need to get started. We’re focusing on the iPhone here, but iPad users will find all these tips relevant too. In fact, the iPad version of Files is even more versatile.

1. Ensure you’ve iCloud space

Anything you store on iCloud Drive will eat into the 5GB of space Apple gives you for free. Either get into the habit of offloading documents elsewhere, or upgrade your storage in Settings. (Click your name, then go to iCloud > Manage Storage > Change Storage Plan.)

2. Browse documents

Open Files. Two tabs sit at the bottom of the screen. Recents lists documents you’ve recently used. Any that have tags assigned will be listed beneath.

The Browse tab opens iCloud Drive. This may show folders for some of your installed apps. If you’re also using a Mac with iCloud Drive, you’ll see Desktop and Documents folders here, too, and possibly folders for Mac apps, like Preview.

3. Change your view

Drag the pane down and you gain access to further controls. You can create a new folder, sort the current view’s items by name, date, size or tags, and switch between the default icon view and a space-efficient list view.

4. Preview and open files

Many document types can be previewed by a hard press on iPhone hardware that supports 3D touch. A tap opens the item, if it’s a format with native iOS support – which is most text and image documents, and some audio/video ones. In some cases, the item will open in its parent app.

5. Manage documents

Documents can be moved around in a couple of ways. The most straightforward is to tap Select, choose your documents, and then use the toolbar buttons to share, duplicate, move or delete them. Certain options may be blocked, depending on the folder you’re browsing.

6. Use drag and drop

Files is a rare iPhone app that supports drag and drop, and so it’s possible to move documents that way, too – although doing so is fiddly. Long-press a document until it ‘rises’ towards your thumb. You can now tap other documents to add them to the selection.

While you hold the selection, you can navigate folders beneath it with your other hand. When you’ve opened the folder that’s the selection’s final destination, let go to drop it.

7. Define locations

Tap the Locations button to access the Locations area. Tap Edit and you can turn on and off services and apps that offer access to their own file systems through Files. Examples include Google Drive, Box, and Dropbox. These can be rearranged using the drag handles.

8. Share to Files

You can send documents to Files using iOS 11’s Share sheet. In Photos, select a photo, and then tap the share button. In the Share sheet, scroll until you see Save to Files. Tap that and you’ll see your locations. You can now save the photo wherever you like. Try doing the same with Mail attachments, or images opened in Safari.

9. Use the Today view widget

Open Today view by left to right from the Home screen, Lock screen, or Cover Sheet. Scroll down and tap Edit, then tap the + button next to Files. Tap Done. The Files Widget has now been added to your Today view. This will now provide fast access to recently viewed documents. On the Home screen, 3D Touch the Files icon to see the same list.

10. Use the two-pane view

If you have an iPhone Plus, Files has a further trick up its sleeve if you put your iPhone in landscape: an iPad-like two-pane view. This enables you to simultaneously view your locations and a selected folder.

Long-tap on a folder, release, and you’ll see its contextual menu. Within, there’s a Favourite option. Tap that and the folder is added to the sidebar. This is one area in which drag and drop shines on iPhone, through you being able to quickly drag a document to one of your favorite folders, rather than going through the process of selecting and manually choosing a folder from a list.