for iOS 9 — because we're halfway there!

For years and years and years and years and years and years now I've begged and pleaded for two things — a repository for the iPhone and iPad, and a DocumentPicker API for developers to make iOS file management easier. Last year, with iOS 8, Apple provided the DocumentPicker as part of iCloud Drive. This year, with iOS 9, I hope they finally provide as well.

To be absolutely crystal clear — neither then, nor now, am I asking for a user-accessibile files system on iOS. Traditional file systems are overly complicated and Apple has rightly hidden them away on the iPhone and iPad so normal human beings don't have to deal with them.

What I am asking for is a repository, just like for the ImagePicker. Something that collects files all in one place so they're easy to find. Just like Passbook for passes and Health for medical and fitness data.

It's something that Apple already makes and something we already know how to use.

Halfway home

Last year I called the lack of and DocumentPicker "one of the biggest, most frustrating holes remaining on Apple's mobile operating system, and all the more so because it seems like a model for fixing it has been in successful use for years already."

A lot of that had to do with "app jails", or files locked within specific apps, inaccessible any other way. DocumentPicker solved that, making files available to any app that called up the iCloud Drive interface.

The problem that remains is that we still need to remember what app can access our files, or we need to find an App Store app that can access a wide range of files. And that's kludgy.

What we have now is analogous to and ImagePicker, sans Instead of being able to open a single app and browser all our pictures, we have to go find an App Store app that'll let us browse them.

It's fine if your brain only ever works in an app-centric way: "I wrote my article in TextApp, I am going to go to TextApp and open my article".

It's less fine if your brain works in a file-centric way: "I wrote my article, I'm going to go to my article and open it in whatever app will let me open it... Hey, TextApp!"

Both are valid mental models, but supporting only one of them makes iOS less accessible to people who naturally gravitate towards the other.

In a world with, I could go to TextApp, open DocumentPicker, and choose my article. I could also go to, search for my article, and then use "Open in..." to pick TextApp or any other text editing app.

Or, you know, just search in an updated Spotlight that can see into DocumentPicker as well...

It's not a filesystem any more than is a filesystem. It's a repository, a view, a way to sanely and safely present all documents in iCloud Drive in a way that empowers people.

Sustaining security

Apple, rightly, prides itself on privacy and security. Every app on iOS exists in a sandbox and every file exists in the sandbox of the app that created it. In order for iCloud Drive and DocumentPicker, with the permission of express user action, moves data between those sandboxes. would be an Apple app, however, which could ensure a high level of privacy and security for files. A "Do you want to grant NewApp permission to access your files?" could further ensure both and make any openings in the sandbox was still the result of express user action.

Extensibility acceleration

When you factor in Extensibility, which lets apps surface remote views to the system and to other apps, it makes the idea of a even more compelling.

If you want to share a file, you no longer have to remember anything about the app that created it or the type of app that can open it. All you have to do is go to and tap the Share button, and then send it using any app or service that offers an extension.

All you have to know is that you want to get file A to destination B, and then you're only ever one launch and couple of taps away.

When less is more

In an attempt to avoid the complexities of a file system, iOS has spent years lost in complexities of not having a file system. Yet, at the same time, iOS has developed easy-to-understand, easy-to-use repositories for virtually everything but files.

It remains, almost 9 years later, one of the single most glaring omissions in iOS.

Files and documents are incredibly important to a great many people, personally and professionally, who use iPhones and iPads, and they need and deserve a saner, simpler way to get to their files.

We've gotten our redesign. We've gotten our functionality increase. The iPhone and the iPad are light and powerful beyond our dreams. They are becoming our primary computer platforms. They are the glass through which we are viewing the connected world.

iOS 8 got us part of the way there. It gave us DocumentPicker and iCloud Drive. It made it so that our iPhones and our iPads are no longer terrible at something as important as file handling.

Now we just need iOS 9 to get us the rest of the way home. We just need iCloud Drive surfaced in a consistent place so we can get to it, and our documents, whenever we want or need to.

I don't know if best solves this problem. Maybe Apple has an even better solution waiting in the wings. Either way, it's a problem that's now halfway solved, and one that really needs to be taken all the way.

This feature request has been submitted as a feature request to Apple as rdar://19933856.

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

  • I have found a few apps that can open iCloud Drive files, but none that can browse files, such as photos.
  • Documents 5 - the app shown in the pics on top of this article - can browse your Camera Roll and other photo folders. I'm doing it right now on the iPhone. Or am I misunderstanding your statement?
  • I can view a folder in my iCloud Drive, but I can't figure out how to browse through a group of photos. It only opens a single photo.
  • I don't use iCloud Drive for photos (prefer Dropbox) so I'm not sure how Documents 5 handles that, but if it's locally stored images, I just tap the desired folder and swipe left or right, or use the row at the bottom if I want to skip about.
  • I still think you should write an update about the current state of the DocumentPicker. iCloud Drive is one aspect, but the support of other cloud services and file access systems is the other, maybe even more important one. Currently it is kind of a mess. The handling is cumbersome. You have to select the other cloud services EVERY time DocumentPicker is opened, the last selected is not preserved. Then the support is messy because of the different options of how DocumentPicker could be used (open vs. import, move vs. export). Some like Dropbox do not support all variants and this leads to the confusing situation for the user that in some apps all cloud services are available in the DocumentPicker and in other there only a few without an understandable reason. Another confusing thing: The DocumentPicker is normally used to open and then save the opened file. It is often not available to save a file that was not opened before (best examples: Word, PowerPoint and Excel). All this means: The DocumentPicker is basically ignored by most users. iMore could at least bring a bit of light in this darkness of confusion.
  • Like he says I think a streamlined Document picker would be just fine.
  • Doesn't the Transmit App do this ? I know that it is mainly or I use it as FTP, but it has options to pick from iCloud Drive, Photo Library.
    Also for an email option the CloudMagic App seems to handle most of this as well.. being able to attach files from Photos& video, iCloud, Documents App, Google Drive, Dropbox, One Drive, Transmit,etc.
  • Yeah, but we shouldn't need 3rd party apps for such basic features. That is a terrible user experience.
    On the Mac: "Put any file you want into iCloud so that it is accessible from anywhere!"
    On the iPhone: "Good luck! Get on the App Store and do some research!"
  • Always better when it's baked in to the native apps. Sent from the iMore App
  • Apple can and must address this in iOS. It's the one standout feature that is holding iOS back from becoming a truly standalone computing platform. Also, it's the one feature that people still turn to Android over iOS.
  • Agreed. One of my biggest pain points is not having device level file management. That's why my work iPhone stays in a drawer and I utilize other devices to manage my day to day needs. I don't want file storage in any cloud services. I want full control without excess data usage or worry about lack of data signal through LTE or WiFi. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • Yes please!! Also in iOS 9 add the option to attach files to emails from (both new emails and replies). And for goodness sake please add a "print to PDF" option within the print selection. Sent from the iMore App
  • Interesting article and I agree that the app is needed, but who knows if the gods at Apple will ever comply. Our job is just to burn incense, make our sacrifices and wait for the clouds to speak. I would think one possible problem is the "Open In ..." dialogue in that the average dweeb has a bazillion apps installed and the list of available apps for a text file or a PDF might scroll off the screen? Just a thought. There are already lots of apps (I'm looking at you "Mail"), that have so many options on lists that the UI is crumbling already.
  • I do not care at all about a, but the typical solution to the "Open Is..." dialog would be to specify defaults handlers for each type of document, which in turn suggests default handlers for system functions (hello - replacing Maps or Mail) -- something I am very much interested in.
  • I agree it should be a native option, but not a deal breaker, but as time goes on if it is not included in ios9..
    I can see it being an issue, hopefully they allow this at least at some level, I understand the issue of still limiting controls/access.
  • So, Finder is overly complicated, and you agree that the file system should be hidden, but then you want something where all your files are together and visible all in the same place so you can open them from there. Isn't that... what the Finder is for...? Or have I missed something?
  • I think what we need is a less complex for iOS. Where only user files and folders would be listed. None of the system appear there. You can create folders to separate files for each job. You could transfer files between devices via bluetooth, airdrop and NFC. And to complete your mobile workstation, a simplified version of the powerful
    Some things do not make sense to me, like, why not a single application called to list all photo and video files (including videos purchased on iTunes) that are saved in above idealized? The application, only organize on dates and albums the files that are saved in folders "Photos" and "Videos" in application. If you delete the photo file in application, the picture is no longer listed on application. Another thing that annoys me, why the and are not a single application? (I use Very good article, and sorry if I wrote something wrong, I do not speak English.
  • Amen. Maybe Files app is on my top 5 list of features iOS NEEDS. I also wish the mail app had the option to attach files from my iCloud Drive account vs having to select the file and 'Open In' mail. It makes it cumbersome if you need to send multiple attachments. It would be great to be able to select multiple files to attach to an email vs having to send a different email for every attachment. iOS 8 made some improvements with app extensions, but it isn't anywhere near as user friendly as I've come to expect from an Apple experience. I just tried to open a pdf from Mail and the apps included as options to open the file in included Fancy (a shopping app) and Flipboard. Why in the hell would I want to open a pdf in a shopping app? I know there is no point in opening a pdf in a shopping app, but there are probably less technically inclined users who don't. Also, it doesn't give me the option of opening the file in PDF Expert or Documents 5, the two apps I would most likely open a pdf in. It would be really helpful to have a files app that I could set a default app to open different file type with the ability to long touch to chooses different app. With OS X if I open a pdf file it opens in Adobe Acrobat. It's simple. iOS is suppose to be simpler to use than OS X, but working with and managing files in iOS fails at both being simple and offering complex features for power users. Sent from the iMore App
  • René, ask Nitin Ganatra to talk you out of any dependency on the file system next time you chat with him ;¬) I believe Apple is slowly and painfully getting rid of our dependency on the file system as a way to get by in our computer interactions. Their current stance is to force developers/users to think differently and focus on tasks and processes instead of defaulting to the file system. I mean, for people new to computing, the file system is a hurdle... And for those comfortable with the file system, it is a crutch.
  • Excellent viewpoint. I couldn't agree more and appreciate a comment with some true sense behind it.
  • While you promote what Apple is doing as progress, it's just not. The truth is that iOS is hobbled in this respect. There are still a number of things that I have to set my iPad down and pick up my MacBook to get done and it's mainly related to iOS's hobbled file system and email attachment setup. Sent from the iMore App
  • So you think that the file system is still going to be a prerequisite in order to use computers in the future (like in 25 - 50 years)... My perspective is different but we can agreed to disagree ;¬) But just to be clear, I don't want to diminish the pain related to such a change. I mean if we are going forward in democratizing computer processes by removing the file system as a default way of handling content (read: use only the file system if all else fails), it is going to be a bit of a painful transition (change is hard) until each and every process gets "nailed".
  • O come on, file managers aren't difficult at all. A reason I love Android and rooted iOS is specifically for having a file system where I can easily side load applications, pictures, movies etc where on iOS you can only do that with iTunes. Not every iOS user is retarded or foolhardy. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • I like the idea of a native file system in iOS. Sent from the iMore App
  • The beautiful and elegant Files App is nowhere to be seen anymore. Maybe, Apple bought it to retrofit into their iOS down the road? If this is so, I would be the happiest person.