Feature of the Week

10.4: Files

| Feature of the Week

When the iPad was first introduced it raised a lot of questions about where exactly this new device fell on the spectrum of iPhone to Mac. It had powerful multi-touch gestures on a screen big enough to make desktop-class apps possible, but it avoided some fundamental computing concepts such as the ability to view multiple apps simultaneously and, most controversially, the file system.

The iPad has a file system, of course, but iOS and its software was designed to hide that reality away from users in order to simplify the experience. Unlike on a computer, where one file can be opened and edited with multiple applications, iOS only allowed copying files between apps so that each one had its own version spread across your device. That approach remained controversial, but eventually Apple recognized the need to provide some sort of file management.

Files App

It began when Apple released the “iCloud Drive” app alongside iOS 9. That app only showed files stored in iCloud, but it was an important first step. With iOS 11, things got much more interesting: Apple replaced the iCloud Drive app with a new “Files” app that showed files stored in iCloud, certain files stored on your device, and even allowed third-party apps (like Dropbox) to offer their cloud storage services and display documents within the Files app. This provides users with a single, familiar interface for managing, sharing, and editing their files no matter where they’re stored.

Not all apps can display their documents in the Files app, however. To do so, they must support both iTunes file sharing and in-place editing. We’ve supported the former since forScore was first introduced, and with version 10.4 we added support for the latter. (In-place editing is a bigger topic, so we’ll be taking a deeper look at that next time.) That means that forScore’s Documents directory can now be accessed through the “On My iPad” location in the Files app’s sidebar. It makes working with documents easier, allowing you to do things like copy them between forScore and iCloud Drive, Dropbox, or any other third-party app that integrates with the Files app.


Since version 8.1, forScore’s Services panel has allowed you to access iCloud Drive through a system-provided interface. Apple doesn’t provide an API to allow us to communicate with iCloud Drive directly, so this works differently from other services like Dropbox. First, you must choose whether you want to download or upload a file. Once you’ve done that, Apple takes it from there and displays an interface that looks a lot like the iCloud Drive app.

Although iOS 11 makes some big changes, the way you access it through forScore’s Services panel is virtually unchanged. You still choose to download or upload files, but on iOS 11 the interface that comes up looks almost identical to the Files app and gives you access to its powerful new features. It supports downloading or uploading multiple files at once, and it gives you access to any third-party apps on your device that expose their contents to the Files app.

There’s something to be said for Apple’s original approach. The length of this article is proof enough that file systems are complicated, but it’s what you can do with the system that makes it worth having. If you can’t accomplish the same things with a simpler system, or if you can’t do them quickly, then perhaps that complexity is justified.