How to increase productivity in iOS 13 with these Files app features

The Files app is revamped in iOS 13. Learn how to get the most of five of the Files app's features.

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Image: Apple, Inc.

The Files app in iOS 13 has come a long way from its humble beginnings of being a place to house a collection of files across services such as Dropbox, Box, and iCloud Drive on your iPhone or iPad. The Files app now resembles the Finder in macOS by bringing additional power to iOS devices, such as external drive support and tagging of files and folders using the same tag style as macOS.

Read about how five new features in the iOS 13 Files app can add productivity shortcuts throughout your day, whether it's downloading files from Safari, document scanning, or accessing documents and data on an external drive. 

SEE: 10 dangerous app vulnerabilities to watch out for (TechRepublic download)

How to save files locally in iOS 13

Before iOS 13, you would need to save files to either your iCloud Drive or another third-party service that synchronized its files through the Files app. However, now you can save files locally on your iPhone or iPad, utilizing the onboard storage of your device to save files instead of trusting them to a cloud service. This is especially great if you are downloading a file to save and use temporarily, then delete afterward.

To use the local storage on your device, open the Share Sheet on a file that you wish to save (or export from another app), then follow these steps.

  1. Tap Save To Files from the available action items.
  2. Select On My (iPhone/iPad) from the available places to save.
  3. Tap Save (Figure A).

Figure A

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When saving locally to your device, you will not have to sync the file to iCloud Drive or a third-party service--it's stored on your device instead.

To access the file, you need to open the Files app, select Browse | On My iPhone/iPad, and all of the files stored on your local device will appear. 

How to compress and decompress zip files in iOS 13

Zip files are great for reducing the transfer size needed for a particular file, but until iOS 13, you had to jump through many hoops to zip and unzip files in iOS. With iOS 13, this feature is baked right into the Files app.

When you encounter a zip file inside of the Files app, regardless of which service you're browsing, simply tapping on the file will cause the zip to be unarchived, and the contents displayed and ready for use.

If you wish to make your own zip archive for sending, follow these steps.

  1. Open the Files app.
  2. Browse to a file or set of files you wish to compress.
  3. Tap the Select button at the top, then tap to select the files you want to include in the zip archive.
  4. Tap the three dots icon in the toolbar.
  5. Select Compress (Figure B).

Figure B

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Compressing and uncompressing zip archives is easy with the Files app in iOS 13.

The zip archive will be created and available for you to send via AirDrop, iMessage, or email or to upload to a service.

How to use external drive support in iOS 13

One of the biggest downsides of using iOS, particularly on the iPad, was the inability to transfer files to a thumb drive or other external media for archival or easy transfer to someone else. Fortunately, iOS 13 has resolved this major complaint by users and allows you to connect powered devices to the iPad Pro, or unpowered devices to iPhone, older iPads, or iPod touch devices. To make this work, you will need the appropriate cable.

  • For iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch, you will need a Lightning to USB-A adapter.
  • For the USB-C compatible iPad Pro, you will need a USB-C to USB-A adapter, or a compatible USB-C hub that supports USB-A devices.
  • If you have a USB-C drive that you're connecting, you will need a USB-C to USB-C cable only for newer USB-C iPad Pro devices.

When you plug in an external USB drive, it will appear inside of the Files app as a Browsable item in the services list. You can copy items to or from the drive, or perform deletions on the drive, and more (Figure C). 

Figure C

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Using the Files app to browse external drives is now an option in iOS 13, bringing a much-anticipated feature to fruition.

Note: If your external media device requires power, you must connect the external drive to a powered hub or power supply in order for it to work on iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. If you have an iPad Pro, it can supply enough power to power up external drives that do not require wall power, but only power over USB.

How to use document scanning in iOS 13 via the Files app

Document scanning apps have been around for a while for iOS, and Apple has played around with document scanning features in the Notes app for a few years, but now the company has brought the same document scanning feature directly into the Files app to make it easier to create a file out of the scan instead of just appending a note.

To use this feature, perform these steps.

  1. Open the Files app.
  2. Browse to the location or service where you want to add the scanned document.
  3. Tap and hold anywhere on the document browser blank area to get a contextual menu.
  4. Tap Scan Documents (Figure D).
  5. Scan a document just like you would inside of the Notes app, then tap Done. 

Figure D

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Scanning documents using the Files app is just as easy as the Notes app, but it outputs a PDF file that can more easily be sent or shared on a third-party service, instead of just appended to a note.

When you do this, a file will be output to the location where you invoked the Scan Documents feature, where the PDF can then be emailed, messaged, shared with others, or just stored in that location.

How to see metadata and use tagging in iOS 13 via the Files app

Another new feature in the iOS 13 Files app is the ability to see the metadata for documents and files, as well as use the tagging feature previously only available inside of the macOS Finder.

To see the metadata for a particular file, browse to a file, then tap and hold on the file. In the context menu that appears, tap Info (Figure E).

Figure E

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The information about a file is handy, especially when needing to make sure you have the right version of a document without opening it up.

The Information panel will appear and show you the file name, file type, created and modified dates, last open date, and where the file/folder is located.

If you want to tag the file or folder so you can have all particular files and folders using the same tag, tap Add Tags (Figure F).

Figure F

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The tagging options sync from all devices and make it convenient to identify a particular set of files.

Tags can be made for Work, Home, Vacation, or whatever you choose. Make a tag for all of your files and folders that pertain to a particular project for work, and they'll be easier to search for on both iOS and macOS.

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