Instant Expert: Secrets & Features of iOS 11 | iLounge Article

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Instant Expert: Secrets & Features of iOS 11

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Files

Much to the chagrin of advanced users, Apple has spent years eschewing any form of real file management on its iOS devices, preferring to keep files siloed within individual apps and insulate users from the complexities of a traditional file system. Apple’s original approach to iCloud reflected this, with the company’s cloud-based file storage service presented simply as a place to store app-specific data and no common interface to see what was actually in iCloud. Perhaps as a tacit acknowledgement that this wasn’t as user-friendly as the company originally believed, iOS 9 opened the door a crack with a new optional iCloud Drive app which allowed users to directly view their iCloud storage from an iPhone or iPad, but iCloud Drive — and the file access APIs that came with it — remained very limited compared to other cloud-based storage options such as Dropbox and Google Drive.

Now, two years later, it looks like Apple has finally given in and admitted that it’s time for a real file manager on iOS devices, morphing iCloud Drive into a much more full-featured Files app that not only allows a much more manageable window into a user’s iCloud storage, but also provides for direct integration with other popular cloud services, and even the ability to copy files between them. Files is ultimately what the iCloud Drive app should have been all along.

Accessing other cloud storage services through the Files app will still require that you have those vendors’ apps installed, and full integration will require that developers update their apps to take advantage of the new iOS 11 APIs. However, at least some of the major players such as Dropbox and Google Drive have already released Files-compatible updates. Apps that haven’t yet been updated for iOS 11 will still provide access to their older iOS file browsing sheet through the Files app, but you won’t be able to take advantage of the common user interface or advanced file management features such as drag-and-drop or copying files between cloud services.

Users with large hierarchies of folders in their iCloud Drive will particularly appreciate one other enhancement that the new Files interface brings to the table: Collapsible folders. Instead of having to view and navigate through your entire expanded folder hierarchy when trying to save or copy a file from another app, the new UI presents folders that are collapsed by default and can be expanded as needed. It’s a welcome change that makes the entire user experience significantly less frustrating.

Drag-and-Drop

iOS 11 also introduces a true drag-and-drop user interface. While a number of third-party apps have provided their own methods for this over the years, Apple now offers standard APIs that not only allow developers to more easily implement drag-and-drop within their apps, but for iPad users also open up the ability to finally drag-and-drop items between apps.

As with many other new iOS 11 features, developers will have to update their apps to properly implement this, but it will open up a whole new realm of usability, particularly for iPad users. For example, users can drag a file from Files into Mail to send it out as an e-mail attachment, or drag an image from Safari into Notes or Pages.

In apps such as Files, it’s also possible to select multiple items — simply begin dragging and dropping an individual file or folder, and then while continuing to hold your finger down on the first item, tap additional files or folders with a free finger to add them to the stack. You can also continue to navigate through the Files app with your free hand while holding the stack, so you can find another folder to drop the stack of files into.

Drag-and-drop between apps is limited to the iPad at this point, although iPhone users will also be able to drag-and-drop items within individual apps, so you can still use it to move files around in the Files app, or reorganize your items in apps like OmniFocus.

Multi-app Drag-and-Drop

Although using drag-and-drop to reorganize apps on the home screen isn’t new, the expanded drag-and-drop feature does add one additional bonus: You can now drag-and-drop multiple apps on your home screen in much the same way as anywhere else; simply tap and hold to enter editing mode, then tap and hold on the first app you want to move and begin moving it, and then tap on any additional apps you want to stack up with it. You can then move the entire batch of apps to another home screen pane or into a folder.

iPad

Apple is billing iOS 11 as a “monumental leap” for iPad users, and it’s definitely on this platform where the biggest changes to the user experience have occurred, with the aforementioned drag-and-drop capabilities joining some other UI enhancements that bring the iPad closer to being a true laptop replacement.

Dock

The most obvious change for iPad users will be the new macOS-style Dock found in the bottom of the screen. The new Dock can now contain a much larger number of apps and also automatically collect recently-used and handoff apps on the right-hand side. It can also now be pulled up within any app by swiping up from the bottom of the screen, which is key in the new multi-app drag-and-drop interface, allowing you to easily drag items into other apps.

Swiping up from the bottom of the screen on the iPad first brings up the Dock and then the app switcher, where the Control Center now appears on the left side of the screen.

A new Show Suggested and Recent apps setting under General, Multitasking & Dock in the iOS 11 Settings app allows you to choose whether recent apps and handoff apps are shown on the right-hand side of the Dock or not.

Multitasking — Split View and Slide Over

The multiscreen multitasking features on the iPad have also been changed up in iOS 11 to better match the new drag-and-drop experience. Placing an app in “Slide Over” view is now done by dragging and dropping another app into the current one; this is most easily accomplished from the Dock, but can also be done with any app from the home screen.

In “Slide Over” view, the dropped app now comes up as an overlaid window, and you can easily slide it to either the right or left side of the screen. Switching a “Slide Over” app into full “Split View” is done by dragging the handle at the top of the overlay window and swiping upward, at which point you can then slide the divider left or right to resize the two panels.

iOS 11 also redesigns the app switcher, dropping the old accordian-style page view in favour of something more akin to the Exposé feature on macOS. Open apps are shown as thumbnails, and split screen apps can be left running in the background and returned to. This also helps to facilitate drag-and-drop, allowing you to drag an object or another app to any of the open panels.

You can also now resize the picture-in-picture window on the iPad using standard pinch gestures.

QuickType Keyboard

iOS 11 also now makes it easier to type numbers and symbols on the iPad keyboard. Each key is now labelled with a number or symbol above it, and you can simply flick downward on any key to type in that alternate character.

On the iPhone, the keyboard can now be set for “one-handed” mode, compressing the keyboard to either side of the screen.

There’s a switch to enable this in the Keyboard section of the Settings app, but as long as you have multiple keyboards enabled (and who doesn’t have at least the Emoji keyboard), the easiest way to enable it is to simply hold down the globe key in the bottom left corner of the keyboard and tap one of the three icons for how you want the keyboard to be displayed.

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