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Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

More on app defaults in Files on iPadOS

Note: This story has not been updated for several years.

Last week I wrote my Macworld column about some of the ways the iPad’s approach to files is inadequate. I was focusing mostly on AirDrop, whose behavior doesn’t really make sense in a world where there’s a filesystem exposed on every iOS device. But along the way I also saved time to complain about the mystifying relationship between file types and apps on iOS and iPadOS.

That relationship turns out to be even weirder than I imagined. On Tuesday on Twitter, there was a whole back-and-forth among John Gruber, Federico Viticci, and Steve Troughton-Smith about how Files handles files, including a bunch of stuff that I don’t think I ever realized.

The Files app never wants to let you open a bunch of file types directly in an external editor. PDFs and audio and video files? Forget it—those open in Quick Look if you tap on them or tap Open in the Get Info view1 (which is the same view that appears if you tap on a file when you’re in column view). To open these files, you need to choose Share and then send them to another app.

So many apps to choose from, some of which support “Open In.”

For other file types, you can indeed set a default—so long as the app in question supports opening files directly. To do this, you tap and hold on a file, then choose Share2 from the resulting contextual menu. From the resulting share sheet, choose an app from the list of apps at the very top, or swipe all the way to the end of the list and tap More to see even more options. What you want is an option to “Open in [name of app].” In my case, I remapped a Markdown file that was going to open in Ulysses and told it to open in 1Writer instead.

With that done, all my Markdown files now open in 1Writer when I tap on them in a list. (In Column View, you can double-tap, or tap and then tap the Open button in the resulting file-info column.) You can also instantly open that file in a new window by tapping and holding on the file, then dragging it to the side of the screen, which will offer to create a multitasking instance—and displays the icon of the app which will appear there. I had no idea that was a thing you could do.

Which was sort of my original point. I know it’s been open season on the deficiencies of the iPad’s interface lately, but it does feel like portions of the iPad have progressed enough to have reached a sort of uncanny valley. It’s so advanced now that we have to start judging it the same way we judge other advanced interfaces. The Files app is finally worthy of criticism—and it deserves a lot of it.

  1. Unless they’re in an app-specific folder, in which case they will open in that app?! I don’t even know anymore. 
  2. Ah, iOS—where “share” can mean literally anything. 

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