iCloud Drive Comes of Age with Folder Sharing in iOS 13

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Apple’s implementation of iCloud has received well-deserved criticism over the years for being fairly substandard when compared to more dedicated file sharing services like Dropbox, OneDrive, and Google Drive, but it looks like Apple will finally be catching up in a big way with the release of iOS 13 and macOS Catalina later this year.

To be fair, iCloud didn’t begin its life as a file-sharing service. Back in the days when Dropbox was already popular, Apple positioned iCloud as a way to sync data between its own apps — and later third-party apps — on iOS and macOS devices. For that purpose, it worked quite well, and although it included a file system of sorts by necessity, any attempts to use it for more traditional file sync were kludgy hacks at best, at least until Apple formally rolled out iCloud Drive with iOS 8 back in 2014. Even then, however, it would be another year before Apple released its own first-party app to actually access iCloud Drive content from your iPhone or iPad, and two more years before Apple’s considerably more robust Files app came along.

So it’s been a long road, with Apple adding incremental features with each major iOS release, but it looks like with iOS 13, iCloud will finally come into its own as a viable file sharing service that might actually be able to woo some users away from the competitors — something that’s especially useful as iCloud provides such great integration for Apple’s services such as Photos, yet has left many users forced to either pay for two services or choose between poor iOS integration or poor file sharing.

In a new exploration of the iOS 13 developer beta, 9to5Mac reports on how iOS 13 will now be able to share entire folders, right from your iPhone or iPad. Apple allowed for sharing of individual files in iOS 12, but although the feature actually worked quite well, it just didn’t provide the level of usefulness that most users need. Folder sharing will hopefully address this gap.

How It Works

Not surprisingly, it looks like folder sharing will be handled by the Files app, which will now present a “Share” option when tapping and holding on a folder. Users can also select multiple folders to share at once, and use the standard iOS Share icon and Share Sheet to initiate sharing.

It appears this feature will also take advantage of the new Intelligent Sharing Suggestions in iOS 13, with the top row providing suggested people and methods for sharing or sending out a link to the shared folder. An “Add People” button is available further down the Share Sheet, however, that will allow you to share with multiple people at once and set permissions.

The permissions don’t seem to be particularly granular at this point — it looks like you’ll only be able to share a folder in either read/write or read-only mode to the entire group of users, and either choose to lock it down to only those users you specifically invite by name (in which case it seems they’ll need to have Apple IDs), or basically make it available to anybody who happens to have the link.

So in this respect, it’s still not nearly as robust as services like Dropbox or Google Drive, but it’s also fair to say that iCloud is not intended to be a business service, and for simply sharing a handful of files with friends and family, it’s going to be a welcome change. It’s also of course worth keeping in mind that this is still the first beta of iOS 13, and it’s entirely possible a lot could change by the time the feature actually arrives this fall.

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