Want to Share Folders in iCloud? It Looks Like You’ll Need to Wait Until Next Spring

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You may have to wait even longer for one of the marquee sharing features that Apple had promised for macOS Catalina and iOS 13.

Back in June, Apple announced that it would soon be possible for iCloud members to share entire folders with other iCloud users — a productivity boon that many looked forward to, bringing iCloud Drive up to the same basic level as services like Dropbox, Google Drive, and Microsoft’s OneDrive.

Unfortunately, while Apple originally suggested the feature would be arriving “later this fall,” the company quietly updated its macOS Catalina page last night, changing the asterisked footnote for the feature to read “Coming this spring” instead, which presumably means early 2020.

Notably, this change has only been made on the macOS Catalina page — Apple’s iOS 13 Features page still says the feature is “Coming later this fall,” although the same footnote is shared by several other iOS 13 features, including the image capture API, HomeKIt Secure Video, and even Audio Sharing — the last of which actually already arrived in iOS 13.1 last week.

However, since iCloud Drive Folder sharing is a feature of iCloud rather than iOS or macOS, it seems likely that if it’s being delayed on macOS Catalina, it won’t be available in iOS any sooner.

Similarly, communication limits for Screen Time appears to share the same footnote on the macOS Catalina page, suggesting it could also be delayed until next spring, however it’s also possible that this is just an oversight on Apple’s part.

A Rocky Road for iCloud to Drive

To put it mildly, Apple’s evolution of iCloud into a full-fledged file storage and sharing service has been glacial. When it was introduced back in 2011, it wasn’t a place for traditional file storage at all, but was rather simply a way to share data between iOS apps.

Part of this was due to Apple’s vision that the file system should be abstracted, with information siloed into individual apps. Hence, Apple’s Pages, Numbers, and Keynote apps could all store files in iCloud, sharing them between iOS devices and Macs, but there was no “file system” to speak of; if you wanted to open a Pages document, you had to open Pages first, which would show you only the Pages documents stored in iCloud. If you wanted to see your Numbers spreadsheets, you had to open the Numbers app.

On a certain level, this was a wonderfully egalitarian idea, but unfortunately the ship had already sailed long ago, and traditional file and folder systems were what most people were already used to. Nevertheless, Apple still continued to try and buck the trend before somewhat grudgingly introducing a very basic iCloud Drive service in iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite back in 2014. Even then, it wasn’t until the following year that Apple included its own first-party “iCloud Drive” app in iOS 9, and even then, the app remained hidden unless users explicitly enabled it. The message from Apple was clear: We don’t like traditional file systems.

It took two more years before Apple finally showed even the first glimmer of changing this mindset, when it debuted the Files app in iOS 11. The new app was a breath of fresh air compared to the considerably more limited iCloud Drive app, essentially bringing the macOS Finder to the iPhone and iPad, and even offering up features like drag-and-drop for moving files around.

Around this time, Apple also introduced the ability to share files either privately with other iCloud users or publicly via shared links. It seemed that iCloud was finally growing up into a service that could rival Dropbox, which was especially encouraging for users who didn’t want to pay for storage from mutiple providers.

The Missing Link

Unfortunately, there was still one thing conspicuously missing — the ability to share folders. In fact, Apple’s introduction of file sharing made many users — ourselves included — question why the company had stopped short of letting users share entire folders as well.

With the announcement of iOS 13 last spring, it looked like folder sharing would finally be coming, but unfortunately, the feature turned out to be a disaster during the beta cycle, resulting in many developers and public beta testers actually losing data — a problem that was made worse by the fact that most beta testers had linked their devices to their actual iCloud accounts rather than setting up new accounts for testing.

Following these serious issues, Apple simply removed all of the new iCloud features in later iOS 13 and macOS Catalina betas. While Apple was presumably hoping it could get everything resolved for a later fall release, it seems that now it realizes that it’s going to need more time in the oven.

Of course, this isn’t the first time a new iOS feature has been significantly delayed, and in fact Apple deserves some kudos for at least a bit of transparency here. Both AirPlay 2 and Messages in iCloud were announced for iOS 11, but ended up being delayed until iOS 11.4 shipped the following spring, only weeks before Apple unveiled iOS 12.

In the end, we have to assume that folder sharing isn’t as simple at it may sound. To be fair, even Google has had its struggles with this — for example, much to the disappointment of many, its also impossible to share entire folders in a Google shared drive (formerly Team Drive). With the potential for catastrophic data loss, it’s fair to say that this is one of these features that we’d rather see Apple get right than deliver before it’s absolutely one hundred percent bulletproof.

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