The wishlists for iOS 13 seem to be appearing especially early this time around, partly because the hardware (like the new iPad Pro) is at the point where it’s so clearly the software that is holding things back.
So I’d like to make the case for “major improvements to tagging” as something at the top of my wishlist for the next iteration of Apple software (and any of this can come in a “point-update” like 12.2 or 12.3, that would be more than fine with me!)
Despite Apple’s hesitant, haphazard implementation, tagging is gaining traction with users and developers. Tagging provides a powerful way of pulling together the stuff you need for a particular meeting, or project, or trip without having to duplicate the files or move them out of their home locations. In addition, tags provide a handy way to cross the macOS-iOS boundary: by tagging a couple of files you’re working on, you can use the tags to find them quickly on the other platform. That’s the idea, but Apple is far from implementing this in a consistent way.
My hope for iOS 13 / MacOS 15 is that Apple will finally take tagging to the next level. People who only have 8 tags may be perfectly satisfied with what Apple now offers. But people with only 8 tags probably don’t really need tags in the first place. Where tagging is really helpful is when you’re responsible for lots of different projects, clients, courses, etc. And then, you quickly have dozens if not hundreds of tags. And for this, what is available on iOS is completely inadequate. Searching is great for finding and opening that one item. Tags provide a way of gathering stuff together for what you’re working on, and going back to it.
Here’s my wishlist:
What iOS needs to inherit from macOS
- The organization of tags in Files needs a major overhaul: in the “Recents” tab, files are grouped by tags, but the order of those tags seems completely arbitrary. It’s certainly not by “most recent,” it doesn’t parallel the sidebar order, and there’s no way to alter it. Bizarre.
- The field that opens for “Add New Tag” should autocomplete with existing tags (and if there’s no match, a new tag is created), like on macOS.
- In iOS, it should be possible to add a tag when using “Save to Files” (e.g. to save an attachment from a Mail message). A long-press on “Add” could permit an “add-plus” function, whereby you could first add a tag before saving to the selected folder.
- When displaying files by a selected tag in the Files app, the names of other tags should be visible – not just as colored dots. Perhaps the “Size” column be switch to a “Tags” column when tags are selected?
- It needs to be possible to turn off autocapitalization for new tags in the helper tray.
- Tags on iOS should parallel macOS in parsing the component parts of punctuated tags e.g. home:receipts and work:receipts would both found with a search for “receipts.”
- It would be nice to set (a few) custom keyboard shortcuts for frequently-used tags.
- In the Finder on macOS, if I select a tag in the sidebar and then enter a search term in the Search window, a get a selection of the files that have both characteristics. In iOS, it generates a search that completely ignores the fact that I just selected a tag from the sidebar.
More General Tagging Problems
- The organization of tags in the sidebar of both Finder and Files needs to be more sensible and sync quickly cross-platform . No one wants to have to pick through dozens if not hundreds of tags in the sidebar. It would be great to toggle a few on/off as favorites (that sync quickly), but tags in the sidebar should be sortable by name, date, and size (number of tags) and (ideally) nested into a few groups.
- There needs to be a way of searching for multiple tags (with “and” as well as“or” searches): Selecting multiple tags (with ⌘-click or ⇧-click) or typing/autocompleting should narrow down the items displayed to an intersection of all. For example, selecting the tags “WWDC2018” and “travel” should reveal only items with both tags. And using the “or” option would reveal files with either tag.
- Something needs to be done about the confusion between keywords and tags. Partly because Apple was so late the tags party, when it finally started introducing native tagging with OS Mavericks, we ended up it “Mavericks tags” (since renamed “Finder tags”) as a parallel system to metadata that apps referred to as tags, but which appear in the metadata as “keywords” (or, less commonly now, OpenMeta tags). As a result, there is a confusing array of proprietary uses of keywords (sometimes referred to as tags), requiring separate databases to be maintained for app-specific keyword systems, as well as inconsistencies between how tags/keywords work (e.g. DEVONthink ignores the “@“ symbol in tags). For example, the indispensable program MailTags actually assigns keywords rather than tags to email messages (unless there is also an identical Finder tag).
- As a related point, it would be great to make it possible to assign tags to any file. Why can’t I tag items in Notes, or Photos, or Mail? In Photos, for example, you can assign keywords to photos, but it’s a pretty cumbersome process, and then you still can’t search for them with Spotlight. Real, unified system of tags is what is needed. A unified and reliable native system of tagging would allow developers to make much greater use of tags to build smart folders which could then sync across iOS / macOS.
- Then there’s the bizarre bug in macOS that I documented elsewhere, which disables keyboard shortcuts for adding tags in the Finder, unless you have emptied out the “Favorites” box in the Finder > Preferences.
Reaching for the stars
- What I’d really love to see is a tag cloud view, along the lines of Cover View, which (in Finder or Files) would would display the files’ tags as a “word cloud," with the number of occurrences of that tag in that file selection determining the size of the tag’s depiction. (The feature of being able to assign tags a color would make this particularly interesting.)
- As a final bit of crazy talk: why not rename the Finder on macOS to “Files”?