On Preview, Tags and iOS 8

There’s a rumor floating around that Apple will be bringing TextEdit and Preview to the iPhone and iPad with iOS 8.

For years on OS X, Preview has been the default applications for opening images and PDFs.
Preview has had iCloud support on OS X for a couple of years ago — leading to confusion for some users — and it’s a no-brainer that Preview for iOS would tap into that iCloud container. Saving a PDF or an image in Preview on the Mac would sling it over to iOS over the air, which would be great.

If this all Preview does, I think it would be a great addition to iOS, filling the gap iOS users who don’t have something like GoodReader or Documents 5 experience.

However, I would much prefer if Preview were more powerful. Matt Birchler writes:

They could go the extra mile and allow all third party apps to access the contents of Preview, again just like how all apps have access to your photo stream and camera roll. I kind of doubt this part, but hey, this is all speculation, right!?

Since we’re playing the speculation game, let’s imagine a world where Preview for iOS is more than an image and file viewer, and became a hub for files on iPads and iPhones.

In this world, Preview could be the default application for not only PDFs, but even screenshots and photos not taken by the device’s camera. The downside of all of this would be the same thing that plagues the iOS Camera Roll: clutter.

The key to solving this could be Tags. Introduced in Mavericks, here’s how Apple sells the feature:

Tags are a powerful new way to organize and find your files, even documents stored in iCloud. Simply tag the files you want to organize together with a keyword, like “Important.” Then when you want to find those files, just click Important in the Finder sidebar or enter it in the search field. And all the files with that tag will appear together in one Finder window, even if they’re stored in different locations. Tag a file once, or give it multiple tags to assign it to multiple projects. So if you’re planning an event, you could tag the guest list you saved in Numbers, the flyer you designed in Pages, and the presentation you created in Keynote — and see them all with just one click.

On OS X, this means a user to see all like-tagged documents, even if they are in separate iCloud app silos:

If iOS 8 were to ship with Tags support, apps that rely on iCloud’s document sync — including the rumored Preview — would gain simple organizational tools. Past that, Tags (on the Mac at least) give apps the ability work around some of the limitations imposed by sandboxing, as apps can open files in other applications’ silos via Finder’s Tag view and the “Open File” dialogue box.

Tools like Preview and Tags would make iOS more powerful and more flexible, and I don’t know anyone who would complain about that. Apple’s Tags technology isn’t a true user-facing file system, but they might be as close as we’ll ever see on iOS.