Apple’s Latest iOS Update Hides a Major Change

By: Michael Savich

iOS 10.3 is now available for iPhone and iPad, and with it comes a major under-the-hood change: a brand new file system. This is a major change considering that the current system has been in use on Apple products for over 30 years. A file system is a core part of any computer’s system software. It is in charge of organizing how data is stored on the hard drive. As the name implies, a file system groups related data, for example, the constituent bits of a text document, into “files” which are in turn grouped into “folders.” You are probably familiar with this organizational structure on your Windows or Mac computer.

While it may seem that the iPhone doesn’t have files or folders, it does. However, there is no interface for it. Instead, applications store the data in files. Even though, you do not directly use the file system does not mean that this system is unimportant. The file system affects the speed and integrity of your device in many ways.

The new Apple File System, or APFS for short has improvements over the old system across the board. One of the goals of the APFS was that it was designed with the future in mind. While the current Hierarchical File System (HFS+ for short) can store 4 billion files, the APFS can keep track of 9 quintillion of them. APFS is also more flexible. It allows for future changes to be made that do not necessarily break backwards compatibility.

The addition of file cloning and snapshots means that copies and backups take up less storage space and put less wear and tear on the hard drive. Data encryption has been put into the file system and now boasts the ability to encrypt metadata separately from the bulk of the file. Crash protection means that data will not be corrupted if your device crashes or runs out of power while data is being written.

There are many other changes in the APFS. But, all you really need to know is that going forward your Apple devices will be faster and your data will safer and more secure. This will all happen while putting less strain on your hard disk, battery, and processor.

Simply changing the file system of a device with a software update is a risky move. There are many ways things could have gone wrong. A switch like this has never been attempted at anything close the scale of Apple’s iOS install base. Judging by the lack of news articles about users losing their data, the rollout went just about as well as anyone could hope for.

Thirty years is a long time in tech. When the original HFS was introduced, people stored files on floppy disks. Hard disks, if your computer even had one, were measured in megabytes. Who knows what the world will be like 30 years from now?


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