File Upload Regression in Safari for iOS

Hi readers! Please let me know if I’ve made any mistaken assertions in this post, or if I have missed any key points! The tone of this post is fairly combative due to my frustration, but I’m eager to continue this discussion in a civil way.


It’s currently in style for developers to complain about the direction of Apple’s design. From my perspective, the magnum opus of this growing body of work is How Apple is Giving Design A Bad Name, by former Apple designers Don Norman and Bruce Tognazzi. A quick Google (or DuckDuckGo, really) search will show you that they’re not the only ones with this opinion. There is so much to write about: Apple’s narrowminded focus on aesthetic over function; the staunch refusal to include a hardware back button; the frustration that Google seems all too eager to follow their lead.

A caveat, though: I really like Safari for OSX. The Webkit team does a great job of implementing and supporting modern web standards. I don’t buy into the Safari is the new IE thing. Also, a friend of mine works on that team and I don’t want to malign him.

So I’ll just focus on one personal story / rant on a particular subject which I don’t think has been covered: Apple kneecapping file upload in Safari for iOS in what I’m pretty sure is an attempt to make money selling storage space on iCloud.

I’m currently on the job market as a full-stack web developer (WINK WINK), so I went to a coffee shop with the intention of applying to a couple jobs, maybe send off some emails and resumes. I didn’t have my laptop with me, but I figured that the iPhone is a reasonably powerful computer and can certainly handle browser form submissions. The small screen compared to a laptop would be frustrating, but something I could deal with for a couple hours.

Fundamentally, I needed to go to a website, fill out a form, upload a resume, and submit that form.

This is not a weird use case. This has been a feature of web browsers since, I don’t know, probably 1996 or something. Here’s the IETF “experimental” specification for HTML file upload in browsers, published in 1995.

So here’s what happens when you try to upload a file:


The menu that appears when I tapped “upload a file”.

And here’s what happened when I tapped the “iCloud Drive” option:


What is allegedly in my iCloud drive.


Mind you, I have the relevant PDF stored on my phone locally, but I couldn’t upload it unless it was a photo. It’s living in a Notes document, which is the only way I could figure out to download it. I briefly considered taking a screenshot of the PDF so that it would be uploadable as a JPEG. Also, all my Notes are backed up to iCloud automatically, but it’s clearly not in a form that I’m able to access.

I spent an hour trying to figure out how to get the PDF (first) ONTO iCloud from my iPhone, and (second) down FROM iCloud into the browser. The first thing seems impossible. Apple support directed me a useless iCloud help page. In the end, I gave up and found a desktop computer, which enabled me to complete the task in a few seconds.

Apple. My phone is a computer. It has 30 or so gigabytes of local storage space that I already paid extra for, and you’re now scheming to get me to use up my limited cloud storage so that I can pay you for more. In doing so, you have regressed a 20 year old feature of browsers.

And I still don’t have a hardware back button. I would be surprised if I ever buy an iPhone again.

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