Apple really, really wants you to tag your files

The coming addition of support for tags in Notes and Reminders on iPhone, iPad, and Macs suggests Apple really wants to get you tagging today.

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While Apple hasn’t overtly said so, tagging appears to be becoming increasingly important across its platforms, and will likely help you get things done.

Apple extends tags support

Apple will extend support for tags to Notes and Reminders on iPhones, Mac and iPads soon. These work in the same way as tags already do when tagging documents, images, and other assets on your Mac, making it much easier to find relevant collections of such content, and enabling powerful smart folder searches along the way.

If you get used to using them, tags provide:

  • A structured way to share content across different folders;
  • The capacity to create smart folders for tagged content, which makes it easier to track even complex projects, though only on a Mac.
  • Syncing across iCloud Drive, which extends tagging to all your devices logged in with the same Apple ID.

There are some limitations, though, such as being unable to build a smart folder on iOS.

How tags work

Tags are color-coded and can be named to help you track a project. If you sync items using your Apple ID and iCloud, you will find the same tags proliferate across all your platforms, making it easier to keep an eye on ongoing projects.

You’ll find a list of all your current tags made available in the Files app on all your Apple devices, and in the Finder on your Mac. Tap any of these to find all items carrying that tag.

What makes tags more useful is that you can assign multiple tags to an item. This is an advantage against conventional hierarchical file structures, as you can have one file shared across multiple projects: An architectural plan might be made discoverable using client, contractor, and invoicing tags, for example.

Assigning tags

Assigning tags isn’t quite as unified among all Apple platforms as I would like:

  • On a Mac, you can assign a tag as you save an item using the bar situated just beneath the Save As field.
  • On a Mac, you can assign a tag by selecting an item in Finder and Control-clicking a tag in the contextual menu.
  • On iPad and iPhone, you must open the Files app, locate an item you have already saved, press and hold on that item until a menu appears and then assign tags using the Tags item in that menu.
  • On iPad and iPhone, you can also assign tags to a document when it is open — just tap the Share icon and scroll down to find Add Tags.
  • Although there are additional ways to set tags, these are the most straightforward approaches.

[Also read: How to make Spotlight work for you]

While you can create Smart Folders that search for specific tags or sets of tags on your Mac, you cannot do so on iOS devices. You can, of course, find tagged items using the tag cloud in Finder or iCloud Drive.

Here's more information on setting and using tags.

Coming soon to Notes and Reminders

What’s new in Notes and Reminders this fall will be the introduction of support for tags in those applications. Apple has made it easy to assign a tag to these, just write #NameOfTag and they will appear.

The limitation is that these tags only appear in those apps, so a note won’t be discoverable in a smart folder on your Mac, for example. All the same, I do think tagged notes will become particularly popular.

Tag discipline

The problem with tags is discipline.

When in a hurry, it is always tempting to skip assigning a tag to a document or some other item you are saving, and yet the benefits of doing so can be immense. You’ll find files faster, reduce the number of duplicate items you end up with on your system(s), and more easily track your work across your devices.

Of course, to get these benefits you need to maintain tag discipline:

  • Make tag names short.
  • Use them consistently.
  • Use tag colors: Red for project files and green for personal, for example.
  • Spend a little time considering how to build a tagging system: You might have tags for different projects, along with tags for different uses, such as “Invoicing,” “To Review,” or a client or job number.
  • Assign multiple tags for best results.
  • Regularly review the tags you use and get rid of or combine those you no longer use.
  • Most important: never forget to tag an item.

Apple’s introduction of tags in Reminders and Notes seems symbolic of a greater commitment to tagging, which makes me imagine efficient use of tags will become more important as it iterates its existing platforms.

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