What it is: Apple has developed a new file system called Apple File System — or APFS.
One huge problem with computers is that legacy software tends to linger long after it’s no longer the optimum solution. The biggest example of this is with the file system of Apple’s operating systems, macOS and iOS. Apple’s current file system, Apple’s HFS+, was developed 30 years ago so it’s not optimized for solid state drives that didn’t even exist 30 years ago. So it’s no surprise that HFS+ isn’t the optimum solution for today’s operating systems that are moving from mechanical hard drives to solid state drives instead.
What’s remarkable about APFS is that it’s not only optimized for solid state drives and today’s equipment, but it’s also optimized for minimizing storage space and supporting encryption. If you recently updated an iOS device to iOS 10.3, chances are good the update switched the file system on your iPhone or iPad to APFS without you even knowing it. If you check the storage space of your iOS device before updating to iOS 10.3, and then check after, you should see that APFS in iOS 10.3 gives you more storage space such as an extra 1 Gb or more.
Remarkably, switching file systems when updating iOS 10.3 hasn’t caused any type of widespread incompatibilities. For most people, they’re not even aware that the update switched file systems, which is like changing out the ending of an airplane in mid-flight. If Apple could make the update to APFS seamless on iOS devices, there’s hope that Apple can do the same when the next version of macOS switched over to APFS as well.
This switch to a new file system means little to end users since they’ll still continue using their devices just like before. The huge difference is that APFS provides a foundation for supporting the future. That means more storage space, stronger encryption to protect your privacy, and more efficient use of solid state drives.
Just in case you’re wondering, Apple isn’t the only company updating its file system to keep up with the future. Microsoft’s Windows 10 currently uses an older file system called NTFS, which dates back to the 90’s. Eventually, Microsoft hopes to switch to Resilient File System (ReFS) because no file system can be optimized for future devices that didn’t exist when it was created.
When Apple switches macOS to APFS, that will mean a unified file system for all of Apple’s products. That will simplify development on all platforms and insure compatibility with data sharing among all platforms. APFS is the future, but it’s a future you’ll likely never realize is happening. Probably the only way you’ll realize your computer is using a new file system is if it fails catastrophically. If that doesn’t happen, then you may be using Apple’s new file system with your iPhone or iPad right now and not even know it.