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Apple's new file system revolves around encryption

Set to reach just about all of the company's devices in 2017.
Jon Fingas, @jonfingas
June 13, 2016
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Reuters/Lucy Nicholson

One of Apple's quietest announcements at WWDC might also be its most important. The company has introduced a brand new file system, simply called Apple File System (APFS) that makes security its centerpiece. It offers a unified encryption method for virtually every device Apple makes, ranging from the Apple Watch to the Mac. That includes multikey encryption, which makes it tough to crack even if you have physical access to the storage. In short, the FBI won't be happy: Encryption is now a core part of the operating system, not just something bolted on after the fact.

APFS also acknowledges the advances in technology in the nearly two decades since Apple's current file system, HFS+, hit the scene. It's optimized for flash storage, uses extremely fine-grained time stamps (down to the nanosecond) and supports a whopping 9 quintillion files on a single volume. You'll also see "snapshots" (read-only instances of the file system) that make Time Machine-style backups easier.

The file system is available to developers in preview form right now, and it should launch in earnest in 2017. However, unlike the usual operating system previews, you don't even dare try this unless you're writing apps where it'd be a factor. The prerelease APFS can't be used to boot a device and doesn't support many Mac staples, such as Fusion Drives or Time Machine. There's no certainty that the data you put on a drive now will be readable by later versions of APFS, for that matter. Nonetheless, its very existence is noteworthy: It'll likely dictate the features of Apple gadgets for years to come.

Get all the latest news from WWDC 2016 here!

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