Mac users have long had a relaxed, laissez-faire attitude to deleting things.
If you throw something away, then realise you ought not to have done that, you can grab it from the Trash. Easy.
Of course it gets much harder if you’ve emptied the Trash, but before you do that you get all sorts of scary messages to make sure you don’t do it accidentally.
That sense of security ended, however, with the introduction of iCloud and applications like Pages and Numbers that save their documents in iCloud.
If you delete a document from Pages, for example, it’s gone — just … gone. Like dust in the wind, never to be seen again. Sort of.
There is actually a way to get accidentally deleted iCloud documents back, but for whatever reason Apple does not make it obvious.
And it only works if you’re using iCloud Drive, which means you need Yosemite on your Mac and iOS8 on your iOS devices. (There remains no way to recover accidentally deleted iCloud files using your iOS device — even the iCloud Drive app in the iOS 9 Public Beta doesn’t appear to address the issue, though this is a beta so the problem may be addressed by the time it ships.)
First, you need to fire up your web browser. The only way to recover iCloud documents is via iCloud.com on the web (which, bizarrely, you cannot do on an iOS device — why, Apple, why?).
Go to iCloud.com and enter your iCloud username and password. You’ll be presented with a lovely gradient to calm your nerves and help you not panic about recovering that lost file. You’ll also see a series of icons representing the various applications available to you using iCloud.
You may think that your next step is to click on iCloud Drive and then click on the Trash icon to see what files you’ve deleted and recover them. This would be analogous to the Finder interface you know and love so well.
But you would be wrong, because that’s not how this works at all. The Trash icon in iCloud Drive is just for deleting things.
No, what you want to do is click on Settings. For some reason. There you will see how much storage you’ve used, what devices are logged in to your account, and what Apple IDs are connected to Family Sharing (if you have set that up).
You’ll also see a range of options for managing your Apple ID, and changing the language, time zone and geographic region associated with your iCloud account. And right at the end you’ll see an option called “Advanced” and, under it, “Data & Security”. Click on that.
What’s that, you say? All I want to do is recover a file I accidentally deleted! Why do I have to go into the Advanced Data & Security settings like some sort of geek? Because Apple made it that way. That’s why.
Click on Data & Security, and you’re presented with three tabs. The first one is Recover Documents, and should be selected by default. In that tab, you’ll see all the files that have been deleted in applications that use iCloud Drive but are still available to be recovered.
If you delete something and only realise two months later that you needed it, you didn’t really need it. (As an aside, it seems odd that Apple has built in that 30-day grace period to recover files, given how obscure and counter-intuitive the process for making use of it is. Talk about hiding your light under a bushel.)
Tick the box next to the file you want to recover, and the option to “Recover File” appears in the lower-right corner of the window. Click on that, and after a bit of buzzing and whirring the file will disappear from the list and you’ll get a message saying that it has been recovered.
Note that it can still take a few minutes to show up on iCloud Drive on all your devices, which have to sync first.
By way of contrast: Dropbox
Apple is, admittedly, fairly new to the whole could-based file-syncing game, so it can perhaps be forgiven a few eccentricities and stumbles in its early implementation. One company that has been doing this a whole lot longer is Dropbox — a popular choice for Mac and Windows users alike.
In Dropbox, if you accidentally delete a file, you also have the same 30-day grace period that Apple provides to recover the file before it’s gone for good (and you can extend that time by using one of several options such as Dropbox Pro — though it’s unclear why you would need more than 30 days).
The difference is in how easy it is to do in Dropbox.
As with iCloud Drive, you have to log in to Dropbox on the web. Unlike iCloud Drive, Dropbox allows you to do this on an iOS device. Once you’re signed in, you see your various files and folders laid out before you, as you would expect.
You also see a row of icons along the top of the screen. These are, from left to right: Upload, New Folder, Share a Folder, and Show Deleted files.
That’s right, clicking on the Trash icon in Dropbox doesn’t just delete any file you happen to have selected, the way it does in iCloud Drive.
Presuming you know which of your folders the accidentally deleted file was in, you simply navigate to that folder, click on Show Deleted Files, and anything you’ve deleted from that folder in the last 30 days appears, with a tag saying “deleted”.
Click on the file, and you’ll be taken to another page, where you then click on “Restore” and the file is re-added to the folder. If it’s a file you’ve modified a few times, you’ll even be given the choice of what version to restore.
Apple could learn a thing or two.