Some people want better file management on the iPad, which means that they’ll probably need Documents. The app comes as a total revamp of ReaddleDocs and is even more capable than the old version. Readdle claims that its 4.0 update makes it the must-have app for iPad and its actual rhetoric claims that Documents makes your iPad worth its high price are especially bold— especially for an app that’s completely free.
Documents aims to do a ton of things in an elegant way. According to the app’s description, it claims to be a “document viewer, PDF reader, download manager, music player and read it later” replacement, along with a whole host of other things. I’m always wary of apps that do this much, as there’s always the potential to be a jack of all trades and master of none, or worse: completely impossible and inelegant to use. The simple question is, though, can Documents be as powerful as its developer claims while still remaining easy to use? Let’s find out.
File Management Goes Mobile
Documents’ user interface has been given a visual overhaul since its ReaddleDocs days. It’s reminiscent of apps like Tweetbot and Reeder, and as a user of both, I felt immediately at home within the app’s aesthetics. Navigating the app isn’t difficult, and it’s made all the more easier thanks to the in-app Documents Guide. The twenty-page PDF is easy to read and very in-depth and it’s also a good introduction to the app’s built-in PDF reader.
First of all, the PDF reader has one of the best user interfaces on the iPad for document reading. The app’s built-in reader is based on the Readdle PDF Expert app. You can choose to use the default PDF reader in iOS instead, but you won’t want to after using this one! Documents’ PDF reader is much cleaner than GoodReader and more usable than iBooks. It never feels intimidating, but it still allows highlighting, annotation and bookmarking. I usually read PDF’s in Dropbox for some of my classes out of convenience and Documents makes it just as easy to access my files and presents them in a much cleaner interface.
Speaking of Dropbox, you won’t have a problem adding any of the other cloud storage you use to the app. I’ve got my Dropbox, SkyDrive, Google Drive, Box, and miscellaneous CalDAV accounts set up with it. Your three most recently accessed are easily viewable in the app’s toolbars, and it’s a cinch to set them all up. You can also have them sync directly with the app’s locally stored folder for easy access, so you’ll never have to open any of their relevant apps directly to access or change files.
Documents offers much more than cloud storage and PDF reading, of course. It has a built-in music player and can open just about any sort of document you throw at it. You can flip through photos (in a very elegant interface) or read through the .docx file that your boss sent you with ease. But the app’s most powerful feature, in my opinion, lies in its ability to act as a storage place for downloaded files from mobile Safari.
You’ve most likely tried to download files from the web on an iPad. It’s a giant pain. Documents is really forward-thinking; not only does it allow you to download files to the local directory, but it can also open compressed folders. If you want to easily access your files on other devices, it’s not hard to move them to your cloud accounts. Last night, I downloaded a book on my iPad, decompressed the .zip folder it came in, and moved the file to my Dropbox account. When I went to my computer, the file was waiting for me and it was really easy to open it from there and send it to my Kindle.
The app also integrates with iCloud for file storage. Personally, I’m not sure what the perk is to using iCloud with Documents. I’d rather use Dropbox and have the ability to access my files anywhere, instead of just my Apple products, but I’m sure there are some people who will appreciate the option. To me, it’s not so much that I think the iCloud function is insanely useful, but it indicates that Documents is a few years ahead of Apple with the functionality of this app.
Even from a design perspective, Documents is ahead of many of Apple’s offerings. There isn’t a hint of skeuomorphism anywhere in the app and the design doesn’t need it. I think it’s easy to use, and at this point, its layout is going to be visually familiar to a lot of iOS users (especially the power users who would be interested in an app like Documents).
What I Really Think
In a perfect world, Apple would ship iPads and iPhones with Documents built into it. The big flaw with iCloud is that it is app-contextual instead of using traditional folders and files. Despite its simplicity, this can make things needlessly complicated across multiple devices. If I want to use Writer on my Mac, but Byword on my iPhone, it’s impossible to integrate iCloud into that process. An overhead file management system like Documents would solve that problem, along with the many other issues about organizing files and folders on mobile devices.
So pardon me for saying this so bluntly, but it’s an indicator of how necessary I think Documents is: Apple should buy it. They should pick up the phone, call Readdle and make them an offer they can’t refuse. I’d make the argument that if Apple wants to become the de facto leader in corporate environments, they need a solution like this that makes sharing and managing files painless — even between multiple users. Thanks to the way that Documents integrates with the cloud, it’s easy to use it for both personal and group situations.
Not an App, but a Feature
Documents is a great app, but its promise is even more significant. It’s the future of document management on a mobile device. Readdle has put a lot of thought into both its features and its design. It’s everything it claims to be in its description. Even more so than Dropbox, Documents feels like it shouldn’t be an app. It should be a feature.