Sync Up: Google Drive for iPad

It’s no secret that I’m a big Google fan. I like using all of the tools they have to offer, including email, calendar, RSS reader, operating systems and of-course, cloud storage. When Google first announced and released Google Drive for Android and a little later for iOS, I was really excited — only to find out that while I could edit files on my Galaxy Nexus, I could only view them on my iPad. Well some time has gone by since then, and Google has made improvements to it’s iOS app. Let’s see how they stack up!

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The Basics

Google Drive is Google’s (relatively) new cloud storage service, which is a converted version of Google Docs, their online office suite. Drive gives you 5GB of storage free (more for a price) for any kind of files, and natively supports several different types, including their own versions of Word, Excel and Powerpoint documents. I did a write up on it over at Web.Appstorm when it was first announced outlining all of the features and pricing.

Google Drive

Google Drive

To alleviate some confusion, I’ll be referring to “Word” documents as simply documents, as specifying the types of all other documents. On a related note, is there a general term for those kind of files?


When you first open up Google Drive (and login with your Google Account), you’ll see the screen below — a list of your documents in alphabetical order, starting with the folders first. You also have the option to view documents shared with you, starred documents, recent documents and offline documents. I’m especially akin to the Recent tab as it has proved to be the most convenient.

Pressing on the right arrow for a folder or file will bring up some options for you.

File Options

File Options

There are a few really nice features here, including the ability to edit applicable files, grant access to other users and make the document available offline. While I love the idea of having files available offline, I kind of wished this required less management from me. Recently, I was on a flight with airplane mode online and forgot to make a couple of documents available offline, including one I was currently working on — I could no longer view or edit those files. I think you should be able to set Drive so that it keeps the last five or so documents you opened locally so that even if you forget, they are available offline.

Predictably, Drive also has a really nice search function that looks not only at titles, but at content as well.



Viewing Files

You can view a file by pressing on it. Google Drive will bring up a view that will then display the file for you, as long as that file is supported.

Viewing a document

Viewing a document

If the file format is not supported, you’ll see this:

View for unsupported document

View for unsupported document

Unfortunately, I think this message shows up a little too often, as the app doesn’t support nearly as many formats as its web-based counterpart. Right now, you can view Google documents, spreadsheets and presentations (but not the Microsoft versions), text files and images. Hopefully that will change in the future. (Editor note: Good Drive does now support spreadsheet editing with a new update.)

Editing Documents

One feature I was really looking forward to was the ability to edit files. Android devices received this feature for both documents and spreadsheets on launch. I was excited that I could finally use my iPad to make changes to files, especially because I have a nifty Bluetooth keyboard for my iPad. There are two ways to edit a file: through the more options area we saw earlier, or by pressing the Edit button while viewing the file.

Editing a Document

Editing a Document

As you can see, this has all of the standard formatting buttons, and you can view who else is viewing/editing the file with you. When you’re finished, just press Done to save your changes.

This is great and all, however, you can only edit documents. Unlike the Android app, you cannot edit spreadsheets or any other file types, not even text files. While Drive does give you the option to open those files in supported apps, I was a bit disappointed to see that I at the very least couldn’t edit spreadsheets from within Google Drive, as the implementation on Android is very nice and convenient.

New Files

Google Drive also gives you the ability to create new folders and files.

The New menu.

The New menu.

When you’re in a folder, press the + sign to bring up the above menu. You can add a new document or folder, as well as add images from your iPad or with the camera.

Note: Like editing, the only file you can create from scratch is a document. No support for spreadsheets or presentations yet.

Final Thoughts

I am a big fan of pretty much everything Google has to offer, and despite a couple shortcomings in this app, I’m a big fan of Google Drive for iPad. On top of viewing and automatically syncing all of my files, I have the ability to make them available offline, share them with others and even live edit documents alone or with others. This features has come in handy quite a bit when I’ve had some downtime and just wanted to do some quick writing or jot down ideas. I was also able to work on a few documents with my friends in real time thanks to Google Drive; the collaboration tools alone really make the app worth using. It’s really a nice (and free) app if you’re looking to do some writing.

I look forward to future iterations of Google Drive, where they will undoubtedly add in some of the missing features: editing other file types currently exists on Android, for example. I can’t imagine it will be much longer before that’s available on iOS.


Google Drive lets you keep all your stuff in one place. Upload all your files from your computer — even the big ones — and you can access them anywhere, including your iPhone or iPad.

  • GrayGaffer

    Unfortunately the “Open In …” option for non-supported formats is pretty useless. First, the app you select gets a copy of the file with no valid origninatio reference (not even Textastic could put it back), then the only way of getting your edited verion of it back into Drive is the editor app’s “Open In …” menu to get it back to the drive app, which then has no way of updating the original, only to put the edited version into an Uploads folder, no option then even to move it back to the originals location and replace the original.

    And html is such a common format – they should at least have the option for in-place editing as a text file if you should so choose.

  • Sukram

    You did not mention anything about beeing able to organize MyDrive in any other way than alphabetical. Now if this is the case, that MyDrive only come in alphabetical order, that’s a real downside. Is there really no way to arrange MyDrive in for instance “Most recent” or last modified, like on the computer.

    The Recent folder only shows those I’ve supposely opened “most recently”, in my case it claims one file about a moth ago, and I know that is not he case..

    Why this? Does anyone know?

  • John Green

    When I work on a document in Google Drive on my laptop and insert comments, those comments don’t seem to show up when I open the same doc in Google Drive on my new iPad, with either the app or the web page version. At least, I haven’t been able to figure out how to make previously inserted comments visible, or to insert new comments. I hope there is some way of doing that that I’m missing. Can anyone help me with this?

  • Ray Franklin

    I am unable to edit Google Doc spreadsheet using the Brookstone Bluetooth keyboard and my iPad. Disappointed.

  • David Rosenbaum

    I don’t get the ” really nice search function that looks not only at titles, but at content as well.” that you mentioned. I use iPad and have Google Drive app. It only lets me view and go to edit mode but does not have a text search function?