Getting started with Google Docs for iOS

Google Drive comes to the iPhone and iPad with one major limitation.

Matt Elliott Senior Editor
Matt Elliott is a senior editor at CNET with a focus on laptops and streaming services. Matt has more than 20 years of experience testing and reviewing laptops. He has worked for CNET in New York and San Francisco and now lives in New Hampshire. When he's not writing about laptops, Matt likes to play and watch sports. He loves to play tennis and hates the number of streaming services he has to subscribe to in order to watch the various sports he wants to watch.
Expertise Laptops, desktops, all-in-one PCs, streaming devices, streaming platforms
Matt Elliott
3 min read

Google announced at its annual developer conference Thursday that it's bringing Google Drive to iOS devices. Google Drive was released soon after the announcement. It's a free and universal app, designed for both the iPhone and iPad.

I've been waiting for Google Drive (and Google Docs before that) to come to the iPhone for a while now. Many times when I'm in the grocery store, I wish I could quickly access one of the many recipes I keep in Google Drive. While Google Drive for iOS fulfills this need of quickly accessing a document to view, I was shocked to discover that the app forces me out to Safari in order to edit. But I'm getting ahead of myself; let's take a look at the app from the start.

Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

After launching the app for the first time and logging in with your Google credentials, you'll arrive at the home screen, which features five items: My Drive, Shared with me, Starred, Recent, and Offline. Two buttons sit in the bottom corners: Refresh and Settings.

Tap on My Drive and you'll see your folders. Tap on a folder to see the documents inside, or tap the arrow button along the right edge to see the Details page, where you can make a document available offline and see who has access to it. Although there is an on/off switch to make folders available offline, all were grayed out for me; I could only make documents available offline. At the bottom of the details page for either a folder or a document are two buttons. The button in the left corner lets you rename the folder or document, and the button in the right corner lets you invite people to share (either view or edit) the document.

Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

For each document listed, you see its name, the date it was last modified or opened, and a button to star it. Tap to open a document. You can pinch zoom to make text more legible on the iPhone's small screen, or you can double-tap to zoom in and out slightly.

One thing you won't find when viewing a document is an edit button. To make changes, you must tap the share button in the upper-right corner when viewing a doc and choose Open in Safari. You'll leave the Google Drive app as Safari opens your document. Using Google Docs in Safari (it has yet to be renamed Drive), tap the Edit button in the upper-right corner to make changes. Head back to the Google Drive app, close the document you had open before exiting to Safari, and then reopen to see your changes. Efficient, editing is not.

Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

In addition to the lack of editing, you can't create new documents or delete any. And you can't sort the list of your documents. The documents are listed in alphabetical order in any folder in the My Drive, and you aren't given a way to sort them chronologically or by type within a folder. (The Shared with me, Starred, and Recent folders on the home screen list your documents by date.)

The Google Drive iOS app syncs well with the desktop app. New documents I created on my Mac showed up as soon as I hit the refresh button on my iPhone or iPad. I did notice, however, that files I uploaded to Google Drive on my Mac did not show up on the iOS app until after I opened them on my Mac.