The Electric Educator: Google Drive and the iPad: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Google Drive and the iPad: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Note: this is an updated version on the post I wrote in June of 2011 when both the iPad and Google Docs (now Drive) were relatively new. This has been one of my most popular posts with over 11,000 views, underscoring the importance of both the iPad and Google Drive. 

Looking for a way to increase your productivity, collaborate with others, and access your data across multiple devices? It's time to combine the beautiful design of the iPad with the productivity super powers of Google Drive!

The integration of Google Drive on the iPad isn't perfect but it is far better than it was a few short years ago. The purchase of QuickOffice by Google and the subsequent redesign of Google Drive has made iPads and Google Drive much better friends. There are some things that work really well, some things that work sometimes, and some things that don't work at all.

Google Drive App Collection

To use Google Drive effectively on your iOS device, make sure you have the four Drive Apps (all free) installed.

Google Drive | Google Sheets | Google Slides | Google Docs

The Google Drive App

The Drive App represents the biggest improvement to using Drive on your iOS device. With this app you can view, organize, and explore your existing Google Drive files.

Touch the "i" button on any document or folder to see who has access, see the revision history or organize, delete, or share the document (screen shot at right).

"Slide" the screen to the right to reveal the drive menu and settings. The Google Drive app supports multiple Google accounts, making it easy to switch between your personal and school documents.

Google Drive supports offline file access, but you must select the files you want available offline. At this time files must be selected individually; you cannot select an entire folder to be offline (you can select all of the files within a folder).

The Google Drive app is NOT designed to edit files. Selecting a doc, presentation, or spreadsheet will open the related app or prompt you to install it. All editing of docs, sheets, and presentations are done within the dedicated app.

Viewing non-Google files is about as good as you would expect. Image and PDF files open in view-only. Video files (.mov, .mp4) can also be opened and viewed (Yay!). Other non-standard file types (PhotoShop, InDesign, etc) will not open but can be organized, renamed or opened in a supported app on your device.

Google Drawing remains an anomaly as it is the only native Google Drive file that cannot be edited. Drawings can be viewed through the Drive app.

Another great addition to the new Drive app is the ability to upload photos or take photos directly within the app. The Drive app can access your camera roll and Photo Streams, making it a great way to backup or move photos from your device to your computer.

The integrated camera app provides a way to quickly snap a picture (so long document scanner!) of a document or important information and organize it into your Drive files.

The Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides Apps

Selecting a documents, spreadsheet, or presentation within the Drive app will open the related app for editing. The editing of Google Drives files has greatly improved with the addition of the stand-alone apps.

The real-time collaboration (the best feature of Google Drive) works as expected, allowing you to edit a file in real time with other individuals regardless of the device you are using. There is no longer a lag with collaboration as there has been in the past

The individual Drive apps now also support basic document sharing functions. You can view collaborators, add new collaborators, and get a shareable link without leaving the file you are editing.

While the Drive apps are much better than the used to be, there are still some issues you should be aware of:

No Table Support in Google Docs
Google Docs does not support table editing. Tables will display in preview mode, but you cannot make any edits to a table.

Limited Editing Function in Google Slides 
It's great that we can now edit Google presentations (we couldn't for a LONG time!), but the editing functions are limited to "rich text" changes. The mobile version of Google Slides does not support adding photos or videos from your camera roll. Theme/background changes are also not available nor are transitions.

Use of the Slides app is going to be limited to minor text edits and use as a presentation device. It's hard to imagine someone creating a presentation from start to finish on a mobile device.

Commenting only Available in Google Docs App
The comment feature of Google Drive is a favorite way for teachers to provide feedback to students. Commenting is now supported within the Docs app, but not Sheets or Slides.


  1. Ironically (or perhaps not), I'm reading this post on an iPad and the right hand column of your spreadsheet is cut off. Hmmmmmmm...

    Good post. I was raveling in Europe this summer with just my iPad and had to modify a group project Google doc. It almost blew up on me. I kept getting all kinds of errors. I finally stopped, fearing that I'd destroy the document and risk the wrath of my four partners. I'm about ready to give up on Google docs on the iPad and download Pages. What a shame.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Debbie. I wouldn't give up quite yet. Google is constantly rolling out new features for the iPad. Just last week they enabled sharing via the mobile interface.

    If you are a heavy Google Docs user I would highly recommend purchasing Quick Office HD or a similar App. It makes using Gdocs much cleaner and fills in some of the gaps that currently exist.

  3. Try out FileReflex to access remote desktop files from mobile

  4. This is a conundrum our school is facing because we've embraced GAFE and now are going 1:1 iPad with the high school students. I want an easier mobile solution besides G-Whizz! (free, with ads) A $15 third-party app is not going to be for us. It doesn't have to be free, but that price is too high.

  5. Thanks for your comment, Leanna. I second your disappointment with how ipads play with GAFE. There is a glimmer of hope, however! QuickOffice was recently purchased by Google. I would expect them to improve and re-release the app (possibly for free) in the near future. I will be sure to keep the readers of the Electric Educator updated as I hear more about Google's plans.

  6. I've had more success using Google Chrome for the iPad for Google Docs. No error messages appear when using the Desktop version. It still has limitations as listed in the chart above, but at least you can do more than simple text in a doc.

  7. Hi, I am a fifth grade teacher and my classroom has one-to-one iPads, which is amazing. I'm looking for a way for the kids to open up a document I share with them, make a copy for themselves to write on and save on their ipad. I love Google tools and it seems like the obvious choice, but I can't figure out how the kids will copy the entire document on an ipad. Am I missing something totally obvious?

  8. Hi Shannon, thanks for the comment. What you want to do is simple on a computer and not so simple on an iPad. In order to make a copy of doc, students will need to view the doc in the "desktop" view (see my post above). Once they view the doc in this mode, you can go to file--> make a copy. Please note that students MUST have a Google Drive account in order to do this. The copy will be saved into their Drive account where they can edit it.

    1. John, is that really the easiest way? Seems really impractical for such a key feature.

  9. Any plans to be able to view/edit comments and notes on the mobile version of google docs?

  10. Old posts above need a professional update! GAFE is so much better on iPads this fall at schools!!! Go Google!


Thanks for contributing to my blog. I enjoy being a part of the conversation and do my best to respond to comments and questions that are posted.