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Google Drive for iPad and iPhone hands-on

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Google Drive for iPhone and iPad has been released today, months after its Android counterpart. We take the apps for a spin to see how they stand up.

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Google Drive iOS hero (1020)
Google Drive iOS hero (1020)

Google said that the iOS versions of Google Drive were "98 percent" done back in late April when the cloud storage service first launched, but the iPad and iPhone app has only just now been released on the iTunes App Store. Now that the wait is over, we've installed the apps and put them through the paces. Has Google given Drive's iOS apps feature parity with its Android offerings? Read on to find out.

Google Drive on both iPad and iPhone are nearly identical: sure, a few icons are moved around to make navigation better suited for each screen size, but for the purposes of this article we'll examine them together. The interface itself is quite simple and even spartan in places. Just like all Google Drive apps, there's a sidebar that lets you quickly swap between "My Drive," "Shared with me," "Starred," "Recent," and "Offline" — all of which are self-explanatory. Enter either of these tabs and you'll get a basic chronological list of files that unfortunately has no sorting options. You're able to star individual items from here, and by clicking on the arrow button to right of each entry you can pull up a simple but attractive preview pane with a few options that let you rename a file, save for offline use, or invite collaborators. The latter lets you choose names, email addresses, or groups, and you can either give view or edit permissions.

Feature parity? No

It won't take long for you to realize that there are a few major features missing here. There's no way to delete a file. Even worse, you can't upload any files from your iPad or iPhone from within the app, and you can't create new documents, either. As you may have guessed, that means that there's absolutely no editing functionality built into Drive for iOS. Google's support documentation encourages you to use the actions button when viewing a file to open it in another app on your device or view a document in Safari. The latter will let you edit the file in the Drive web app, and that's as good as it will get for would-be road warriors using Drive on iOS. For reference, Drive for Android not only allows you to edit files, but you can also view collaborator's changes in realtime — just like the full desktop web app.

Other than file handling, search on Drive for iOS does go head-to-head with its Android counterpart. OCR lets you search for text in PDFs and other images, and even more impressively, image recognition technology allows you to search for photo content, not just metadata. Just like on Android, we tested this out with a picture of the Eiffel Tower named "paris-landmark.jpg" and when we typed "eiffel" into the search bar the photo popped up instantly. We had less luck with handwriting recognition, though Google did demo the service's ability to read and identify a packing label in its presentation today.

Quite the understatement

Google's support documentation innocently says "While we continue to develop the Google Drive app for iPhone and iPad, there are still some limitations," but Drive for iOS is really just an app for viewing and searching for files at this point. You can't even manage files — there's simply no way to create folders or move documents. Certainly not impressive for an app that's being released two months after its far superior Android counterpart. Google Drive for iPad and iPhone is available now as a free download from the iTunes App Store, and be sure to check our in-depth look at the cloud storage service if you're looking for more on what Google's platform offers.