Fix This App: Dropbox for iOS

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[We spend a lot of time with mobile apps. We know what we like and what we don’t—sometimes within the very same app. Each week in Fix This App, we’ll take a mobile offering that’s not without its share of flaws and try to nudge it a little closer to perfection.]

I love Dropbox. I use it every day and it’s totally changed the way I work. No longer do I rely on thumb drives or FTP servers for articles I’m writing or editing on my various Macs. With Dropbox, my files stay in sync on my Mac Pro, iMac, and MacBook Pro. And I can also access those files via the Web if I’m not using one of my machines, and even easily share files with my wife. While very useful, however, the Dropbox mobile app is severely crippled in comparison to its desktop counterparts.

What it works on: The free Dropbox app works on iOS devices running iOS 3.1 or later (it runs natively on the iPhone/iPod touch and the iPad). It runs on Android phones and tablets, and the OS version required varies by device. The BlackBerry version requires software 4.5 or later. (This article is mainly about the iOS version, but some of the limitations apply to Android as well.)

What it does: The Dropbox app lets you access the files and folder stored in your Dropbox account (as well as upload certain items). A free Dropbox account offers 2GB of storage (although you can bump that up to as much as 18GB with multiple referral bonuses at 500MB each). The paid options are 50GB for $10 a month, or $100 a year or 100GB for $20 a month or $200 a year. Each offers 1GB per referral up to 32GB of additional space. At the very top is Dropbox for Teams, a collaborative version starting at $795 a year for five users.

On the desktop, there’s software for Macs, Windows PCs, and Linux machines. Dropbox can sync all (or just selected) files and folders among multiple computers associated with your account, and keeps several older version of many files so you can recover items if you’ve accidentally overwritten or deleted them. It has almost endless uses, but here are 62 things you can do with Dropbox.

The Dropbox app lets you view many types of files in your Dropbox account, including images and PDFs.

What it gets right: The Dropbox app lets you see every file and folder in your Dropbox account, and in many cases view the items directly within the app: Text files, Word and Excel docs, PDFs, and many types of images, to name a few. You can also choose to open files it can’t read in another app on your device (or even those it can, if you’d prefer to view them with different software—PDFs in Evernote, iBooks, or Adobe Reader, say).

The app caches a user-selectable amount of data locally, and you can force the app to download a file by marking it as a favorite—useful for times when you need to view a document but know you won’t have a data connection. You can also share items in your Dropbox with others (just as you can in the desktop or Web interfaces) and save photos to your local library. And you can upload photos and videos from your Camera Roll or synced libraries to your Dropbox account, as well as save some downloads in mobile Safari directly to Dropbox.

What it gets wrong: On the desktop, I like to sort my Dropbox folder by date, so the most recent stuff floats to the top. In the app, however, files are sorted alphabetically, with no other options.

That problem could be lessened if the search functionality were better. Instead of a live search that narrows down as you type, you’re forced to enter a search (choosing All, Files, or Folders) and then are instructed to “Hit Search to Begin”.

Also, the Android version lets you create a new text file from the app, as well as make new folders. The iOS version doesn’t let you create new files, and the only way to create a folder is when you’re uploading a file. And you can’t move files from one folder to another.

How to fix it: The Dropbox app is a useful add-on to an incredibly useful service. And with a few tweaks the app itself could be incredible as well.

Searching with the Dropbox app is very frustrating. You need to enter at least three characters and then submit the search—no live search is available.

  • Offer better sorting. Alphabetical sorting is good in many circumstances, but when you’re quickly searching for a new file or folder—or you can’t remember the exact name of what you’re looking for—having the option to alternatively sort by date is handy. Simply adding that would go a long way toward making the app more usable.

  • Improve search. One of the app’s biggest failings is the way it handles search. The lack of live search—along with the fact that searches must be at least three characters long—hinders the ability to find content. Many other apps have managed to implement live search capabilities, and Dropbox needs it.

  • Allow simple editing. There are plenty of iOS text editors that integrate with Dropbox. So why is it that the Dropbox app itself doesn’t let you create or edit simple text documents? It would add another level of usefulness to the app that would avoid having to switch to another program.

  • Provide organization tools. The last thing I’d like to see is the ability to create new folders at any time, and to move and rename files and folders. I often find myself reorganizing my Dropbox account from the desktop, and there’s no reason not to offer such options on the iPhone or iPad.

This story, "Fix This App: Dropbox for iOS" was originally published by TechHive.

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