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Confusing Google Drive Update Gets Even More Confusing



Last week I posted about Google unveiling new standalone apps for Google Docs and Google Sheets. I also posted the next day about the updates for the Google Drive App. There was a lot of confusion surrounding features being removed from Google Drive in lieu of adding them into the new Apps. Over the weekend I heard from a number of Google Drive/Docs/Sheets users who were very upset about the changes. Those concerns led me to look further into some of the issues. In my findings, the confusing changes are even more confusing than I originally thought.


First, let’s review what the major changes are. Google added two new Apps to its iOS and Android platforms: Google Docs and Google Sheets. Playing catch up to Microsoft and Apple, these are free Apps that allow users to create and edit word processing or spreadsheet documents. In addition to the two new Apps, Google removed the editing capability that had existed previously for these kind of files in Google Drive.

Prior to the update users could open, view, and edit documents stored in Google’s cloud via the Google Drive App. It was one stop document management and editing for mobile device users. Not any more. Now to edit a Google document or spreadsheet you need to do so in one of the new Apps. (A version of Google Slides, Google’s version of Powerpoint or Keynote, is supposedly coming.)

I suppose if you want to play keep up, having free separate stand alone Apps for word processing, spreadsheets and presentations makes you look like you’re a serious contender in the game. It’s all the rage these days. But the more I look into these changes, the more some of the enraged users of the previous Google Drive have a point.

Let’s set aside the editing functionality and talk about file management in the updated App combo. To put it bluntly, it is a mess.

Directory or Folder Structure

Let’s assume you have a folder on Google Drive called Spreadsheets where you keep your Sheets files. Let’s next assume you are in that directory in Google Drive and want to create a new Sheets file. Now, if you hit the + button to create a new document you are taken to the new Sheets App. There you have to hit the + button again. Once you do that, you can create and name a new Sheets document.

But, unfortunately the new Sheets document you just created is saved in the root directory of your Google Drive, not in your Spreadsheets directory where you thought you were creating it. To get it there, you need to go back to the Google Drive App, select the Info button for the file, and then select Move To and select the file’s destination. It’s a cumbersome multiple step process for users who like to keep documents organized in a directory structure.

Perhaps even more confusing to some, the file structure in Google Drive doesn’t even show up in the Sheets (or Docs) App. Instead you are just given a list of files that you can open and edit in those Apps without regard to any hierarchical folder structure you may have created in your Google Drive.


The behavior described above is what I and others are seeing on the new and updated iOS Apps. In the Android version of the Apps creating and saving a new document to a specific directory seems to work the way one would expect. But note that there was no update pushed through for the Android version of Google Drive. That said, in the Android version of Sheets (or Docs) there is also no visible means of knowing where in a hierarchical file structure a specific file is stored.


Let’s talk about sharing folders and documents. With the new multiple App functionality there is a problem if you are used to sharing folders instead of just individual documents. ¬†Remember all newly created documents end up in the root folder of Google Drive. This means that to share that document as a part of a shared folder, a user needs to go back to the Google Drive App and move the document to the shared folder. But wait. That’s not all. Then the user needs to manually share the newly created document with each individual that the folder is shared with.

To call that process inelegant is an understatement.


Regarding file management and editing from the Google Drive App/new Apps combo. One would think that Google would want to entice users to use the new Google Docs and Google Sheets Apps. It is a competitive game after all. But from what I can see in my testing on the iPad Air, there is no way to convert a Word document stored in Google Drive into a Google Doc for editing within that App.

Word, Excel, and Powerpoint documents appear in Google Drive but if you select one, you get a viewer with no options to either open those documents in Google Docs or convert them. You can select the info button and choose to open the document for editing in Google’s Quickoffice. But even after editing in that program you can’t convert the document to a Google Docs format that will allow editing in the new Google Docs App.


What is perhaps even more confusing is that within the iOS Open-In dialogue Google Drive appears as an option. I could choose to open a Word document stored on OneDrive in Google Drive, but that document will not be converted for editing and only be viewable.

Email Attachments

If I receive a Google Sheet document as an attachment in an email, there is not a way for me to open that attachment directly into the Google Sheets App. I do get options to open it in Excel or Numbers. I also get an option to open it in Google Drive, but that then begins a two step process if I want to edit that spreadsheet in Google Sheets. If I receive a Google Sheet document as a link and choose to open it, then I will go to the browser based editor and not the Sheets App.


It seems Google wants to treat Google Drive as a cloud storage repository only and push editing to stand alone Apps. These new changes demonstrate this clearly. But if Google Drive is indeed just a file management App, then Google needs to carry some semblance of that file management over to its newer Apps and give users who have already invested in a file and folder structure more control. Users are having to figure this out for themselves without any satisfactory communication from Google. And from what I’m hearing they are none to thrilled about that.

If Google wants to woo users to its Apps and platform, then it needs to create a method of document conversion to help facilitate that. Otherwise I don’t see the point. And to be honest, I don’t think Google has a discernible point with these changes in their current form. If they do it hasn’t been communicated anywhere I know of, and the behavior of the Apps certainly doesn’t offer us any real clues either.




  1. Jake

    05/06/2014 at 9:27 pm

    It would be extremely cool if they put all that functionality back into the original Drive App. Please Google!

  2. Carrie

    05/07/2014 at 5:59 am

    What the heck?! I just discovered all that I could do in Google Drive and now that I’m tinkering with it, anything that I’m publishing is unable to do what I had just learned weeks ago that it could do?? ACK!! What is the point of creating a base document for someone to easily edit and fill in for me if THEY CAN’T DO THAT ANYMORE?? #Googlesucks

  3. Benja Schwartz

    05/07/2014 at 7:28 am

    Of course there are growing pains, but in addition to making good and valid points this article contains errors and an apparent bias. There are 2 versions of Google Apps, FREE (at and PAID (at your domain). Educational and not-for-profit orgs are eligible for the paid version for free. There are many differences, the most relevant here is that the paid version includes 24×7 telephone support. An unbiased review of the Google Cloud would recognize it as the leader rather than “playing catchup”.

    • Dr. Z

      05/07/2014 at 8:42 am

      Sorry, just have to plain disagree with you. In the “standalone app” domain, they are playing catch up. The question is why play in that domain at all? Was there something broken or unusable in the elegant and efficient manner Google Drive and Docs interacted before? No one had mentioned anything to me and I hadn’t seen it. So, Google is changing for what reason? It doesn’t innovate. It actually matches what you get from MS and Apple. What they had until a week ago…that was innovative. Bad move on Google’s part.

      Also, what does the free and paid have to do with the article? Did he ever mention that aspect at all? In fact, NO, the price and all that have not been mentioned. Maybe you can make a point for support, but 99% of the people here are not looking for telephone support…they just want what was working last week to work the same way today. When you change it, people leave. For instance, I was an iPhone user. I didn’t like the updates to the OS and now I am an Android user. Google, I was being swayed to you from Office. Guess I’m moving back.

  4. Dusty

    05/07/2014 at 7:47 am

    Can we say New Coke.

  5. Emanuel

    05/08/2014 at 8:50 am

    I’m quite certain the google team and its programmers reacted very negatively after their beloved San Jose Sharks lost a series after having a 3-0 lead, becoming only the 4th team in NHL History to do so. Needless to say, being a huge LA Kings fan and a Google Drive (one app) fan, it’s apparent their jealousy rage and disgust at my Kings for winning, as lead them to go coo-coo and create this awkward situation, thus making it difficult for us non-Shark fans.

    Please for the love of god, go back to the way it was… your San Jose Sharks always have next year.

  6. jamiebeedy

    06/22/2014 at 5:01 am

    As far as the saved location goes for Docs and Sheets, what’s even more bizarre is that when you create a new folder, those are saved at the location and with the permissions that you’d expect.

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