One of the banner features of iOS 11 is the addition of the new Files app, which works in a fashion similar to the Finder in Mac OS, and offers the promise of giving a central location for all of your file access needs in iOS. For those of us who have been shepherding around files from app to app ove the past seven years, this is an exciting prospect.
It is often the case that other developers aren’t ready to take advantage of the new features in iOS on day one. Sure enough, Dropbox was not ready to fully integrate into the files app on the iOS release date. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Dropbox shipped an update within a week of the emergence of iOS 11, promising to integrate with Files and, perhaps more importantly, allowing save-in-place.
What does this mean?
Depending upon the app one uses, for much of the history of Dropbox on iOS, if one has wanted to work on a file stored in Dropbox, it’s been a multiple step process:
- Export the file from Dropbox into the app (which typically opens a copy of the file in the app)
- Perform the edits one wishes
- Export (copy) the edited file back to Dropbox
- Delete the copy from the app
Much more complicated than the simple open-edit-save routine that one would prefer. What’s more, it’s easy to omit the last step in the routine, and end up with a batch of leftover files in the app, visually clogging up the works. To be fair, Dropbox has offered an API to allow apps to save into Dropbox - 1Writer, the text editor I use to write these posts, is an example of this. But Dropbox has never before embraced save-in-place for apps like Apple’s iWork office suite, which I use routinely for work. This means I’ve been routinely doing the dance I described above for the past several years. To say I was excited about the prospect of no longer doing this would be an understatement.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t work.
Let me dial that back just a bit. Strictly speaking, it does work to open an iWork file from Dropbox using the files app, and that file saves back to the same location in Dropbox when you close it. Just the simple open-edit-save routine that one hopes for.
Where the problem comes in is that this only works in an unshared Dropbox folder. Use a shared folder - arguably a primary reason for Dropbox’s existence - and things go directly south. It is possible to open an iWork document from a shared Dropbox folder using Files, but that’s where the joy ends. It is not possible to modify the file and save back.
When one opens a document under these circumstances one is greeted by a warning indicating "Couldn’t connect to iCloud".
Disregard that warning, and attempt to make any change at all to the document, and you’ll interrupted by a warning indicating "Couldn’t Connect: Pages [or Numbers] couldn’t connect to iCloud. There may be a problem with the server or network" or "Couldn’t Connect: Pages couldn't Connect to iCloud. Try editing this shared document later, or edit a copy."
The second warning suggests that the app (Pages, in this case) thinks this is a shared document - one that is being shared by multiple people using iCloud. It’s not - the only shared thing in the scenario is the Dropbox folder it is resting in.
Turn off the integration between Files and Dropbox and things continue to work the way they did before iOS 11 (well - except for Keynote Files, which now inexplicably cannot be uploaded to Dropbox from the iOS app at all, but that is outside this discussion). It’s possible that this issue is only occurring on my devices, but I suspect this is not the case. I’ve filed but reports with both Dropbox and Apple, and I’m hoping others experiencing this will do the same to get this issue addressed quickly - I’d really like to see this work as promised.