Documents 5 – Fabulously Free File Management
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I’m sure you’ve noticed by now that there’s no “My Documents” folder on the iPad or iPhone, or what we typically refer to as “Centralized File Management” such as we’ve been using on computers for several decades.
Apple claims it designed the iOS this way for security reasons, but it means that each app must have its own copy of a document or file.
If someone e-mails you a PDF file, you can VIEW the file in the iOS universal document viewer, but if you want to do MORE with the file (like add annotations, or pages, or search the content, etc.) then you need to use another app. You’ll have to use the Share Menu, or “Open In” option, to copy that file to an app like PDF Expert. This is a cumbersome workflow, but it’s the only option we’ve had for years.
Documents 5 is the closest thing to having a centralized file manager on the iPad or iPhone.
When lawyers ask me how they can use the iPad in their practice, I recommend they think of it as a digital bankers box. Because today, the only reason you carry PAPER, is because you’ve PRINTED it from a digital document.
You can still carry your paper, but if all those files in a bankers box are DIGITAL, then why not carry a DIGITAL copy of them on your iPad?
And one of the best apps for sorting, managing, searching, and accessing those files on the iPad or iPhone is with Documents 5.
The name of the app is a bit unfortunate – Documents 5 accepts more than just “documents.” It’ll take videos, images, spreadsheets, and just about anything else. It should have been called “File Manager 5” because that’s exactly what it is … with a built in file viewer.
In the left sidebar of, you have three sections:
1) “On my iPad” – any files that you’ve downloaded and stored locally on the iPad, or any folders that you’ve synced from cloud services.
2) “In the cloud” – access to cloud services including Dropbox, OneDrive, Box, Google Drive, and a host of other locations.
3) Recents & Starred – quick shortcuts to files that you’ve either recently accessed or ones that you’ve “favorited” or “starred.”
Let’s talk about the “In the Cloud” options first since this is the easiest method for getting files on to your iPad.
If you use Dropbox for example, you can copy files on your computer into the Dropbox folder, which copies those files up to the cloud.
Then you could use the FREE Dropbox app on your iPad to access and copy files.
The process would work exactly the same for Google Drive, OneDrive, Box and others, but you would have to go into each separate app.
Documents 5 allows you to connect to ALL these services from one single app.
You can actually name the accounts whatever you want. And you can connect to MULTIPLE instances of Dropbox or Google Drive, so you can access your personal/family accounts, as well as your business accounts. Even the native service apps won’t let you do that … or they make it really difficult.
When you access a cloud service and tap on a file, it automatically downloads to the local Documents folder on your iPad.
If you would like to move or copy the file to another folder you can tap the Edit button and select an existing folder, or create a new folder.
You can even easily move a file to another cloud service by simply tapping and dragging the file over to the service in the left sidebar.
When you want to SYNC a folder from a cloud service locally to your iPad (instead of a manual download) you just find the folder in the cloud service and tap the Sync button. That folder is then accessible from the “Synced folders” on the left sidebar.
This will keep files in those folders synchronized whether you add a file to that folder from your iPad, or your computer.
For Microsoft Office files, the Documents 5 app will let you VIEW those files with the built-in iOS viewer, but you can’t EDIT those files. For that, you’d have to manually use the “Open In” menu to send a copy of the file over to the Microsoft Word at which point you might as well use the native Dropbox app, or open the document from Dropbox from within the Microsoft Word app. That way all of your edits will be synced back to Dropbox.
Although if you DO view a Microsoft Word document in Documents 5, the app will allow you to easily convert the document to PDF which is handy.
For PDF files, the Documents 5 app offers some additional functionality for annotating & modifying PDF files … especially if you choose to view the PDFs in Readdle’s PDF Expert app (available for $9.99).
Documents 5 also has a built-in browser which is no where near as functional as the iOS Safari browser, but there is one MAJOR advantage – you can download files from the Documents 5 browser directly into the Documents 5 app as an HTML document or PDF.
[POWER TIP] Or if you’re surfing in Safari, you can simply add an “r” to the http:// URL in Safari which will automatically open the Documents 5 app and allow you to download the file. [/POWER TIP]
By default, you can search the NAMES of files in Documents 5, but many of you want to search the CONTENT of those files as well. You can do this, but you have to turn on “indexing” … and you’ll receive a warning that it will “decrease performance.”
I elect to keep this turned off since I don’t find I need to search the contents very often, and I don’t want to slow down my iPad, but the option is there.
Documents 5 will also ZIP and UN-ZIP files that you may have received via e-mail or downloaded from the web.
And lastly for the security conscious (which should be EVERYONE), you can add an extra Passkey Lock in Documents 5. This is in ADDITION to the passcode that you should ALREADY have on your iPad or iPhone.
So if you unlock your iPad to let someone else play Angry Birds, they can’t access your documents and files without the additional passcode or TouchID. You can also turn on iOS Data Protection.
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