Force Apple’s iOS apps to use Dropbox or any other storage

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Store your Pages and GarageBand files anywhere, not just in iCloud Drive.
Store your Pages and GarageBand files anywhere, not just in iCloud Drive.
Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

I have a friend who came back to the iPad with the iPad Pro, and the first thing he started whining about was that there’s no way to create a local folder in the Files app. He doesn’t want to store everything in iCloud. Which reminded me of this great feature. All of Apple’s big iOS Apps — Pages, GarageBand, Numbers, and so on — let you choose where they store their files. The default is iCloud Drive, but you can choose pretty much any place you like, from Dropbox, to your iPad itself, to pretty much any third-party storage app. Let’s see how it works.

Cloud or local?

By default, most apps that store documents store them in iCloud. That is, they are stored in a folder on your iPad or iPhone, and that folder is synced not only to your other devices, but to your iCloud Drive. This is very convenient, giving you the immediacy of local storage (which works offline), but also usually-faultless syncing between devices. iCloud Drive is also a kind of backup.

But there are a few reasons you might not want to use iCloud as the default storage location:

  • Your workplace blocks iCloud connections.
  • You worry about the privacy of online storage.
  • You have a slow internet connection, or regularly work offline.
  • You create huge files, and don’t have much space in your iCloud.
  • You already pay for extra storage on Dropbox or similar, and prefer to use that.

If this is you, then it’s easy to switch the location of your Apple apps’ document storage.

How to change iOS Document Storage settings

You want the last entry on this list.
You want the last entry on this list.
Photo: Cult of Mac

Head over to the Settings app, and scroll the left-hand list down until you find the app you want. Pages, Numbers, GarageBand, any of those. Tap on it, and you’ll see the above panel. At the bottom is Document Storage. On most iPads and iPhones, it’ll already be set to iCloud Drive. Tap it to see what options you have.

GarageBand’s Document Storage settings.
GarageBand’s Document Storage settings.
Photo: Cult of Mac

Wow, look at all those options! On a new iPad, only the On my iPad option will show up. The others all rely on third-party apps. iOS lets apps make their local storage space available as a folder in the Files app, so that any other app can access their files. If you open the Files app, you’ll see what you have available. This includes apps like Dropbox and Box.

To choose your destination, just tap it in the list. Do the same for any app that supports it. Here’s Pages:

Pages is just the same.
Pages is just the same.
Photo: Cult of Mac

Beware

Before you change anything, be aware that switching away from iCloud Drive can break some things. If you are using iCloud to collaborate on a Pages document, for example, then you may break that connection. Also, any files stored only on your iPad will no longer be synced to other devices. Depending on your setup, they may not get backed up at all.

Also, if you store files inside another app’s storage space, then deleting that app will also delete your files.

But otherwise, this can be a rather excellent and flexible feature. Using Dropbox, you could have access to all your iWork files from Windows or Android, for example.