How To Use Dropbox on Your iPhone

With cloud storage becoming more popular, cost effective, and accessible, many different tools and services seem to be cropping up in the market almost every week. Dropbox remains one of the most popular services available (and we’re big fans of it at Mac.AppStorm!).

If you are not familiar with Dropbox, it’s probably worth reading our article “Delving Deeper Into Dropbox” before you continue.

A few weeks ago, Dropbox revealed their iPhone application to make your file syncing life even easier. It’s completely free, and available from App Store. Today I’ll be walking you through the setup process, and explaining what the mobile Dropbox app is capable of.

Getting Started

To run Dropbox for iPhone you need an iPhone (any model) or iPod Touch with iPhone OS v3.0 or later installed. Installing and running Dropbox app is just like other iPhone apps. Once you run it, you will see a welcome message with two options to select:

  • I’m already a Dropbox user
  • I’m new to Dropbox
Setting up Dropbox

Setting up Dropbox

I assume that you are already a Dropbox user, enjoying your online sync-space, so click "I’m already a Dropbox user" and enter your Dropbox account in the next screen. If you don’t have an account, you can quickly make one by tapping "I’m new to Dropbox" and take it from there.

After a successful login, a welcome note will open to give you a glimpse of what you can do with the Dropbox app. It is actually a PDF file and you can read it later on.

The Welcome Document

The Welcome Document

Tap on "My Dropbox" on top of the screen or alternatively on the menu bar (bottom) to see a list of your files and folders in the root folder of your Dropbox account. You can scroll down the list and open various folders and files. It is quite easy to find your files as they are sorted by name (similar to iPhone contacts) as well as each item showing the file type, size, and the last modification date.

Viewing Your Dropbox

Viewing Your Dropbox

Tap on any item to check if Dropbox is able to open (or preview) the contents for you. Various files are supported and can be opened on iPhone/iPod Touch (check the corresponding help page for more details):

  • Images (.jpg, .tiff, .gif)
  • Music (.mp3, .aiff, .m4a, .wav)
  • Movies (.mov, .mp4, .m4v)
  • Apple iWork files (Pages, Numbers, Keynote)
  • Microsoft Office files (Word, Excel, Powerpoint)
  • Adobe PDF (.pdf)
  • Web pages (.htm, .html)
  • Text and rich-text files (.txt, .rtf)
  • Contact vCards (.vcf)

In the next screenshots, you can see a Numbers spreadsheet being previewed successfully. You may zoom, or go through the pages, but as you expect you can’t edit anything, simply because this is not an office application.

Previewing a Spreadsheet

Previewing a Spreadsheet

Doing More With Dropbox

Opening and viewing the contents of documents is not the only thing you can do with Dropbox on your iPhone.

To share a file with others, simply open it in the preview mode, then click the envelope button on the the menu bar (lower-left) to send it as an email attachment. Easy. It goes without saying that you should enter the recipients and tap "Send" to actually send the file.

To upload photos or video clips to your Dropbox space, you need to first create a shared folder, which can be easily created through the web interface. To get more info on this, check the official help.

Once you have created a shared folder, open it in the iPhone app. Then tap the camera button (top-right) to take picture or video. It will be automatically uploaded to the shared folder, so everyone with access to that specific folder can see your pictures or video clips.

Only iPhone 3G S can take video clips. Other iPhones take photos only.

There are times that you will need to remove a file from your Dropbox repository (folder). Swipe your finger left-to-right over any file in the files list (see figure 5), and a "Delete" button will appear. Tap the "Delete" button to remove the file from your Dropbox account.

Accessing Files in Offline Mode

To access some files in the offline mode, when you don’t have access to Internet, you need to mark them as a ‘Favorite’.

Simply tap on the "star" button in the menu bar when a file is opened and Dropbox will store a local copy of the file in your iPhone. Note that the local space is limited to 2GB and the app won’t allow you to download a file when you have insufficient free space on your device. This is a limit made by Apple for any iPhone app, so don’t blame Dropbox!

Once a file is marked as "favorite" it will be listed in the Favorites tab for quick access:

Favorites Window

Favorites Window

You can remove a file from Favorites tab anytime by swiping you finger left-to-right on an item and tapping "Remove". The file will be removed from the Favorites list as well as the iPhone flash drive (local storage), but it will still remain intact in your Dropbox account.


There is not much to say about settings because fortunately there isn’t anything to configure. But you can still open the Settings tab and update your login information, check the available space in your Dropbox account, or unlink the app from your account (for security reasons).

The Settings Window

The Settings Window


The Dropbox iPhone app takes both cloud storage and the iPhone storage to the next level. Not only do you have access to your online file storage in your pocket all the time, but also you are extending the storage capabilities of your iPhone.

It’s a really impressive application, and well worth downloading if you’re an existing Dropbox user!


Add Yours
  • Hi, I use this application for several months and will definitely recommend

  • As a photographer who shoots daily and has to turn images around to the client quickly, Dropbox has been a huge help to me as a delivery mechanism. My disappointment with the mobile app is that I can’t find a way to share an entire root folder with additional recipients. When a client calls and asks if I can share the images with a marketing firm, etc (many of my clients are less than savvy with technology and don’t understand how easy it would be to do themselves), I have to resort to using Safari to log in to Dropbox via the web.

    I don’t think it’s ever been possible to share sub-folders with additional recipients – only the root folder – but I’d sure like to be able to do that easily from the mobile app. I hope I’m wrong about this. Have I missed something?

  • Even though I find desktop Dropbox genius, I didn’t find use to the iPhone version of it :)

  • Great writeup, it’s a great app :) Now go charge your iPhone. :P

    • What a neat atirlce. I had no inkling.

  • Will be writing a post reviewing the hardware/software of the Drobo soon

  • What is the local folder location/path on “iPhone 4” where this dropbox folder is created after installation?

    Thanks in advance

  • Did apple make this limit bigger (2GB) ?

  • It is a great app but I can not understand why I can not upload, say a excell file from my Iphone to dropbox? Only pictures and video! Hope it comes with an upgrade!

  • Thank you SO much for this article. I have a clear understanding now of using the app. I have installed but not actually USED Dropbox very much except to store a few pics and one or two files. However, I recently have had a serious problem and think Dropbox customer service SUCKS!
    I Use YNAB4, a cloud based budget software program(YouNeedABudget) Check it out
    It now has an app for IPhone which is supposed to be recognized by Dropbox and cloud synced automatically when there are budget changes, thereby keeping all your accounts current and reflecting changes as they occur so you know where your money is and how much you have or not!.
    I originally signed in to Dropbox using hotmail but no longer have that service. Using the email above, I signed into Dropbox and attempted(following their directions) to change the hotmail to gmail Guess what? Says that address is already taken! Well,yes, it’s MINE. I briefly got them(don’t know how) to address the problem and it was fixed. Dropbox says it recognized the YNAB full version in the My Apps section. However, when I try to sign in, the preferences still indicates that I have hotmail….This has gone on for DAYS and I have gone from nice to not so nice(a shameful state!) and still the issue is unresolved. YNAB responded immediately. Dropbox sends their canned message, and whoever writes it needs to reread the first paragraph as it is incorrect.
    Your article, these two, have clarified many things and I will see if I can get other help because the Dropbox still won’t sync though it SAYS things are ok.
    This isn’t the first time, apparently, that they;ve had this problem. But geez….programmers are supposed to be smart….this should be able to be done from a dropdown menu and validation and be done! It’s a PIA but I have to get it fixed because YNAB is so good it’s worth the aggravation. Maybe they will change association to another cloud service that is similar. Until then I’m STUCK! BUt THANKS for your article!

  • My app Qikshare lets you share dropbox files using bump! Just bump phones and the files uploads to their dropbox and downloads to their device instantaneously.

    Check it out!

  • Quick one – I’ve tried a few different media files – both in what should be acceptable formats and nothing. The blue sync box appears in the bottom corner like it’s syncing – but that’s all she wrote – I’m under my storage space restrictions.
    Any ideas?