The official Google Drive Mac app made a somewhat underwhelming debut. While it features full Finder integration and syncing options that matched those of the Mac Dropbox client, it fails to leverage the power of Google Drive on the web — which includes a full office suite and a plethora of sharing and file management options. And neither the Mac app nor web app are particularly user-friendly.
I’ve wondered why it has to be so hard. Apparently the developers of Archy felt the same way, so they created an app to make Google Drive and Docs easy. The app’s still in beta, but I can already say confidently that they succeeded.
Archy is a brand-new app designed to make Google Drive work great with your Mac, even better than it does with Google’s own tools. It still in beta, but already stands out for its great features and interface. The layout will be instantly familiar to users of Twitter for Mac or Sparrow. You have a dark grey sidebar on the left with a profile picture and five icons, and items on the right separated by thin horizontal lines. The sidebar icons, from top to bottom, represent Files, Favorites, Contacts, Collections, and Trash.
Each item has a star and a lock to the left of its icon — click on the star to favorite/unfavorite, or on the lock to change visibility. Double click anywhere within the item box to open it in the default app. The date of last modification, the name of the last editor, and the collection it’s from are shown below the filename. To the right, there’s a share button (indicated by a cut-out person with a plus sign next to their head). You decide whether to let them view or edit the document, and enter the email addresses of your intended recipients.
Great news for mouse haters: Archy can be used entirely from the keyboard. The arrow keys navigate through lists. Hold Command and press a numbered key from 1-5 to switch between the main sections. Command-6, Command-7, and Command-8 offer preview, sharing, and organization options for the selected file or folder, respectively. Command-0 shows your profile. There are also keyboard shortcuts for opening, sharing, and deleting files, and the Space bar toggles OS X’s Quick Look view.
Swipe up/pull down (depending on your scrolling settings) from the top of the list to refresh, just like with Twitter for Mac. If there’s a general, non-Twitter-specific function that you use on Twitter for Mac, it’s almost certainly replicated here. Archy appears to be completely modelled upon the design of the official Twitter app. And why not? It works, looks good, and it’s familiar.
You can drag-and-drop both to and from Archy to copy files between your Mac and Google Drive or to share them with others. If you open a file via Archy, then subsequently modify it, the updated version gets automatically uploaded to Google Drive. All your Drive files are saved to your computer for offline use; you can keep working on them anytime and they’ll be automatically synchronized when you go back online. You also get notified if new documents have been shared with you, or if changes have been made to existing docs. It all feels rather magical.
But there’s a darker side to this. Archy does not keep an easily accessible folder on your computer, à la Dropbox — or the official Google Drive app, for that matter. It hides them in your Application Support folder, which is invisible to most users. If you’re using the Google Drive app to sync, take note that you could have a bit of data redundancy once Archy comes into the fold. That said, it’s not that much different from the way iCloud sync hides the real files and only shows them in apps.
I love that Archy includes offline support, and I love that it automatically uploads new revisions to Google Drive. I’m concerned, however, that it isn’t more transparent about where and how it stores files for offline use. I wish I could tell it to use a folder of my choosing; I wish it would play nice with my existing Google Drive desktop sync setup. But it doesn’t. Archy doesn’t even warn you about downloading and caching documents for offline use. Not an issue for most, but definitely concerning for those with limited hard-drive space or small bandwidth caps on Internet usage.
I’ve already mentioned many of the ways in which Archy integrates flawlessly with both OS X and Google Drive. Technically minded readers will be happy to know that the app leverages a number of OS X Lion and Mountain Lion’s core technologies, including Grand Central Dispatch for optimizing multi-core performance and Core Data for syncing. It shows in the performance – Archy is fast, responsive, and lightweight, even though it’s still in beta.
Beyond keyboard shortcuts, Quick Look, drag-and-drop, and automatic uploads, the app offers real-time notifications with Growl or Mountain Lion’s Notification Center, it lives in your dock or menubar (or both), and you can set any app as the default for opening each of the Google filetypes (Documents, Presentations, Spreadsheets, Forms, Drawings).
Everything that you can do within the Google Drive web app (except for editing files, which is elegantly handed off to external apps) can be done within Archy — including organizing files into collections, restoring deleted files, and clearing out the trash. They’ve got all the bases covered…almost.
No Multiple Accounts
I expect that I’m the exception to the rule here, but I found the biggest missing feature to be support for multiple accounts. I have three Google Drive accounts in regular use (one personal, two for work), and it’s a huge pain to sign out of one then sign-in to another. The web app is inconvenient and oftentimes unwieldy, but at least it allows me to access files from all three accounts simultaneously.
With an increasing number of companies adopting Google Apps for business, this could go from a handy bonus for power users to an essential feature in no time at all. I hope we’ll see multiple sign-in support added soon, but I fear it may not hit until version 2.0 or later.
A Great Start
As I’ve stated a few times above, Archy’s still in beta. It has a few outstanding bugs, and is prone to partial-breaking occasionally — I had a few instances where the open and preview functionality stopped working until I rebooted the computer, and sync failed a few times. My profile picture never once loaded, either. For the most part, however, it’s very much stable and usable as it is.
The Archy team’s done a great job laying the foundations for what may be the definitive Google Drive app on Mac OS X. For all its raw power and functionality, Google Drive is an unwieldy beast. Archy tames it, adding a layer of usability and design to harness all of its flexibility. If this is how it works in beta, I can’t wait to try the full release.