How Google Drive is changing the app development experience

Editor's Corner
Shane SchickThe official slogan for Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) Drive is "Keep anything, share everything." As mobile app developers have occasionally learned the hard way, however, it does not mean users should be able to do everything. That helps explain the company's recent decision to launch App Data Folders and suggests a new understanding about developer and user control.

About a week ago, Google announced it would be introducing an updated version of its Drive SDK that will include a special place where application data can be stored securely. These App Data Folders will house things like configuration files or updates on an app's state data. Users won't see these things, which means they won't accidentally delete or move the data. Users will, however, be able to see how much storage space an app is taking up on their device and clear it off if need be. Other apps won't see the data either, which may help protect app users from malware creators.

Although it's not being positioned as a tool for boosting app retention rates, App Data Folders could certainly help. They also show an interesting move on Google's part to get closer to the most innovative steps in app creation. In a blog post going over the new features, for example, Google developer relations exec Nicolas Garnier talks about how App Data Folders can be used to add custom properties to any Drive file:

"The new properties collection gives your app the power to create searchable fields that are private to your app or shared across apps," Garnier writes. "For example, a classroom app could keep track of the grade for a document or a project management app could keep track of the current status of a document going through a review process."

The key word here is "searchable." While Google has often been criticized for spreading itself too thin by launching products that are only tangentially related to its original core competency, App Data Folders shows the company staying true to its mission of trying to organize the world's information. By working cross-platform (App Data Folders can be used for iOS apps as well as Android), Google is creating the kind of environment where developers may be more at home, coupling the ubiquitous online nature of Drive with the ability to search more easily within app data.

This strategy is in contrast to Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), whose essential value to developers comes down to offering the most widely-used device and the predominant operating system. Other apps, for instance, have no visibility into the data stored in other apps within iCloud. These kinds of services started off as massive, affordable online dumping grounds, but App Data Folders provides the first hint that among developers, they could be much more. They also show that, as the mobile industry matures, the collective understanding of what users need to control and what they don't may be coming clearer. Your move, Apple.--Shane