September 12, 2012

Google Drive Update Improves iOS, Android Apps

It is a good time to be a Google Drive enthusiast. The successor to Google Docs now offers document editing in its iOS app and further organization features in Android. The moves further make Google Drive an appealing alternative to Microsoft’s Office or Apple’s iWork.

Google Drive launched on iOS earlier this year on the final day of the company’s I/O Developer Conference. The app was initially a disappointment at launch, as it significantly lacked features found in its Android cousin. You could only view files, while Android users could happily create and edit documents and spreadsheets; iOS users were left to only read what others had created.

With the recent improvements, the iPad has another option for document creation. The iPad already offers several word processing, spreadsheet, or presentation applications (including the flagship apps from Apple). Many of them are more capable editors than Google Drive. Yet the new features allow those who heavily use Google docs to view, edit, or share the same files they have been working on elsewhere.

Google promises that edits will be visible “instantly as they are made.” It performed pretty well when I tried it out. There were a few hiccups in seeing other people’s edits, but overall it is a pretty cool capability to have on a mobile device, even if it has yet to be fully perfected. Editing spreadsheets is not yet available, but Google promises that it is on the way.

One letdown is the inability to edit the content in tables. You can see it in the “view” mode, by hitting the edit button just brings up an empty box with a question mark.

The iOS app also adds viewing of presentations, which lets you swipe with your finger to move from one slide to another. The slides even obey the animation settings, which means you could connect to a projector with an iPad and share a Google Presentation.

Between Google Drive, Evernote, Catch, and other editing/note taking apps users have even less reason to spend $9.99 on Pages, unless your workflow is heavily invested in the iCloud ecosystem. Numbers and Keynote, however, still offer far more power.

The Android app update dives deeper into editing and collaboration. Android users can add and respond to comments. Unlike iOS counterparts, they can view tables created in documents.

This week’s announcements further illustrate how each ecosystem uses its tactical advantages. Google offers an app for Google Drive, Gmail, Chrome, and other applications on iOS, yet all of them are less capable than the Android version. While Google Drive got a feature bump in iOS this week, it looks like it will constantly be behind what is available on Android.

According to Google’s official Drive blog, more updates are coming. The peer editing in Android will likely eventually land in iOS. Yet then look for the green robot’s version to take back the lead. Such is the way it is as companies battle to get you into their ecosystem. The more you use tools from Apple or Google, the more they hope it will mean you will be buying their next smartphone.

Image Credit: Derek Walter

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