Google completes its office suite for iOS, to no one's benefit

Google Slides is a limited, awkward tool that shows -- for mobile productivity -- the real battle is between Apple and Microsoft

When I hear about companies and government agencies adopting Google Docs or Google Apps, I figure they must use no mobile devices in their work, because Google's decent Web productivity apps are horribly limited when used on a mobile browser, whether iOS's Safari or Android's Chrome. When Google bought Quickoffice, once the leading mobile office productivity suite, a couple years ago, I figured Google would boost its productivity suite via native iOS and Android apps.

Google completes its office suite for iOS, to no one's benefit

But that didn't happen. Google has discontinued Quickoffice, but it hasn't brought that excellent tool's word-processing or spreadsheet capabilities into its mobile apps: first Google Drive, then the spun-out Google Docs and Google Sheets apps. Quickoffice had only basic editing capabilities for presentations, so it didn't have much to help Google's mobile apps. Making presentation editing work well on mobile would be entirely up to Google.

[ Want a seriously capable office productivity app for your iPad? InfoWorld rates the contenders. | Keep up on key mobile developments and insights with the Mobilize newsletter. ]

This week, Google finally released Google Slides for iOS, bringing the third leg of its office productivity suite to the iPad and iPhone. It was already on Android, but the iPad is -- for now -- the predominant tablet for business. It's also the only tablet for which there are serious touch-savvy productivity apps, namely Apple's very good iWork suite (Pages, Numbers, and Keynote) and Microsoft's good Office suite (Word, Excel, and PowerPoint).

As they say on Broadway, if you can make it in iOS, you can make it anywhere. But the Google App suite (Docs, Sheets, and Drive) is of community-center dinner-theater quality. Even for free, it's not a good deal. That's harsh, but Google's crappy mobile software has been crappy for years. It has improved its desktop Web apps considerably, but not its mobile tools. A company with a mobile platform that dominates the industry should be producing much better mobile software.

Opening and saving files the Keystone Cops way
What's wrong with Slides? What's right is that -- like this week's revised versions of Docs and Sheets -- it can now (finally!) open Microsoft's file formats directly. Before, you had to open them in Drive and convert them to Google's own format before the Apps suite could open the files.

Did I say "directly"? That's not always true. You have to switch to Google Drive to bring in any files stored there into Slides (or Docs or Sheets). One of the cool things about Quickoffice is that it lets you open and save files to any number of cloud services. iWork apps can open and save directly from and to Apple's iCloud, just as Microsoft's Office apps can do with Microsoft's OneDrive. But Google Apps can't open files directly from its Drive.

In a typical example of Google's low quality, when you try to open a document on Google Drive into Slides, Docs, or Sheets, you get an error message saying you need to first install the app -- even if the app is already installed. If you switch to the app, you'll see that the file was in fact transferred to it. If you want to avoid the error message, you can do a brute-force transfer in Drive to your iOS device by tapping the "i" button to the right of a file name, then setting the Keep on Device switch to On. Imagine the tech support calls that will engender!

If you try to open a locally stored file in any of the Google Apps apps, you'll see that the filename is truncated after about 10 characters -- often meaning you can't tell one file for another (especially for revisions). Google Drive shows a wide filename, but not Docs, Sheets, or Slides.

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