Google Docs and Sheets for mobile mark a new low

Google's mobile productivity apps are substandard, and its two newest entries continue that sad pattern

Google surprised many of us yesterday by delivering two document-editing apps to the iOS App Store and to Android's Play Store: Google Docs, for editing text documents, and Google Sheets, for editing spreadsheets. A third app for presentations called Slides is planned as well. When it comes to mobile document editors, Google has the worst of the major office productivity offerings, so seeing new apps from Google gave us cause for hope.

Google Docs and Sheets for mobile mark a new low

Those hopes are unfounded. Google Docs and Sheets are just subsets of Google's limited text editor, Google Drive. In fact, Google Docs is a version of Google Drive that displays only text documents, and Sheets is a version of Google Drive that displays only spreadsheets. Why bother?

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For Docs in iOS, the editing and formatting capabilities are extremely basic: boldface, italics, underline, fonts, lists, paragraph alignment, and paragraph indents, plus commenting, printing (from the document list, not from within documents themselves), and basic search and replace (no options beyond capitalization or whole words). There are no style sheets, no tables, no hyperlinks, no headers and footers, no page breaks, no graphics insertion, no spell checking, no superscripts or subscripts, no footnotes, no revisions tracking, and no text boxes, nor are there any of the other capabilities you get in Microsoft Word for iPad or in Apple Pages for iOS.

For Sheets in iOS, you get a bit more, such as the ability to control text wrap in cells, align cell content, merge cells, set numeric display options, work with multiple sheets, do cell fills, print, and of course enter formulas. But there's none of the sophisticated capabilities like multiple-cell selection, cell borders, charts, formula help, revisions tracking, and sorting you'll find in Excel for iPad or in Apple Numbers for iOS.

Well, I'm not being entirely fair. There is one thing Docs and Sheets in iOS can do that Drive can't: require a password to open them. (Apple's iWork suite provides a password capability for individual documents but not for the entire programs. Microsoft's Office suite does neither.) [UPDATE: Later in the day this post was published, Google updated Drive to support a passcode lock, so now Docs and Sheets do nothing Drive doesn't.]

On the other hand, you lose the ability to send a document to another app on your iOS device using the Open In facility. Drive supports that in its document list, but Docs and Sheets do not. Your documents are stuck in Google's apps just as Microsoft locks Office for iPad documents in its OneDrive and SharePoint repositories.

Google Drive, Google Docs, and Google Sheets are more capable in Android than in iOS. For example, you can apply strikethrough to text, insert and edit tables, and apply colors to document text in Docs and Drive. You can apply strikethrough to text, format cell borders, and select multiple cells in Sheets and Drive spreadsheets. But again, Docs and Sheets are subsets of Drive. Plus, you can't password-protect Docs and Sheets in Android as you can in iOS.

So what's the point of the Google Docs and Sheets apps? It's actually easier to stick with Google Drive so that you can use whatever documents you want from one place. To do any real work, you'll want iWork or Office in iOS, or Polaris Office in Android, not Google's mobile tools or its truly primitive mobile Web tools.

Google spends a lot of money advertising its Google Apps, especially to governments and businesses. Yet its tools in the mobile environment, which is becoming a standard part of business today, are really bad. Worse, six months after it bought the very popular and very functional Quickoffice last year, it eviscerated the product and further limited its access to documents stored on Google Drive -- you are forced to use Drive instead for such documents.

It really feels like Google is trying to do mobile office productivity as poorly as possible. Perhaps it entertains the fantasy that we'll all move to Chrome OS instead. What's more likely is that we'll dump Google Apps on all platforms. If Google can't be serious about mobile producivity apps, why should any person or business be serious about Google?

This article, "Google Docs and Sheets for mobile mark a new low," was originally published at Read more of Galen Gruman's Mobile Edge blog and follow the latest developments in mobile technology at Follow Galen's mobile musings on Twitter at MobileGalen. For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

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