Google Mobile App and Google apps: Baby steps but no leap

Spoiler alert! One of the big drawbacks to the iPad in the past was the fact that Google apps weren’t supported on iPad browsers. The release of Google Mobile App changed that. It’s still a work in progress, but users who need to access Google Docs or Calendar for group collaboration (or simply because they have a number of Google documents they don’t want to convert) now have a foot in the door. But that’s it. Developers need a lot more work to get that puppy open.

A few years ago Google and Apple came to a parting of the ways because Google wanted to make a smart phone and Apple (being Apple) didn’t feel their own customer base would see any need to continue their relationship with Google. So iPhone and iPad users who needed to access Google apps from their browsers were SOL. We could view docs and calendars but we couldn’t edit them.

Apple remains as intransigent as ever. After all, if they won’t capitulate to Adobe and allow Flash to run on iOS devices, why would they give an inch to Google? Google, however, finally realized that iPhone users weren’t going to throw away their mobile devices and embrace android technology even if it did support Flash. So they gave us Google Mobile App and better iOS implementation for more direct access.

One of the problems Google may be experiencing is the need to work around Apple’s sketchy access to core classes, but many problems remain. Nonetheless, Google’s mobile implementation is a step in the right direction.

I should confess up front that I don’t use Google Docs. I played with them, but they seemed to bare bones to me. Nor could I see the advantage of being unable to access my documents when I couldn’t find a wi-fi connection on the road. But Carol uses Google Docs extensively with her Siamese Rescue
buddies and that’s important.

The thought of poor Jenny Manytoes, our polydactyl siamese, suffering because Carol didn’t have her laptop, and her iPhone didn’t allow her to use Google docs, was too much to bear. And Jenny relishes the drama of suffering. She parades in front of us wailing at the top of her lungs, and if that doesn’t get our attention, she climbs onto our hands while typing to wail at the top of her lungs, and if that doesn’t het our attention she scales our shoulder and wails directly into our ears.

So I was delighted when I finally had a couple of hours to play with Google apps on iOS devices and see if they might allow Carol to access and edit her siamese rescue documents. I soon discovered that some Google apps work much better with the iPhone than than the iPad, for no reason that I can explain (both use the same OS), but only the iPad displays the iGoogle interface. So the iOS and Google implementation remain more of a promise, but if you use Google apps you might as well enjoy the elements that work.

Shell game

Google Mobile App, in and of itself, doesn’t do much. It serves more as a launching pad for online searches and specific Google apps. Google Mobile App consists of the search window which displays results before launching your browser and a popup app window.

If you swipe to the right you can refine the search parameters. From the list of available options, you can restrict the results to images, news articles, shopping or blogs.

The search window opens to a menu of search restrictions to make finding the exact item you need slightly easier.

The popup app window displays all of the available Google apps. If you only use a few, you can edit the list to remove and rearrange items to suit your needs. Touching a Google app icon launches your default browser and loads the online app page.

The Google Mobile App popup window displays every available Google app. You can delete or move apps to streamline your work flow.

You can’t return to Google Mobile App from your browser. You have to load it from the iOS 4 multitasking bar. One the other hand, once you’ve loaded Google in your browser, you don’t really need to return to the iPad app. You can navigate anywhere you need to go directly from the online menus.

Google (half) apps

The iGoogle home page works like the Google desktop with tabs and gadgets that you can customize. iPad users will note the warning that pops up as soon as the page loads “Some features may not work properly on a tablet.” The word “may” is the understatement here. It should read “Many features don’t work at all with a tablet.” Other than the inability to move gadgets, iGoogle seems to work okay. The same can’t be said with the remaining apps.

iGoogle provides a somewhat reasonable work environment for mobile online computing. The pages are customizable, but the features don’t work as seamlessly on the iPad.

I didn’t have time to explore them all, but I looked at many of the most commonly used apps. Google Reader (rss feeds), Google Maps and Google Books worked as well on my laptop browser at least upon cursory examination. In my experience, once a developer successfully implements a major component, any small glitches will be worked out quickly.

Google Docs and Google Calendar fared far less well. I could save new calendar entries on my iPhone but they consistently refused to save on my iPad. I could create and edit document files but I found it far easier to create the document in a text editor and paste into Google docs with my iPad than to compose it online.

Every time I try to create a new calendar entry with the iPad, Google refuses to save it. This occasionally happens when editing documents as well.

The editing interface is bizarre. You have to edit in individual paragraph boxes. And when typing online the synching errors can erase entire paragraphs. Half the time no problems occur, but other times documents crap out and refuse to save new paragraphs.

The document editor operates in individual paragraph boxes and frequently fails to synch new paragraphs while you’re composing online.

The spreadsheet creator is totally baffling. It’s far easier to edit documents created with the desktop version than to make new spreadsheets. I could add new rows but not new columns. Nor can you delete columns. New documents limit rows to five columns.

Nor can you simply enter data into cells. You have to create one row at a time and enter data into special fields. Creating calculations is a stab in the dark.

Editing gets really weird. When I opened a spreadsheet created with Google docs on my laptop, everything looked fine until I touched a column header. Suddenly all my numbers and cells scrambled.

Spreadsheet implementation id far from perfect or even adequate. The top screenshot is the Googles apps spreadsheet creator on my Mac. The middle is the bizarre attempt I made to create one on my iPad, and the bottom is my attempt to edit the top spreadsheet after I tried to edit a single cell.

Forget help. I tried Google help and the links went nowhere. I suppose they only implemented help for standard desktop browsers.

Login confustion

Perhaps the strangest bug I encountered I encountered completely by accident. Carol wanted to share a document with me when she realized I was reviewing Google apps so she emailed me an invitation to share a document. I accepted but after that Google Mobile App freaked out every time I tried to use it. It absolutely refused to accept my login ID.

Finally I had to reboot Safari, login and logout from the browser itself. Then I had to delete my account information from Google Mobile App and create the account again. Only then could I use the mobile app. That’s a lot of work to share documents.

To use or not to use?

So I’m kind of at a loss. Since I’ve never been a fan of Googles Docs, I certainly see no reason to start with my iPad. If you do use Google apps, you will experience varying degrees of success. But if you’re stranded with your iPad only, and need to edit your Google docs you might as well try. Google Mobile App’s search window is kind of nice but it’s a one-trick-pony.

Jenny Manytoes rates Google Mobile App and Google Apps on the iPad.

Jenny Manytoes would bunch her tail at the inconsistent results she has with Google apps. Google Mobile App is kind of cool, but it still remains a front end to a mixed bag of goodies. But if you love the apps on your desktop, stick with it. We are talking about Google. Sooner or later they’re bound to get it right.

The Jenny Manytoes Rating System

Jenny Manytoes, our polydactyl cat
  • When Jenny makes biscuits on a product she thinks she’s in heaven.
  • When Jenny purrs over a product she’s very happy.
  • When Jenny naps next to a product it’s okay with her.
  • When Jenny bunches her tail she can live with a product, but she has higher expectations.
  • When Jenny leaves it in the litter box….I don’t think I need to explain this one.

Contact me at Email iPad Envy, or
Email The Hidden Grimoire.


About Phillip T Stephens

Phillip T. Stephens disappeared into the Bermuda Triangle twenty years before he was born, creating a time travel paradox so confusing it remains unspoken between physicists and sci-fi writers to this day. Follow @stephens_pt
This entry was posted in 2 Stars - Raised Tail, Accessories, Google Docs, Utilities and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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