Thursday, June 23, 2011

Google Docs and the iPad: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

So, you gave in and bought an iPad. You're excited about your new life of mobile computing. To help you get things done you decided to start (or continue) using Google Docs as your office productivity suite. If this is you, than I'm glad you're reading this post.

The integration of Google Docs on the iPad is less than perfect. There are some things that work really well, some things that work sometimes, and some things that don't work at all. Here's a quick summary:

This spreadsheet is open for public editing. If you would like to add to this feature list (or save a copy for future reference), click here.

It's important to note that when you navigate to on your iPad you will be automatically directed to the mobile version of the site. Here's what it looks like:

Mobile Google Docs on iPad

It is possible to switch to the familiar desktop view. To do so, scroll all the way to the bottom of the screen and look for the following link:

After selecting "Desktop" you will be re-directed to this page:

When using the desktop version, you will randomly be confronted with an error message and be forced to re-load the page. This is the disadvantage of using the desktop version.

One thing that you can do to extend the usability of Google Docs on your iPad is download a third party app such as Quick Office HD.  This $15 app greatly extends your ability to move files in and out of Google Docs. Here are a few of the features that you will gain by using Quick Office HD:

  • Offline Document Editing
  • Easily transfer files from multiple Google accounts, Dropbox, Mobile Me, Box, SugarSync, or Huddle. 
  • Presentation Creation and Editing (very slick interface, worth the price by itself.)
  • "Rich Text Editing": bold, italic, underline, paragraph indentation, font, type color, and type size.
  • Print: requires an AirPrint enabled Printer. 
  • Document Sharing: supports Slideshare, Scribd, and DocStoc
  • Folder creation and organization

To view an annotated screenshot of the Quick Office HD home screen, click here.
To view an annotated screenshot of the Quick Office HD document editing screen, click here.

That's the good, the bad, and the ugly on Google Docs on the iPad.

There have been rumors about a significant update to the mobile editing version of Google Docs coming soon. I hope they are true.


  1. Ironically (or perhaps not), I'm reading this post on an iPad and the right hand column of your spreadsheet is cut off. Hmmmmmmm...

    Good post. I was raveling in Europe this summer with just my iPad and had to modify a group project Google doc. It almost blew up on me. I kept getting all kinds of errors. I finally stopped, fearing that I'd destroy the document and risk the wrath of my four partners. I'm about ready to give up on Google docs on the iPad and download Pages. What a shame.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Debbie. I wouldn't give up quite yet. Google is constantly rolling out new features for the iPad. Just last week they enabled sharing via the mobile interface.

    If you are a heavy Google Docs user I would highly recommend purchasing Quick Office HD or a similar App. It makes using Gdocs much cleaner and fills in some of the gaps that currently exist.

  3. Try out FileReflex to access remote desktop files from mobile

  4. This is a conundrum our school is facing because we've embraced GAFE and now are going 1:1 iPad with the high school students. I want an easier mobile solution besides G-Whizz! (free, with ads) A $15 third-party app is not going to be for us. It doesn't have to be free, but that price is too high.

  5. Thanks for your comment, Leanna. I second your disappointment with how ipads play with GAFE. There is a glimmer of hope, however! QuickOffice was recently purchased by Google. I would expect them to improve and re-release the app (possibly for free) in the near future. I will be sure to keep the readers of the Electric Educator updated as I hear more about Google's plans.

  6. I've had more success using Google Chrome for the iPad for Google Docs. No error messages appear when using the Desktop version. It still has limitations as listed in the chart above, but at least you can do more than simple text in a doc.

  7. Hi, I am a fifth grade teacher and my classroom has one-to-one iPads, which is amazing. I'm looking for a way for the kids to open up a document I share with them, make a copy for themselves to write on and save on their ipad. I love Google tools and it seems like the obvious choice, but I can't figure out how the kids will copy the entire document on an ipad. Am I missing something totally obvious?

  8. Hi Shannon, thanks for the comment. What you want to do is simple on a computer and not so simple on an iPad. In order to make a copy of doc, students will need to view the doc in the "desktop" view (see my post above). Once they view the doc in this mode, you can go to file--> make a copy. Please note that students MUST have a Google Drive account in order to do this. The copy will be saved into their Drive account where they can edit it.

    1. John, is that really the easiest way? Seems really impractical for such a key feature.

  9. Any plans to be able to view/edit comments and notes on the mobile version of google docs?


Thanks for contributing to my blog. I enjoy being a part of the conversation and do my best to respond to comments and questions that are posted.