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Google unbundles iPad Docs

Google has released a stand-alone version of its Google Docs app for the iPad that can work when your iPad is not connected to the net.

It has been a big year for iPad word processing. In March Microsoft delivered an iOS version of  Word. April saw Apple update the iPad version of its Pages word processor and give the app away with new tablets.

Last week Google joined the party with a stand-alone Google Docs app for the iPad.

Word, Pages and Google Docs are all word processors that are also part of a suite that includes a spreadsheet and a presentation app. 

Designed for cloud work

All three are closely tied to the respective company’s cloud services.

The iPad editions of Word and Pages are light versions of comprehensive desktop word processors. 

Pages focuses on complex layouts that mix words and images. 

Microsoft Word is the favourite in corporate offices and with people like lawyers. It comes packed with more features than most of us will ever use — even on an iPad.

Google Docs is a web app. It has fewer features than Word or Pages, but that simplicity is part of its charm. It shines when it comes to remote collaboration, otherwise it is more suited to less fancy output. 

Google’s price is keen

While all three apps are nominally free, Google Docs is the most free. There’s simply no charge for the basic application. Although you can pay for a Google subscription to get more storage and  associated features. 

Pages is free for those who buy a new iPad. At the time of writing, existing iPad owners need to pay around US$10 for the download. 

Strictly speaking Microsoft’s Word App is free. However you only get full use of it if you have a Microsoft 365 subscription. At the moment a subscription costs NZ$165 a year in New Zealand.

Although the Google Docs app is new, Docs has long been an option on the iPad. Until now you had to use it online in the iPad’s built-in Safari browser — or indeed on any other browser and on any other device. The only snag being you need a live internet connection. 

That’s perhaps the biggest change with the iPad app. The new app now works offline just like the Word and Pages apps.

Google gets competitive

The arrival of the app is as much about Google competing with Microsoft as there being a pressing need for a standalone version of the software. 

In terms of features and functionality, iPad Google Docs doesn’t match either Word or Pages. In fact there’s a lot that’s missing from the online version. You can’t insert images or hyperlinks — that’s a deal breaker for my online work. There is no way to create tables or do a word count. 

Word and Pages do all these things and more.

To be fair to Google, this is the first version of a new app. Pages didn’t include everything when it first appeared. 

On the iPad Pages is the most powerful of the three, by a nose over Word. Yet that makes it a little more complex in use. Google Docs on the iPad is great for knocking out words quickly.

One area where Google beats Apple is that Docs is universal. You can run it on almost any device. Pages is strictly Apple. Microsoft’s Word Web apps fills any gaps in that application’s coverage.

Verdict – iPad Google Docs

If you already work with Google Docs or collaborate with others who do, then the iPad app is a welcome addition. Otherwise, it is underpowered compared with Word and Pages, although not always in a good way. 

From outside it looks as if Google’s top brass wanted an iPad app out in the market as quickly as possible and the current effort shows what could be achieved in a hurry. If Google sticks with the product — that’s not always a given — updating and adding in features that are found in the web version then it has the potential to be a serious alternative.

This is an old story from 2014. If you plan to use an iPad as your main computer, take a more up-to-date look at A practical guide to writing on the iPad