The new Google Docs update, released October 5 specifically with Honeycomb tablet owners in mind, isn’t what most users would consider a dramatic leap forward. It is, however, a convenient improvement for tablet owners who, up to this point, may have felt they were being forced to let all of their excess screen real estate go to waste. As is ever the case with brand new software releases, there will always be critics who call into question its functionality, decrying any improvements that are perceived as ineffective or superfluous. But despite what you might have heard to the contrary, the Google Docs update for Android tablets is both effective and decidedly not superfluous. Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s flawless. Here is a rundown of the new features of the Google Docs application for Android and how their performance stacks up.
New 3-Panel View
One of the greatest weaknesses of the original Android design for Google Docs has at long last been rendered a non-issue for tablet owners, giving those with Honeycomb operating systems (all Android 3.0 and above) a product more suited to the platform of their choice. Whereas before, tablet owners were given the same rudimentary interface that remains in use for Android phones, the new and improved version of Google Docs offers a 3-panel layout whose full functionality is best realized in landscape mode. Each of the 3 panels – or columns – expands from left to right as a user navigates through their list of Google documents.
- The first panel provides the Home view, under which all other categories and available subcategories exist: Owned by Me, Starred, All Items, My Collections, and Collections Shared with Me.
- The second panel lists all relevant documents in either of the previously mentioned categories in ascending order, by date and timestamp.
- The third panel appears only when clicked, and displays a thumbnail image of the document including a timestamp for when it was last viewed, when it was last modified, and the identities of any owners, editors, or allowed viewers. From the third-panel view, a short list of icons appears that allows a document owner to add collaborators, send a document for others to view, rename the document, open the document with a specific program, or delete it.
It’s important to note that none of the features listed in the 3 expandable panels are exclusive to the latest Honeycomb-friendly version of the Google Docs application. It’s only the app’s appearance that’s been given a serious facelift, eliminating the use of unwieldy dropdown boxes that still exist in the Android smartphone version.
Issues with Collaboration Features
The functionality of the collaboration features that make Google Docs what it is – the ability to alter a shared document and to have others be able to see those changes real-time, as well as contributing their own edits – remain intact with the latest update, even though there appear to be a couple of kinks that have yet to be worked out.
- Android smartphones may not reflect the changes to a shared document without first performing a refresh/sync.
- Honeycomb tablet users may see changes to a document immediately, however there appears to be an issue of timestamps either not updating at all or updating on a delayed schedule.
Both issues appear to be bugs in programming and could be shrugged off as mere in the execution of a tool that’s forever doomed to a perpetual state of evolution. However, the net result could spell problems for users, especially considering that there might be a dozen people accessing and making edits to a particular document at any given time.
The Google Docs Honeycomb Update Bucket List
As with all mobile device applications, there’s always going to be room for improvement. The recent Google Docs Honeycomb update is no exception, and these are just a couple of the long standing issues with Google Docs that have yet to be addressed.
- Still no offline functionality. This is one of the most consistent complaints from Google Docs users. Google Docs, by its very nature, is a document sharing application that doesn’t allow documents to be edited when a user is offline. Presumably, this is to ensure no overlap in edits from various collaborators and is not likely to be in consideration for future updates.
- No upload accessibility. Google Docs doesn’t exactly play well with others, as is evidenced by the fact that you cannot upload existing Word, Excel, or Power Point documents for use with its global sharing operability. Of course that shouldn’t come as any surprise, as Google does not turn to Microsoft to support its documentation.
- All or nothing access. An editor may invite contributors or give read-only access to a document. However, there are still no controls in place to prevent a contributor from making disastrous changes to documents – like spreadsheet formulas – that could result in a mess of extra work. This is a functionality that’s being rolled out for the desktop version of Google Docs, but has yet to make an appearance on the app.
Tower of Babble and Beyond
Previously only available in English, Google’s latest incarnation of the Docs app has ramped up the stakes in a wise and dramatic effort to capture a larger slice of the world market. According to Google, the application update was published in 46 languages. Our only hope is that Google has enough foreign language speakers in its employ to respond to the number of complaints – and commendations – they’re sure to receive from users the world over. Of course, there’s always Google Translate.
The updated Google Docs is currently available in the Android Market and it is free.
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