Productivity software

Day 13: Google Docs on the iPhone--Don't Try This at Home

30 Days With...Google Docs: Day 13

[Author's Notes: A reader (JeremyWhalenwrum) pointed out that I missed the obvious, and that when you open a Google Docs document on the iPhone there is an Edit button at the upper right which lets you work with the file rather than just viewing it. I have updated this article to reflect that information.]

I am really pushing the envelope on this mobile computing thing now. Here I sit, typing a 30 Days With...Google Docs post in Google Docs on my iPad over a Verizon 4G MiFi portable hotspot while sitting in the middle of a field at my daughter's soccer practice. But, we can push that envelope just a bit further, so today I am going to examine using Google Docs on a smartphone--specifically my iPhone.

If I had an Android smartphone, I could be using the Google Docs app, but I don't. There are a couple third-party apps for viewing Google Docs, but there is no app for actually working in Google Docs on iOS.

I don't recommend trying to do anything productive with Google Docs from an iPhone.
But, Google Docs is a Web-based tool, and my iPhone has a Web browser, so I can just go in to docs.google.com on the Safari browser on my iPhone. Just like on the iPad, when you go to the Google Docs site you are automatically redirected to the mobile version.

The basic layout and steps to use to start a new document (or spreadsheet) are the same on the iPhone as they were with the iPad. Once you get to the actual document, though, things start to get dicey.

The document editing screen also looks like what I saw with the iPad for the most part. The main difference that is immediately obvious is that the iPhone doesn't have the huge swath of wasted space at the bottom. But, I could tap the text editing region to bring up the virtual keyboard and tap away to type some sentences. So far, so good.

I discovered that the drop-down at the top of the document editing region only has Print as an option on the iPhone, but the link to switch to the normal Desktop mode is still at the bottom. But, once I switched to the Desktop version I could no longer work with the document. I tapped and tapped, but could not get the virtual keyboard to appear so I could actually type text. I was able to select a line of text and tap the buttons on the toolbar to center or right-justify the entire line, but I could not select a single word or phrase to do things like making the text bold or italic. So, I switched back to the Mobile version and was able to add and edit text once again.

But, I found that typing text would only work with new documents created on the iPhone, and only during the initial session. If I open any existing files from my Collections on Google Docs, I can read them just fine, but I can not edit them. No amount of tapping will make the virtual keyboard appear. If I create a new file on the iPhone, then go back to the Google Docs home and select that file again to work with it, I get the same result--no can do.

Then, someone pointed out that there is an Edit button at the upper-right. Granted, that button used to say Refresh, and I (obviously) find it counter-intuitive to have to tap the Edit button in order to be able to work with the document, but you'd still think that on a screen that is only a few inches across I'd be able to find one of only a few buttons on the whole display. I'll blame it on a long day.

If you tap the Edit button, you can tap the text region and bring up the virtual keyboard so you can work with the content of the file. But, you are limited to simply adding or removing text. In the mobile mode, there are no options to make text bold, or italic, or insert an image, or change the line spacing, or anything other than what you can add or remove from the virtual keyboard. In theory, you'd be able to do more working from the Desktop mode, but just as I described up above, I was still unable to get a virtual keyboard, and couldn't do anything other than center or justify the content that is already there.

I checked out the spreadsheet function and found that it has some of its own quirks, but at least I can edit fields in existing spreadsheet files. It is not the same as doing it in the normal Google Docs, though. The various worksheet tabs are all a jumble of links at the top of the display, and you have to scroll down to get to the actual spreadsheet data. There is an additional column inserted on the left with a link that says Edit. When you click Edit it opens that row for editing and pops up the virtual keyboard. Once you are done editing, you have to tap a Submit button to register the changes.

Bottom line? You can review files in Google Docs on an iPhone, but I wouldn't plan on editing them, and I certainly wouldn't suggest trying to create content on the iPhone. It might provide some limited functionality in an extreme emergency, but it is not for the faint of heart.

If you absolutely must have Google Docs capabilities on your smartphone, get yourself an Android model and use the Google Docs app--although, apparently that can be a bit of an adventure as well.

Get the complete30 Days With Google Docsseries compiled into a Kindle eBook.

Day 12: Google Docs on the Go With My iPad

Day 14: Google Docs Discussions--Comments on Steroids

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