To begin with, when you go to docs.google.com from the Safari browser on an iPad, Google automatically redirects you to a mobile version of the site. I could tell immediately because A) the site looks completely different than what I am used to seeing in the Chrome browser on my laptop, and B) the URL in the address bar redirects to docs.google.com/m.
There is a search bar at the top of the browser, three buttons to filter the view (Home, Owned By Me, and Starred), and then a list of the various documents I have created–separated by day. I wanted to write this post, so I needed to figure out how to start a new document. The paper and pencil icon at the upper-right is small and not very obvious, but it’s not impossible to find. I suppose that should be obvious since I am typing this.
When you click on the Create New button in the standard Google Docs mode, you get a drop-down list where you can choose from document, spreadsheet, presentation, form, drawing, collection, or from template. From the mobile version of Google Docs, when you tap the little document icon it takes you to a new page called Create New where you can choose between only two types of files–Spreadsheet or Document.
Below the two radio buttons, is a text field labeled Title with the word “Untitled” in it. I tapped the radio button next to Document, then tapped the text field to give my file a name. I started typing, then realized that the word “Untitled” was still at the beginning. I hate when a field is pre-populated, and the text starts typing at the end of the pre-populated text rather than replacing it. It’s annoying. Just leave the text field empty. Anyway, I deleted the word “Untitled”, assigned a name to my file, and tapped the Create button.
The next screen took a little getting used. There is a small section toward the top for typing text, with a bar at the “bottom” that lists the currently logged in Google account in the middle, with a Sign Out button on the left, and a Help button on the right. But, the reason bottom is in quotations is that below this bar is a massive amount of unused space that takes up about two-thirds of the iPad display. I tried it in portrait and landscape–either way there is a huge section of useless space.
But, if you tap in the blank section above that bar, the virtual keyboard pops up so you can start typing. In this mode, though, it is more like a text editor than a word processor because you don’t have access to any formatting options or additional features. There is no way to make text bold, or add an image, or change the line spacing. You can just type text.
Oddly, though, once you get this deep into the process Google offers you the choice to switch to the normal Google Docs mode. There is a drop-down arrow at the top right that has two choices on it: Print, and Use Desktop Version. At the “bottom”, just under the bar described earlier, and above the massive wasted space is a line that says “View document in: Mobile | Desktop” with Desktop being a link you can tap.
I tapped the Use Desktop Version in the drop-down list at the top and first got a warning from Google Docs that my browser does not fully support Google Docs and that some features may not work properly, but I clicked past it and voila! The familiar menu options and tool bar appeared and I could work with my document just as if I were using my laptop.
For some, being forced to use the virtual keyboard might be a major drag on productivity. But, I have to say that overall I don’t see any reason I could not just jump onto Google Docs on my iPad from any Starbucks, McDonald’s, or other free Wi-Fi hotspot and get down to work.