Google

Dear Google: App parity, please?

Listen up, Google! Andy Wolber wants key Google Docs features to be the same on Android and iOS.

Android iOS app parity

I work differently on different devices, but it's not my fault.

In Google Docs on an Android phone, I might create the following sentence:

"Learn how to 'Create and edit documents on your mobile device' from Google's help pages."

With Google Docs on an iPhone, I would write this:

"Learn how to 'Create and edit documents on your mobile device' from Google's help pages (see: https://support.google.com/docs/topic/6039984?hl=en&ref_topic=2811805)."

The Android app lets me add a link; the iOS app doesn't. In Google Docs on iOS, I have to paste the entire URL into the document—at least, as of early June 2015. An app with the same name, from the same company, works differently on different systems.

App inconsistencies on different platforms are neither new, nor unique to Google. I saw these types of differences in the heyday of desktop apps. Microsoft Office features would sometimes arrive first on Windows versions, then appear later in the Mac apps—if at all. More recently, differences between desktop and mobile apps abound. The mobile versions of Google Docs and Microsoft Word, for example, offer fewer features than their laptop/desktop counterparts.

Today, people use multiple devices. We're more likely to view or edit a document on-the-go, and we're more likely to encounter app limits or constraints.

Here are a few ways that you, as an IT leader, might help the people you serve deal with mobile app limitations across platforms.

Stay informed—and share what you know

The upside of reading tech news is that you probably know that Google intends to bring a new feature to an app. But not everyone follows the tech news as closely as you do. Find a place to share this type of information internally where people can find it. I wouldn't push this sort of information to everyone, but instead allow people who care to look for it. This type of information might be posted to a Google+ Collection (e.g., "Upcoming features") or a private Google+ Community.

Test apps

Your test devices should reflect the diversity of devices used by the people you serve. For mobile devices, this means you'll need an Android phone, an Android tablet, an iPhone, an iPad—and maybe a BlackBerry or Windows device, too. Just because someone wrote about a feature doesn't mean it works quite as described. Test it, then document and share what you learn internally.

Seek a solution, not a feature

It's easy to get focused on a specific feature—or lack of a feature—in an app. But it is limiting to only look for a feature. Instead, look at a what an app can do. For example, a colleague asked me if Google Forms could display a correct answer after a response. I looked for the feature and replied "no," then I suggested another tool. Later, I realized that Google Forms offers conditional branching (also known as "skip logic"), which can be used display answers based on responses. The specific feature wasn't available, but the tool still offered a solution.

Simplify your documents and templates for mobile devices

Most organizations developed document templates and layouts in the desktop era. Your logo, page numbering, and boilerplate contact information worked just fine when viewed on a desktop. But all of that info clutters up a document on mobile. It may be time to start over and redesign your documents on your phone. (While you're at it, go ahead and remove your fax number from the template—unless you really need it there.) If you start with documents that work on your phone, they'll almost certainly work in a browser or on a laptop.

Ideally, I'd love to see Google's mobile developers release app improvements for Android and iOS at the same time, especially for apps that are part of the core Google Apps suite (i.e., Gmail, Calendar, Drive, Docs, Sheets, Slides, and Hangouts). I think a synchronized, simultaneous release schedule for these apps would convey a strong message to organizations that Google wants to make it easy to adopt and support the Google Apps platform in the mobile era.

Until that happens, though, I'd be happy just to be able to create a hyperlink in the Google Docs iOS app. Soon, maybe? Let us know your thoughts in the discussion thread below.

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About Andy Wolber

Andy Wolber helps people understand and leverage technology for social impact. He resides in Ann Arbor, MI with his wife, Liz, and daughter, Katie.

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