With Google Docs, Google provides multi-user documents that sync across devices. You and I can co-create a document, a budget, or a presentation — and we can edit them on a Chromebook, in Chrome on a Mac or PC, or in an app on an Android or Apple tablet or smartphone.
However, we can't draw together easily across devices... yet.
And that's too bad, since a recent study reported in BloombergBusinessWeek suggests that people recall information delivered with illustrations drawn on a whiteboard better than the same information delivered with stock photography or images with words. (See "Say It With Stick Figures: Your Crude Drawings Are More Effective Than PowerPoint" by Ira Sager. Dan Roam, Sunni Brown, and David Sibbet have all written — and illustrated! — books that encourage us to use illustrations in our communications.)
Want your next presentation to be more memorable? Use drawings.
Yes, we can create and share a new Google Drawing by going to google.com/drawings on a Chromebook. But we can't currently edit that drawing on Android or iOS devices (at least as of August 2014).
That prompted me to seek out drawing apps that work on a Chromebook AND on mobile devices.
Sketch.io to sketch in your browser
Sketchpad 3.5 provides a friendly browser-based drawing app, with drawing tools that include customizable pens, pencils, and brushes. You can upload your image directly to Google Drive, Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, and more — or export your image to a PNG, JPEG, WebP, or PDF file.
To get started with Sketchpad, open your browser to https://sketch.io/sketchpad/. Install the Chrome web app, and you'll be able to create images offline — even on a Chromebook (Figure A). And since it's a web app, Sketchpad also works in smartphone and tablet browsers. It's especially usable on tablets, such as the Nexus 7 or larger-screen tablets.
Draw in any browser at sketch.io/sketchpad.
Don't let the default legal-pad looking background with a red smiley face stop you from using this tool. When you start the app, select the three line menu button in the upper left, choose New, pick a background and document size to get started, and then select Create New. That gives you a clean page on which to sketch.
People accustomed to working with Google Docs need to know that Sketchpad saves your files locally. A Sketchpad file doesn't sync to Google Drive (as of August 2014), so you can't stop work on one device and then resume on another. You must complete your work on a single device. (Professional digital artists may miss layers, because Sketchpad images are all on a single layer.)
deviantART.com/Muro to save and share online
deviantART's Muro offers many digital drawing pen patterns and layers, which aid both experimentation and drawing depth. You can add a new layer to a draw without affecting your prior drawing, or draw images on a new layer that will ultimately appear in front of — or behind — images on other layers.
Muro is an entirely web-based drawing app, although you'll need to create a deviantart.com account to save or share images. Images save online to Sta.sh, which means you can open saved image files and resume work from any browser. Muro technically works in smartphone and tablet browsers, although menus and drawing tool controls fill a great deal of the screen. (As of August 2014, the Chrome web store app just adds a link to the app launcher; Muro requires an internet connection.)
deviantART encourages the sharing of images with other deviantART community members and elsewhere online (Figure B}. When you select the Done button while drawing, the file saves to Sta.sh, and then you're prompted to either View in Sta.sh or Submit to deviantART. Each image files on Sta.sh receives its own embed code, which you can use to share images on your website or to social media.
Share or replay your drawings online with deviantART Muro.
Muro's redraw feature replays the drawing creation process from start to finish. Watch the replay in Artist View, and you'll see the drawing tools and process: the drawing emerges from a sequence of steps. (It's much like a drawing version of Etherpad, which offers a time slider view of text document creation.)
Groupboard.com to sketch together
With Groupboard, people sketch together, much as they might in front of a dry erase whiteboard. Instead of the pens and brushes found in illustration apps, Groupboard users draw with a basic pen or choose from a few basic shapes: lines, squares, and circles. Like a whiteboard, any participant may draw, erase items, or clear the board.
Anyone can start a Groupboard session from a browser or an app (Android or iOS). The free version allows for up to five people to draw and chat. Paid versions of Groupboard remove advertisements, allow people to receive technical support, and allow more participants. Groupboard Designer and Groupworld offer additional customization options and user management controls (Figure C).
Sketch together across multiple platforms with Groupboard.
Google+ users can start a Hangout session with a shared Groupboard, even from a Chromebook. When started this way, the shared drawing displays, and native Google+ Hangout chat allows for chat alongside a video meeting.
People may save or print a drawing from a session. However, Groupboard isn't really about creating a beautiful illustration. Instead, it's a handy, no-registration required multi-user, cross-platform digital whiteboard.
Powerful drawing apps exist on many platforms. Autodesk makes Sketchbook for nearly every platform (Windows, Mac, Android, iOS), but there's no version that works natively in a browser on a Chromebook. Paper by 53 (on iOS) and Bamboo Paper by Wacom (on Android, iOS, and Windows) provide excellent tools for sketching ideas, but again... no Chromebook versions. Evernote's Skitch (on Android and iOS) allows for screen capture and annotation on the web, but not sketching in the browser.
What I really want is something that works natively on the web, with excellent Android and iOS apps. Something that stores drawings natively online and syncs to mobile devices, so I can work from any device. I also want a drawing app that lets me collaborate with other people to sketch in real time.
What cross-platform apps do you use to illustrate your ideas? Share your thoughts in the discussion thread below.
Andy Wolber helps people understand and leverage technology for social impact. He resides in Ann Arbor, MI with his wife, Liz, and daughter, Katie.