I carry my laptop less often
these days, as I prefer to travel with as light a load as possible. Lately,
that means I’m traveling with an Android phone and an iPad. For what I need to
do – note-taking, writing, and presenting – these tools are sufficient.

But sometimes tasks that are
simple on a laptop take multiple steps to complete on mobile devices. Take, for
example, the task of converting of an Excel file attachment in Gmail to a
native Google Sheet format. I do this so that several people can simultaneously
chat about and edit the Google Sheet in real time. I find this useful when
discussing technology budgets with committee members.

On a laptop, it takes one click
to convert a Gmail file attachment from Excel to a Google Sheet format. Click
on the “Open as Google Spreadsheet” option next to the file. That’s
it. The file opens in a new tab, converted to the native Google Sheet format.
Done.

On a laptop: one click to convert from Excel to Google Sheets

It takes three steps – and
several taps – on Android and iOS devices to complete the same task.
Unfortunately, they’re not necessarily obvious steps, either, but it can be
done. Here’s how to convert an Excel attachment into a Google Sheet. I’ll
assume you’ve installed Google’s three apps on your device: Gmail, Chrome, and
Google Drive apps.

Android

1. Download the attachment

In Gmail, navigate to the email
with the attachment. To the right of the attachment file name, tap the menu
icon (which looks like three small, stacked squares). Choose Save, and then
choose a location to save the file (it may default to your “Download”
folder).

First, save the file to your Android device

2. Upload to Google Drive

Open the Google Drive app. Tap
the plus in the upper right to upload a file. Navigate to the location you
saved your file. This is likely the “Internal Storage” | Download
folder. (Note: You may be prompted to select an app before you navigate to the
folder.)

Second, upload the file to
Google Drive

3. Convert to Google Sheet format

a. Open Chrome. Type
drive.google.com in the URL bar. You may need to login to your Google Drive, if
you haven’t accessed it this way before.

Open Google Drive in Chrome

b. Tap the Menu button in the
upper right (which looks like three stacked bars), then tap the checkbox next
to “Request desktop site”.

Request the desktop version in
the browser

c. Tap the checkbox to the left
of the file you want to convert. This selects your file. (You may want to “pinch-to-zoom”
to improve tap accuracy. I find changing that rotating the display horizontally
also helps.)

Select your file

d. Tap the “More”
menu, then “Open with”, then “Google Sheets”.

When the file opens, wait a few
seconds to make sure the file is fully opened and auto-saved. You may then
close the tab, if you like.

Tap ‘More’, then ‘Open with’,
then ‘Google Sheets’

4. Edit in Google Drive

You can now edit the file in
native Google Sheets format using the Google Drive app. If you view “Recent”
files on Google Drive, you’ll see both versions of your file listed.

iOS

1. Open the attachment

a. In Gmail, navigate to the
email with the attachment. At the bottom of the email, tap the attachment to
view it.

Tap the attachment in Gmail

b. Tap the arrow in the lower
right corner. Tap “Open in Safari”.

Tap the arrow, then ‘Open in
Safari’

2. Upload the attachment

a. Tap anywhere in the body of
the document. A menu should appear near the top of the browser, just under the
bookmarks bar. Tap “Open in..”, then tap “Open in Google Drive”.

From Safari, you then “open”
the file with Google Drive.

b. Tap “Upload” to
save the attachment in Excel format to Google Drive.

Tap ‘Upload’ to save the file
to Google Drive.

3. Convert to Google Sheet format

a. Open Chrome. Type
drive.google.com in the URL bar. You may need to login to your Google Drive, if
you haven’t accessed it this way before.

b. Tap the Menu button in the
upper right (which looks like three stacked bars), then tap the checkbox next
to “Request desktop site”.

Go to drive.google.com in
Chrome, then request the desktop version

c. Tap the checkbox to the left
of the file you want to convert. This selects your file. (You may want to “pinch-to-zoom”
to improve tap accuracy. I find changing that rotating the display horizontally
also helps.)

Select your file

d. Tap the “More”
menu, then “Open with”, then “Google Sheets”.

When the file opens, wait a few
seconds to make sure the file is fully opened and auto-saved. You may then
close the tab, if you like.

Tap ‘More’, then ‘Open with’,
then ‘Google Sheets’

4. Edit in Google Drive

You can now edit the file in
native Google Sheets format using the Google Drive app. If you view “Recent”
files on Google Drive, you’ll see both versions of your file listed.

More file conversions

The same general procedure
works to convert Word files to Google Docs, and PowerPoint files to Google
Slides. Just choose a different file format in step 3d: “Google Docs”
for Word files, and “Google Slides” for PowerPoint files.

In 2010, Eric Schmidt promoted the concept of “Mobile First”
to convey the idea that Google developers work first on mobile apps, and then
move to desktop apps. While that may be true, I look forward to a time when
converting email attachments from Office to Google formats is as simple on
mobile devices as it is on a laptop.