Google has struggled to produce a consistent Google Apps experience across mobile platforms. Will iOS 8 be the turning point for Google Apps on Apple devices?
User experience has become the main focus of many office suite providers that have a mobile offering. BYOD's quick rise to popularity and the meteoric growth in cloud deployments mean that knowledge workers can use their smartphone or tablet to get more done now than they've ever been able to before.
This poses a challenge for Google Apps, as Google has been able to provide base functionality of its apps for iOS, while failing to deliver a true parallel experience to what they offer with Android. And, with the Material Design of Android L looming, that gap could stand to widen even more.
"Google [made] a lot of noise earlier this summer about what, essentially, amounts to application management capabilities for Google Apps deployed on Android devices, but there isn't a parallel offering on iOS," said Forrester analyst TJ Keitt.
Google has recently rolled out a few key updates to Google Apps for iOS. Most notably was the announcement of iOS Sync for Google Apps, a device management solution that integrates the mobile version of Google Apps with native iOS device management. According to the blog post announcing this update, users can now manage Google Apps, configure WiFi networks, and support existing organizational policies for mobile device use.
While this is a big step forward for Google Apps on iOS, it still pales in comparison to the new Google Apps mobile management that Google rolled out for Android in May, which includes new security features and device management tools for enterprise deployments.
Google Apps on iOS is functional, but the Android version of the individual apps are more extensive, powerful, and consistent. Accessing Google Drive files has become particularly confusing as there are now separate apps for Drive and its individual parts such as Docs, Sheets, and Slides.
There are also UI challenges that confuse many users. For example, inconsistency in labeling makes it hard to locate items that have been shared with you. The "Shared with Me" view in the web version of Google Docs is called "Incoming" in the UI on mobile devices. In addition, the iOS version of Google Apps lacks a calendar app, which is the lifeblood of productivity for many workers. Of course, there are great third-party iOS options such as Sunrise and CalenMob, but they require additional steps to implement. Google has also struggled to successfully split off its "Tasks" app off from GMail in Mobile.
Keitt said it isn't clear if rolling everything together into fewer apps would cure the issues. Keeping the apps separate means that users can more quickly launch an app like Google Docs and jot down some ideas, while better consolidating the tools would make file management a little easier.
"Historically there have been disparities between what Google has done on its own devices, the Android devices, and what Google has provided on iOS," Keitt said. "There are cases for that, that Google would raise, and most of those have to do with the fact that they don't control the platform and therefore they can't do as many things with iOS that they would do with their own platform."
Keitt noted that before iOS 8, Apple made it very difficult for you to change the conditions of mobile apps that were deployed on people's devices. Apple mentioned that, with iOS8, it is making the OS more open to developers, but it is still early and remains to be seen how that will play out.
Regardless, as Keitt said, Google never pursued a strategy of working with mobile device management vendors like Good Technology or Airwatch, which contributed to the fact that the Google Apps experience is fundamentally different on iOS than it is on Android. And, while Google does not control iOS, and its issues could be caused mostly by the closed nature of iOS, Google hasn't shown a serious interest in making its products and services consistent across the various mobile ecosystems.
"As we look out over the landscape, Google is reticent to truly be multi-platform in terms of delivering its capabilities," Keitt said.
According to Keitt, a good example of this outside of the iOS issue is Google's refusal to embrace Windows Phone, since Microsoft's market share in smartphones is very low. By providing a more seamless experience across platforms, Google would better position itself for success in emerging markets.
This would provide a fallback strategy to capture revenue in emerging markets if Google's Android One program fails to take off. And that is a real possibility, as some have pegged the $100+ price point as too high for Indian consumers.