Mobility

Missing Google Docs features: iOS developers giveth what Google taketh away

The Google Docs app on iOS is missing some key features available on the Android version. Here are two apps you can use to get those features back.

Image: Google

Out of the gate, Google Docs gives users plenty of collaboration features. Grab almost any device—an Android phone, an iPad, or a full web browser—and edit a document with other people.

But, Google's Android and iOS apps offer different features, at least as of October 2015. Want to check your word count? You'll need the Google Docs app for Android. Need to create a hyperlink that doesn't show the destination URL? That's an Android-only feature, too. Neither works in the Google Docs app on your iPhone or iPad.

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The Google Docs mobile app lacks the option to share a public link to a document (as of October 2015).

Worse, the Google Docs mobile apps offer fewer sharing settings than what you see in a web browser: You can't create a public link to a document. You can share a document with specific people—add each person's email address and each recipient will have access. You may also share a document to people in your organization—turn link sharing on and people in your organization will have access. But, you can't create a Google Doc in the mobile app and share it with the world from your device.

However, I've found two apps on iOS to help you work around the limitations of the Google Docs iOS app.

Access Google Drive document share settings on iOS

The free Desktop Browser by Spicy Apps allows you access to a desktop browser-like view of Google Drive and Docs. (Pay $0.99 to remove the ad that the developer displays at the bottom of the screen.)

  1. Install the Desktop Browser app.
  2. Open the app, go to http://drive.google.com/ and login.
  3. Find your file and tap to open it. You'll see your document in the familiar Google Docs browser view.
  4. Tap the Share icon.
  5. Select from any of the standard Google Docs sharing settings.

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Desktop Browser by Spicy Apps allows access to all file sharing options within Google Apps.

You might think you could simply login with Safari on iOS and modify the settings. You can't. Google won't serve the desktop version of Google Drive or Docs to Safari on iOS. I also tried Chrome, iCab, Puffin, and Dolphin. None worked. The Desktop Browser app, at least as of October 2015, works.

(Update: Chrome version 46.0.2490.73 for iOS shows full sharing settings if you request the desktop version of the Docs site as of October 26, 2015. It didn't in earlier testing. So Chrome may also be an alternative.)

Create a hyperlink in a Google Doc

The only way I've found to create proper hyperlinks in a Google Doc from an iOS device requires another app, Drafts 4 by Agile Tortoise, which costs $9.99. Drafts 4 serves as a text and Markdown editor. Markdown is a way to write text, lightly formatted for the web. More importantly, Markdown lets us easily create links.

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First, use Drafts 4 to create links in Markdown format.

We'll use Drafts 4 to create a document with Markdown, then export the file and convert it to a Google Doc on Google Drive.

  1. Buy and install the Drafts 4 app.
  2. Open the app, then tap the Settings sprocket in lower right.
  3. Scroll to Services, then tap "Configure accounts".
  4. Tap "Link" to the right of "Google," then login and allow Drafts 4 to access Google Drive.
  5. Write your document with Drafts in Markdown format. Use Markdown to create your links. Basically, surround your text with brackets: [ to start, and ] to finish, immediately followed by the URL surrounded by parenthesis: ( to start, and ) to finish.
  6. When finished, tap the Action button in the upper right, then the "Services" tab. Choose "Markdown to Google Doc." Your document will export and save to Google Drive as a Google Doc.

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Then, use the "Markdown to Google Doc" action to export your document from Drafts 4 and save it to Google Drive in Google Doc format.

As an added bonus, Drafts 4 solves the word count problem, too. The app displays both a character and word count in the upper right corner of the screen.

These two apps allow me access to key features I need that Google doesn't yet offer in the Google Docs mobile iOS app. I hope that the team will add word count, proper hyperlink support, and full share settings soon. Until then, if you've figured out alternative solutions that work with Google Drive and Docs on iOS, let me know in the comments 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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