By Barry Levine / Mobile Tech Today. Updated May 01, 2014.
Google has taken a step forward in its mobile competition with Microsoft. On Wednesday, Google released standalone mobile apps for documents, spreadsheets and presentations for iOS and Android devices -- just a few weeks after Microsoft released its Office suite for Apple's iPad.
The apps are designed for IOS 7 and Android 4.0. The free apps -- Docs, Sheets and, soon, Slides -- are available for Android and iOS devices. They also feature offline support so users can view, edit and create files even when a Net connection is not available.
"Now," Product Manager Brian Levee posted on the company's UK blog, "if you have a brilliant idea for a best-selling novel while traipsing through the Amazonian rainforest (or you know, something more probable, like during flight takeoff)...no problem."
Previously, iOS users who wanted to use a Google app for editing docs needed to do so through an app on Google Drive. Some reviewers have reported that the new Docs apps in particular offer only very basic capabilities, with no page breaks, spell checking, headers or footers, revisions tracking or other features beyond such rudimentary features as search, replace, bold, italics, and similar capabilities.
The Google apps show the most recently edited files first, and users can collaborate on documents. The files are stored on Google Drive.
The release of the apps makes users a bit more independent of Google Drive, in that document, spreadsheet and eventually presentation creation and editing can be conducted with Google tools separately from the Drive app.
The blog points out that "you'll still be able to use the Drive app to view and organize all of your documents, spreadsheets, photos and more."
'Neutrality and Popularity'
In fact, according to a Google representative who spoke to one technology media site, a coming update to the Google Drive app will ask users to download the standalone Docs and Sheets apps if they want editing functions, thus relegating the Drive app to managing and viewing files. This separation allows Google to evolve specific functions, like document editing, in its own app, and to better match Microsoft's product alignment.
In late March, Microsoft released its Office app for the iPad, which included the big three -- Word, Excel and PowerPoint. However, Office for iPad requires a Microsoft Office 365 subscription, while the Google apps are free. Office Mobile for iPhone and Android phones, however, is free. Microsoft pointed out that Office for iPad was built specifically for that platform, with files stored in OneDrive. "We reimagined Office on the iPad," Microsoft posted on its official Office Blogs, "while retaining what people love about Office."
Ross Rubin, principal analyst with industry research firm Reticle Research, told us that "iOS has emerged as a key battlefront in the war between Microsoft and Google." He attributed this to "a combination of neutrality and popularity, with both companies wanting to extend their ecosystems into iOS."