Google beefing up its mobile apps

Google plans to update Google Docs in the next few weeks to allow users to edit documents on iPads and Android devices. But the company still has some big holes in its mobile apps line.

Right now, you can read Google Docs on the iPad and other mobile devices, but you need a third-party app to edit them. That's changing soon, according to Google. "This morning we demoed mobile editing capabilities for Google Docs on the iPad and Android platform in Paris at Google Atmosphere, our annual European cloud computing event," a Google spokesperson said in an email yesterday. "It will be available in the next few weeks. We have no further details to announce at this time."

Google also beefed up security for Google Apps, announcing support for two-step authentication. That's particularly relevant for mobile users, who are more likely be using Google Apps on strange devices. The feature is available to business Google users, and can be configured up by the Apps administrator. When users sit down at an unfamiliar device to access Apps, they'd be required to log in with a password and also access a verification code on their cell phone.

Also, Google added support for underwater oceanic data to Google Earth for iOS. That means iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch users can virtually go under the surface of the ocean and look around. "Dive below the ocean’s surface to explore underwater canyons, or travel to the ocean’s deepest point, the Mariana Trench," Google said on its Lat Long Blog.

These are good steps for Google, but the company still has gaps in its mobile apps offerings.

Google Docs: What about editing Google Docs on the iPhone and iPod touch? Support for Docs editing on the iPad but not the iPhone or iPod touch is a weird inconsistency.

Gmail: Google recently rolled out Priority Inbox, an innovative and effective way of prioritizing incoming email and getting through messages faster. That feature is available on the desktop version of Gmail, but requires a clumsy workaround to use on mobile devices, and even then it only partially works. (The workaround: Look for the "Important" label in your labels menu, or search on "in:inbox is:important." And even then you can't designate a message as "important" or "unimportant" from your mobile device.)

Google Voice: Google's telephony service has a checkered history on the iPhone. The company came out with a native iPhone app for Google Voice, but Apple refused to approve it in the App Store. Last week, Apple reversed its decision and allowed two third-party Google Voice apps -- GV Connect and GV Mobile+, both $2.99 -- into the App Store. No word yet on whether Google plans to resubmit its native Google Voice app to the App Store. The third-party apps are paid, but the native app was free.

Update: I asked Google about its plans for a native Google Voice app for the iPhone. A spokesperson responded in email: "We currently offer Google Voice mobile apps for Blackberry and Android, and we offer an HTML5 web app for the iPhone. We have nothing further to announce at this time."

Google Reader: Google Reader is flaky on the iPad and iPhone, it's slow and frequently loses its place and forgets which was the last item read. The third-party Reeder app works much better (Reeder for iPhone, $2.99, Reeder for iPad, $4.99). While Google Reader is one of the most important apps I use, I'm apparently in a minority, RSS usage is declining and some people say it's irrelevant, replaced by Twitter for news consumption. On the other hand, Google said Reader use is growing.

Mobile applications are difficult, and Google seems to be taking a prudent strategy in rolling the apps out a piece at a time, frustrating as the wait can be for mobile device users.

Mitch Wagner

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is a freelance technology journalist and social media strategist.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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