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On the iPad Pro, Google has made itself a second-class citizen

This past weekend, I attended the MIT Mystery Hunt, as I have for the last three years. It's a delightfully dastardly puzzle hunt, packing over 100 logic puzzles, math mysteries, cryptic crosswords, Braille and Morse Code-themed madness, and multi-team-member runarounds into just under three days. There's nothing quite like feeling terribly stupid and horribly clever within a matter of hours, and it's a great mental reset for the year to come.

Unfortunately, as you might be able to spot in the above picture, this weekend also saw the return of my 11-inch MacBook Air. After relying almost exclusively on my iPad Pro for two months, I ended up dual-wielding both the Air and the Pro throughout the weekend—all because of Google Drive.

A compatibility mess

Google's productivity apps are a must-use during the Hunt. We use Google's Sheets to collaborate and record puzzle data amongst our teammates, often opening up multiple tabs to try new theories or indexing formulae. But Sheets barely has a functional iPad app, and it's missing necessary puzzle hunt features like being able to quickly copy a function to the rest of the row, or move rows or columns. On the iPad Pro, it's even worse.

Despite receiving several updates in the last few months, Google's apps haven't been updated for Apple's larger tablet. And there's no hope, as there is with Facebook, of using Google's in-theory-HTML5-and-therefore-iPad-compliant website: Google's standard web view on an iPad flat-out punts you to the apps—if the website even correctly detects you have the app installed. I can't count the number of times I've seen the websites try and send me to the App Store to open a spreadsheet, when I clearly have Sheets already available.

Trying to request the desktop version of the website won't work, either: You won't be able to scroll, or tap on anything that requires a double-click, and any link you do manage to make work will send you right back to the mobile environment.

This would be annoying but manageable if Google's apps provided feature parity with the website. Unfortunately, while they have some good points (like multiple account management), they're largely a huge pain point on mobile.

First off, they're split into three different programs: Drive, Docs, and Sheets. Each displays its own unique "Recent" list; Drive supposedly has the canonical list, but tapping anything in that app boots you out to Docs or Sheets. Worse, Sheets can't find anything you may have in Google Drive but haven't yet opened (like a shared folder) until you find and open it in the Drive app.

When I surveyed Twitter, I found dozens of similar complaints and frustrations. Anger with the overly small touch targets. Bouncing between apps. Requiring a live internet connection.

Now, software development is hard, and Google has chosen the roughest of all worlds: developing for multiple platforms and the web. But its apps go from occasionally incovenient to downright impossible on the iPad Pro.

A pro disappointment

Like iPhone-only apps, apps with no iPad Pro support just upscale their current iPad app to the Pro's screen resolution. This means you're essentially using the 9.7-inch iPad's keyboard upscaled to the 12.9-inch Pro's screen. Worse, they're not configured to properly recognize the Smart Connector—so when you attempt to use any keyboard with that attachment, over half the screen is replaced with a big, grey box that would otherwise be a virtual keyboard. (I won't even get into how poorly Sheets parses Smart Connector accessories, which leads to a frustrating, characters-dropped experience for anyone using a physical iPad Pro keyboard.)

On Sheets, which requires you enter in cell information along the bottom bar, this is nigh-insanity. You're reduced to seeing just five rows of information, and trying to move to a different row is an exercise in tapping futility. Nor do Google's apps support iOS 9's new Split Screen view for iPad; you can either use a brief slide-over to check your data, or remain stuck in the single-app past.

While frustrating, I understand Google not having resources to implement Split View just yet. But it's been two months since the iPad Pro's release, and four since its announcement. To not even update the screen resolution on a Pro-level device—where conceivably users might want to edit spreadsheets with some convenience—it just leaves me shaking my head.

If Google had shown no interest in developing for Apple's platforms due to the Android and Chrome rivalry, that would be one thing. But the company has dozens of apps in the App Store right now, many of them well-made. It clearly cares about its online document-editing platform. But not enough, it seems, to take care of iPad Pro users.

It's possible that Google has talent drain where iOS is concerned, and didn't have the resources to devote to a proper update for iPad Pro users in a timely fashion. That's fair: It's a big company focused on a lot of different projects. But why not have the web team focus on an all-around more touch-friendly site for mobile devices, then? That would benefit every ecosystem without the need for massive custom code for each tablet's app.

The fact of the matter is, without a proper implementation of Google Drive for the iPad Pro, users who work in a Google environment are hamstrung when it comes to using a tablet. If I had attempted to use the Pro and the Pro alone this weekend at the Mystery Hunt, I wouldn't have been able to collaborate and solve puzzles at the rate I normally do.

That's a shame, because the Pro is so well-suited to the Hunt's other demands: drawing and tracing, scavenger hunts that require puzzle solves on-the-go (clunky with a laptop), lengthy battery, and a portable internet connection.

Living without the laptop

Outside the insanity of Mystery Hunt, the Pro has become my de-facto laptop computer for almost every task. I'm lucky in that I don't have to use Google Sheets in my day to day job all that often. But when I do have to collaborate in Sheets or Docs, I often end up inputting data in Excel or 1Writer and copying it back when I'm finished. Others aren't nearly so lucky: For many, Google's apps are a nigh-requirement for their jobs.

Without supporting the iPad Pro, Google is—intentionally or otherwise—choking off an avenue for people who want a tablet in lieu of a laptop. The company's half-hearted apps prevent tablet and phone users from collaborating effectively on the go. And, in all honesty, they make me question whether iMore and our Mystery Hunt team might be better off using Excel with Microsoft's collaboration service.

I've used Google Docs for almost seven years. Giving it up seems crazy. But if Google's not willing to be a good citizen on mobile platforms, I'm not really sure I want to keep giving the company my business.

Serenity was formerly the Managing Editor at iMore, and now works for Apple. She's been talking, writing about, and tinkering with Apple products since she was old enough to double-click. In her spare time, she sketches, sings, and in her secret superhero life, plays roller derby. Follow her on Twitter @settern.

67 Comments
  • Works great on my chromebook... Laptop and desktop too. Just checked, and it works great on my Samsung tab s, also. Must be an Apple problem. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • Just shut up. Google has updated its apps for those other platforms. They didn't updated it for the iPad pro. That makes it a Google problem. But it doesn't really matter because excel is much better than google sheets and excel is properly updated.
  • Now now, just ignore the troll.
  • I agree, Mobile Nations has Android Central. It is calling for their trolls to go home. Sent from the iMore App
  • I don't find this guy anywhere on AC. I know that because I frequently browse and comment on AC articles. Heck, I CAME from AC. I joined iMore because I have an iPad and I just thought "why not?"
  • It's not just Google. Microsoft has also been really slow with updating their iOS apps too. It was only last week when OneDrive was updated for the iPad Pro.
  • Even when Apple gives them time to show Office for Pro at the Apple event. Sent from the iMore App
  • But on the other hand, most of Microsoft's Office apps (including Outlook, Word and Excel) were ready for Split Screen and Slide Over as soon as iOS 9 was out publicly. Google hasn't even done that much... and that's a feature for lots more than just the iPad Pro.
  • But the promised updates of the Office apps with support for the Pencil is still not out. And although OneDrive finally got support for the screen resolution of the iPad Pro, there is no support for Split Screen.
  • That is an incorrect conclusion.
  • I can confirm, works fine on my Chromebook and Nexus 5X.
  • Exactly! You've just nailed the problem, which is "not a bug but a feature"... No way is Google going to give the iPad Pro leave to crush their puny offerings (chrome books and near anonymous Android tablets) with a software leg-up, at least not before Google IO in May, and major development efforts right now will be focussed on giving chrome books and Android tablets a catch-up answer to the ominous advent of the fruity uber-fondle-slab. Simples....
  • This is one of the reasons why iPad Pro is a very specific productivity device (in other words, it fits only a very narrow range of professionals). Lack of trackpad/mouse, and a mobile OS, means it has to wait for all common desktop apps to be coded for big screen mobile touch input UI. I still think that as far as productivity tablets go, the Surface is the only device that got it right. Especially the Surface book, since it is one of the best laptops on the market with tablet functionality (and not the other way around).
  • They got it so right that Microsft has issued a public apology for all of the issues owners of the Surface Pro 4/Surface Book have and still enduring.
  • Well you're not wrong in the sense that Intel was not ready with its graphic drivers, and cpu sleep states. But as a Surface Book owner I am happy to report that all major problems are fixed, and if your device has problems (mine did, first batch) Microsoft happily replaces it (as it did for me). As of right now, the Surface Book is easily the best laptop on the market with unrivaled features and usability (for many people, of course not everyone; if you need Unix OS it is not, or if you need gaming it again is not a gaming laptop). Even the touchpad is, arguably, better than Mac's pre-forceTouch trackpad as it feels more responsive.
  • For everything the Surface Pro got right, there's one thing it still doesn't do well: sell.
  • I'd argue it is the second or third most common brand of computer here at my uni. But yeah, I do enjoy the fact that it is a little bit of a luxury, unique item that not every coffee shop visitor uses.
  • It's all about a user's needs and preferences. The Surface isn't the "right" device for everyone. Each device has their pros and cons.
  • Exactly what I was trying to say :) if someone draws a lot, the iPad Pro wins (it was shown that its pencil stylus is superior to Surface's pen). I imagine the surface to be ideal for students. Take notes, open various files profs throw at you (word, PDF, PowerPoint, zip files), stay organized with multiple groups (some might use Google drive, others Dropbox, yet others github and slack), do some basic coding and occasionally type an one-night 5-page report that is based on 5 journal articles that the student didn't read. All while being portable and great for watching Netflix (other than the one night she/he is working on said paper).
  • I always hate this assertion. The Surface is not a tablet. It's a laptop. That's what they got right. And Windows 10 makes it even less of a tablet. The Surface still has a horrible UI, awful touch targets and so on, but it's forgiven because you can use a mouse and keyboard. Well that's called a laptop. And that's what the OP used. Was a laptop.
  • How well do the Google Docs and Sheets native apps work on the iPad Air and Mini? Could it just be a case of Google being late to update for a new iDevice screen size?
  • Honestly - it's kind of not great using them with a keyboard at all. It's sorta hard to explain, but it's noticeably less smooth than using the desktop versions with a keyboard.
  • Google Sheets, Docs and Slides are very poor on all mobile OSs, including Android. Posted via the iMore App
  • This article holds Google pretty close to the fire for what is basically a free* cross platform service.
    *yes I know Google gets you in other ways. Sent from the iMore App
  • Although Docs, Sheets, and Slides files don't count against your storage limit, if you're using Drive in a 'professional' capacity, you'll probably want to pay for more storage.
  • No. Wrong. iMore, and many others PAY a monthly fee, per account, for Google Apps services. Google Apps touts pro Email, document sharing, and yes, Google Docs is praised as a reason for businesses to pay. This is why their should be an expectation of a professional level set of cross platform applications.
  • As already mentioned, both Google and Microsoft have a paid cloud based product that businesses use, I subscribe to Google for Work myself. For Serenity's point, MS has better mobile apps for both their free and paid users, whereas both Google's free and paid users don't have as good as mobile product.
  • Yep, the most interesting thing you can do on an iPad pro is review iPad pro. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • And the most interesting thing you can do on Android is apparently to go onto Apple-related websites and be a troll
  • Amen.
  • Interestingly, Microsoft gave a much better support to iPad Pro (and iOS 9 in general) with Office apps. For example, they all support split view and OneDrive does support 3D Touch Displays and the Apple Pencil in the last update. Around me, people are (slowly) moving to Microsoft services away from Google apps.
  • Yea I thought I was the only one, who felt that way. I been dropping google services left and right lately. The only thing I used now is gmail and YouTube. It a same I really did liked Google service.
  • To be fair to Google, at least Apple has enough market share for Alphabet to develop apps for. Windows 10 doesn't have any support from Alphabet because it doesn't have enough users to justify the costs.
  • I am not really sure that I understand. So, Microsoft is nice with Apple because Google isn't with Microsoft ? is that what you mean ?
  • I am saying that Apple users are lucky that Google has apps available on iOS/OS X when there is literally one app on Windows 10. But Microsoft is the underdog and it needs to collaborate and not compete with its competitors.
  • Agreed. Microsoft and Google's core competency is software, but the allure of the profits to be had from hardware (sidelong glance at Apple) is too tempting to resist. The day those two software titans return to focus on their core competency is the day they'll realise that churning out bespoke software for multiple platforms is the way to go.
  • Exactly, I hope Microsoft realizes this and makes their services available on every platform (including Amazon Fire, Chrome OS, Linux, etc.). Their services shouldn't be limited to Windows 10.
  • It is still early in the Pro's life cycle, and reviles will always be slow to update apps for each other. Sent from the iMore App
  • > When I surveyed Twitter, I found dozens of similar complaints and frustrations. Anger with the overly small touch targets. Bouncing between apps. Requiring a live internet connection. That last part got me - you don't really need a 'live internet connection' unless you're doing collaboration. Docs, Sheets, and Slides all work offline, provided you're either creating a new file, or working with one you've designated as 'available offline'.
  • I will echo the author's sentiments here. I find myself wanting to use the iPad Pro more and more, yet I am finding that it is a highly inefficient tool because of software like Google Docs not being optimized. I am hoping that Google recognizes this and make the changes needed to use their products on mobile devices much more beneficial. Working in an all Google environment, means I can't change this. However, I will have to continue to utilize my Macbook until some updates are made. It will be interesting to see if Google pushes anything out, or lets these products wither on the vine.
  • I am sure Google isn't worried about iOS, with Android having 83% of the market, iOS is a second-class citizen.
  • Except Google is more than Android and Google makes a **** load of money from iOS users.
  • Actually you'll be wrong. In profits alone Apple is the first class citizen with their suite of devices regardless of opinions. I've read once that Google products are more opinion on iOS than on Android and more profitable. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • Google does not profit from Android OS they only get ad revenue it's the devices that make the funds. Sent from the iMore App
  • Thank you for the review. It was very informative and makes its point clearly. Seems to me that the iPad Pro is NOT a bigger iPad. Same goes for the iPad Mini NOT being a larger iPhone. The iPad Pro was designed for a specific audience (mistake maybe?) and as such suffers from poor programing support and limited apps. Sadly, college students are NOT one of the groups Apple targeted for the iPad Pro. I'll wait until the bugs are worked out. The iPad Pro is too expensive for a sketch pad. It is too expensive for a laptop replacement. It is crazy expensive, if you add the keyboard and cute pencil. I'll continue to use my new MacBook for my mobile computing needs.
  • So your new MacBook was not expensive?
  • His new MacBook is about the same price but ... works well with the apps mentioned in the article.
  • College student here. Seriously considering the iPad Pro as a MacBook replacement.
  • Why?
  • While Android might have larger market share, I wonder what the impact would be if all iOS users switched to a different search provider. I'm just hoping they make an update to keep us iOS users productive on their apps.
  • This seems that Apple had release a half baked product - iPad Pro. There is not enough App optimization yet. And the responsibility should be on Apple themself. Apple should be the one to get their a$$ out and work with software developer to get their app to optimize for the new product line. You choose to buy the Tool, now you blaming for the App developer for not providing a optimized app for that tool? How convenient for the people who loves apple to simply put the blame on the world (but not apple) when thing doesn't work out the way they expected.
  • Well done you have absolutely have no idea how app development, or any kind of development for that matter, works. Apple doesn't control what Google puts out, Apple provided Google with the tools they needed way before the iPad Pro was released, and Google decided not to do anything. This is Google's fault and Google's fault only
  • Congratulations!! You're the winner of today's "Dumbest Post on Internet" award.
  • So ... by that logic, it's Google's responsibility for the ****** apps in the Google Play store?
  • I am in the same boat as you Serenity, the iPad Pro has become my primary computing device and I use google docs 5-20 times a day. Been waiting for the apps to update since release, have had a copy of office 365 in my Amazon cart for about 6 weeks now... The only thing keeping me from pulling the trigger is the time investment, I really don't want to have to put in the effort to transition to office, but if Google keeps dropping the ball I will stop paying Google for storage and get office 365. Can't even believe I am seriously considering it... Updating Drive and not Sheets and Docs was particularly stupid, what use do I have for multitasking on drive if Docs and Sheets don't work?
  • I feel that Excel is the better option why wait around for them to get together Time waits for no man. Sent from the iMore App
  • Good article, thank you for the info. Sent from the iMore App
  • iMore's insane support for the iPad Pro is getting old and its not even laughable anymore. I'm an Apple fan boy all the way but folks, iPads are not for "real" school or corporate work that involves significant writing/coding, email, spreadsheets, PowerPoints, etc. Yes you can force an iPad down your throat like Serenity is doing but use a Mac or PC if you need to have maximum productivity all day long at your desk or sitting at Starbucks. Save the iPad for the weekend or when your in the air for reading and light email. Oh, and sketching if your into it. :-)
  • Apart from coding, yes the iPad IS for all those things that you mentioned. You can easily get a physical keyboard for the iPad if you need to do significant writing. If Google can't get off their *** and optimize their apps, that's not the iPad's fault
  • Of course iPads are being marketed as such and the iMore fan boy/girl here and other power users can always contort themselves to use it for anything they want. But this user class is very, very technical who grew up with PC's/Macs so the contorting part comes easy for them, they like a challenge, and they figure out how to improvise and adapt their workflows to their current environment. It won't be the same for the non-power users. They will either take forever to do basic things or they won't do them at all. iPads are just not practical for the masses to do all those things effectively (i.e quickly and with quality) vs a Mac or a PC if this work is primarily their day-job. I'm specifically talking about people that have to do "real" work around heavy duty creation and editing of business documents including text, spreadsheets and presentations. But there is no need to argue. I'll use my iPad for viewing content and lightweight writing/email and others can do with them what they want. For many, that's all they need to do or they will never figure out how a PC or Mac works and they should use an iPad as just a bigger iPhone. Thanks for responding!
  • You are right, but the lack of support for the iPad Pro by other apps is also frustrating. What about Acrobat Reader? What about Kindle and comiXology? You mentioned Facebook. I think the Desktop web site works quite well on the iPad Pro.
  • Anyone notice that many Google Apps (not just on iOS, but on Android and other platforms too) seem to have the same UI across phones and tablets, with the latter being merely a bloated version of the former? I mean, I liked the old YouTube app. When the current one came out, I was disappointed in the UI as it just became a bigger version of what I have on my Android phone and didn't really take full advantage of the larger screen real-estate. Just to get this out of the way, am I the only one who's trying to figure out why Facebook's Messenger app is optimized for the iPad Pro but the regular Facebook app isn't?
  • I really don't think the target demographic for the iPad Pro is people who need to use Google sheets on a REALLY REALLY BIG IPAD. What's the advantage of the iPad Pro over the MacBook Air for the work that you are trying to do? Why suffer with an iPad Pro when you can be productive RIGHT NOW with a MacBook Air?
  • I'm sad to hear that Google Docs Etc haven't been updated and they have had years to improve! The last time I tried to use them on iOS they were all so bad, both on the web or the apps, that I could use them read-only. I avoid them whenever possible, now, too.
    It's weird, sometimes Google is really trying to be cross platform, but sometimes it's just fail city.
  • I feel the same - I use google docs at work and it is the one suite of apps that is simply not keeping up. Microsoft are good; Apple are of course up to date. Only Google and Facebook are lagging in my most-used apps. To me it feels like they are proving a point (and see Google's recent screw-up of the Pixel C tablet and its poor app offerings - I suspect they are crippling tablets to push schools etc to their own Chromebooks)
  • FYI, Google Docs and Sheets were just updated today with iPad Pro support. I wonder if anyone with an iPad Pro (including the author) might be willing to see if today's updates fixed their issues. I've noticed that Google has been a little slow to update their iOS apps with the newest features, whereas Microsoft has theirs updated right out of the gate. They do eventually get updated, it just takes a while compared to their biggest competition. Google Maps for iOS also just this past week finally got 3D touch support as well.
  • I was about to post on this too! I just got an iPad Pro and was pleased to find no compatibility issues when connecting to my keyboard. It works great. I'm sure glad they did, too, cause my thesis is on google docs. Maybe now people will stop complaining. Good to know about 3D Touch on maps. I'll have to check that out on my phone. :)