The One Big Problem With Google’s iPad Apps

iPads at the Apple store

Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images

There are plenty of reasons to use Apple’s new iPad Pro even if it can’t really replace your laptop, but new versions of Google’s apps aren’t one of them. As Andrew Cunningham reports for Ars Technica, Google continuously updates Google Docs, Google Sheets, YouTube, and other apps, but they don’t properly support Apple’s latest guidelines or the features it introduced with iOS 9.

On an iPad Pro, iOS apps that don’t properly support Apple’s guidelines for resolution-independent apps look stretched out and slightly blurry, in the same way that an app optimized for the iPhone 5 would look larger but blurry on the iPhone 6. Even worse, however, is that Google’s apps still don’t support the Split View multitasking features that Apple introduced in iOS 9.

As Cunningham notes, that lack of support is especially noticeable in Google’s apps because they’re productivity apps, which are the best use case for Split View multitasking. It’s significantly easier to copy text and data from one place and then paste it in another place when you can run two apps side-by-side. But it’s not just Docs and Sheets that don’t support the multitasking features. Few of Google’s apps for iOS support Split View, and the company’s YouTube app doesn’t support the Picture-in-Picture multitasking mode, either.

Cunningham reports that since Google Chrome gained iPad multitasking support back in October, it’s clear that the problem isn’t that Google doesn’t recognize the benefits of the feature. Google also takes advantage of other iOS 9 features to make its browser faster and more stable. But while Google actively maintains Drive, YouTube, Docs, Sheets, Gmail, Inbox, and others, updating them frequently, it still isn’t supporting features that Microsoft and other major companies have gotten behind.

While the ability to use Google apps with Google’s services on the iPad should be a benefit, the choices that Google is making with its apps are frustrating for people who want to use an iPad or iPad Pro as their primary computing device. If you use your device primarily for email, web browsing, and messaging, the iPad’s limitations may not bother you — but they’re more likely to annoy you if the companies behind your favorite apps don’t adopt the best features of the device’s operating system.

Federico Viticci writes on MacStories that the fact that Docs, Sheets, and Slides can’t be used alongside other apps on the iPad highlights a bigger problem with Google’s iOS software. While many people in the tech industry have long believed that Google excels at web services while Apple makes superior native apps, the tables have turned in recent years, when many have found that Google has been getting better at making apps at a faster rate than Apple has been improving at web services.

Viticci writes that while many people believe that Google has built a great ecosystem of iOS apps, “Google’s iOS apps are no longer great.” He explains that while Google’s apps for Apple’s platform are mostly OK, they’re often disappointing, in large part because Google is unwilling “to recognize that adopting new iOS technologies is an essential step for building solid iOS experiences.”

Viticci notes that while Google’s “services are still amazing,” its apps “are too often a downright disappointment.” In his assessment, there’s no reason that a company like Google should take four months — or nine if you count WWDC 2015 — to ship apps that are only partially compatible with iOS 9 and the iPad Pro.

Jordan Novet reports for VentureBeat that it’s not surprising to see Google delaying its support for all of the features of the iPad Pro. “After all, last year Google did come out with its own answer to Microsoft’s Surface in the form of the Pixel C,” Novet writes. Meanwhile on iOS 9, many of Google’s core apps, including Docs, Hangouts, and Maps, don’t even support 3D Touch. Novet points out that “Of course, Google has Android to look after and constantly optimize for.”

While Apple has its own issues to fix in the many apps it’s built for iOS, and its services leave a lot to be desired, Google is failing to deliver modern iOS apps thanks to its own lack of attention to the features that would really make it a no-brainer for iOS device owners to use its apps on Apple’s platform. Google may be paying more attention to fixing its own operating system and its failure to optimize Android Marshmallow for tablets, but that’s a poor excuse for letting its software on other platforms fall behind.

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