Update for Google Docs app adds offline support, amps up tablet features

by Phil Hornshaw

Google has done an admirable job of providing web apps that lots of people use every day. Gmail is firmly ensconced as a leader in web-based email, Google Reader provides easy RSS feed access, and Google Docs allows users to create word processing documents in their browser windows and share them with other users.

As Google’s Android operating system has picked up in popularity, the search company has created mobile app versions of its web services. The Android version of Google Docs has so far been somewhat underwhelming, but over time, Google has pushed out more and more updates to increase the functionality of the app.

The latest update to Google Docs brings lots of the features enjoyed by web users to its mobile counterparts. For one, the tablet experience of Google Docs has been reworked to be more robust and easier for users. The primary change for tablets is a new layout that makes swiping through document quick and intuitive, giving users more control over what they’re looking for and taking advantage of the larger screen space afforded to Android tablets.

Another major change is probably one of the most requested for Google Docs: offline mode. That allows users to tag certain files and save them to a mobile device’s local storage. Since Google Docs is web-based, normally users need an Internet connection to stream documents to their devices or computers. Saving is also done on Google’s servers automatically. With offline mode, users can save documents for when they can’t access the Internet, then upload changes when they get back to a Wi-Fi connection. PC and Mac users have long enjoyed offline mode capabilities, and now mobile users get the benefit of it, as well.

Google Docs also enjoys some mobile-only features that make it a handy thing to have on-hand no matter what device you’re carrying. Using your smartphone or tablet’s built-in camera, you can take a photo of a document and Google Docs will convert it to editable text in the app – effectively scanning it and making it available instantly. The app also taps into your Contacts list on your device, making sharing documents with most anyone you know a snap as well.

Like all of Google’s apps, Google Docs is free in the Android Market. If you intend to use your mobile devices for word processing work, it’s an app you’ll want in your library, especially now that Google has optimized it for tablets.