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Intelligent Machines

Google Stakes a Claim on Apple's Gadgets

The company’s Chrome browser and Drive storage app arrive for iPad and iPhones—and could perhaps woo business customers.

Two weeks ago, Google had its Maps app demoted from being the default on Apple’s mobile devices. Today Google launched something of a fight back by announcing versions of the Chrome Web browser and the Google Drive file-syncing and management service for iPhones and iPads. The news comes from the second day of Google’s annual developers’ conference in San Francisco, and it could see Google’s offerings for businesses get a boost via Apple’s popular devices.

Cloud work: The Google Drive app for iPad and iPhone might help Google woo businesses with its collaboration tools.

Google launched its Drive service, a suite of collaboration and file-syncing tools, in April this year. It includes online document editing tools that are a close match to classic office packages; collaboration tools for chat, videoconferencing, and live group editing; and the ability to sync files across multiple devices. Google Drive’s search technology can read the text in images, and even recognize some objects, enabling easier searching. A demo on stage today showed how typing the word “pyramids” brought up holiday snaps of the Egyptian monuments.

Drive has become a central part of Google Apps, the name for services the company sells to businesses. Google says that five million businesses and government offices in some 45 U.S. states are customers.

The announcements made today by Clay Bavor, director of product management for Google Apps, could see Apple’s products help Google expand this part of its business.

“Like with Chrome, we want Google Drive to be available on every platform,” said Bavor, introducing a version for Apple’s phones and tablets. He also showed how users of the Chrome browser on desktop or laptop computers can now edit Google Drive word-processing documents through their browser even when offline, and have the changes synced when they get back online. This feature will be switched on for presentation and spreadsheet documents in coming months, and will also eventually appear in the version of the Chrome browser that runs on Apple mobile devices.

Offering its wares on Apple tablets and phones could help Google reach a much broader base of business customers. An estimated 13.6 million tablets were bought by businesses in 2011, according to Infinite Research, almost all of them iPads; and many people take their personal iPads to work.

However, using an iPad to do work in a way that integrates with a company’s existing systems can be a challenge. The combination of Google Drive and a version of Chrome that is compatible with Google’s document and collaboration tools could make the iPad significantly more business-friendly.

Apple’s closest equivalent to Google Drive, iCloud, can keep files that are created and edited locally in sync across multiple Apple mobile devices, and both Windows or Apple computers. However, it does not include collaboration tools or online editing tools, and it has not so far been publicly promoted as a product for businesses.

Google will, however, be limited in what it can do on Apple’s devices by the company’s strict rules on third-party apps. For example, the iPhone and iPad versions of the Chrome browser cannot use many of the Web page rendering technologies that Google developed to make Web browsing faster. Apple requires browser apps to use its own technology to work on downloaded Web pages. As a result, the core of Google’s browser for iOS is built around the same technology used in Apple’s own Safari browser. Apple has also chosen not to allow alternative browsers to be set as the default on its devices.

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