After buying an iPad Air a few months ago, I was curious about Google’s services on iOS. In recent years I have heard a lot about functions that are provided on Google’s apps on the competing platform before they are transferred to its own operating system. So, I wanted to dig into the biggest Google apps and services to see if they had anything new to iOS that we didn’t see on Android. My research found several examples, seven of which are quite significant, and some others less substantial.
Chrome reading list
We heard about Chrome upcoming Read Later-like feature for a year but we still have to see it is available to everyone. It just popped up in the Canarian version of Chrome for Android, so it will take a few weeks to get to the stable version. Meanwhile, Google suggests using the page download feature to replace it.
However, the Reading List has been available on iOS for many months. Thanks to this, you can add any open page to your list or tap and hold on any hyperlink on a website to save the linked page for later.
The functionality is limited because only pages can be marked as read or deleted from your list. However, it’s the simplified offline reading mode that makes it all worth it.
Once a page is saved, it is accessible online and offline, and everything superfluous is removed so that only the main content of the article contains only the text and images. It’s perfect for saving a few articles to read and enjoy when you’re not connected.
Maps and search incognito gesture
Many Google apps on Android allow you to swipe up or down on your avatar picture (top right) to switch between different logged-in accounts. We love the feature, which is also available for iOS, but with an added twist.
If you tap and hold on the avatar instead of swiping, it will switch to incognito mode so you can use the app without the activity being tracked or associated with your account. This works both in the main Google app and in Google Maps on iOS.
Gboard point links
In general, Gboard on Android is miles ahead of iOS: it’s more fluid and offers one practical clipboard manager and this great emoji combos that among other things we love so much. However, there are two unique features that you can only find on Gboard for iOS right now. The first is Dot Links, which allow you to quickly insert preset emojis, GIFs, and stickers by simply entering a period (period) followed by a keyword.
You can have as many keywords as you want, but they are limited to six characters (which is why my popcorn keyword is corn). Then you can find and select three suggestions that can be mixed and matched between emojis and stickers and GIFs. Given the awkwardness of putting these in on iOS, the dot shortcuts are very welcome on the platform, but very handy on Android too.
Extensive gboard topic
The second Gboard feature that you’ll only find on iOS is the ability to customize each theme down to the smallest detail to your liking. You have to tap on the pencil symbol (edit) in the lower right corner of any topic to get to a new page with all conceivable settings: background transparency, text and background colors for normal and non-text buttons, frames around them, popup text and Background color and even wipe trace color and length.
That way, you can customize the look of the keyboard to your liking, going from something extra dark for nighttime use (or vampire) to something as funky as this mix of blue, green, yellow, and red retinas is.
Google Drive privacy screen
It still confuses me that Google won’t allow you to biometric lock many of their sensitive apps on Android. However, it does offer this for Drive on iOS. The function is called Privacy screen and can be activated if you immediately switch off the drive after 10 seconds, 1 minute or 10 minutes. Whenever you try to return to Drive after the preset time limit, you’ll need to unlock it with Touch ID or your PIN. This is a great security tool to help keep people you don’t trust out of your confidential documents.
Google App Incognito Mode Privacy
In addition to Drive, you can also lock the Google app behind Touch ID, but only for tabs in incognito mode after 15 minutes of inactivity. That makes a lot of sense. If you’ve started a search incognito, you probably don’t want it to be traced back to you by Google algorithms or by people who may have physical access to your device. After deviating from it for 15 minutes, you either forgot about it or got stalked from the site. So it only comes in handy when it’s locked and requires your biometric authentication to view its content.
It can also save you from seeing sensitive content when you open the app, when there are people nearby and you’ve been inactive for a while forgetting what you did to it the last time.
Google app multiple tabs
Every week, at least five or six times, I want the Google app on Android to allow me to do a new search without closing or overwriting the existing one. On iOS, the Google app has a tab toggle button that allows you to do a new search or open another recommended article while keeping the current article open.
Switching between searches in progress and articles is as easy as selecting that thumbnail. You can choose to automatically close open tabs after a day, week, or month.
A couple more
Easy Chrome multi-window
It is possible to open two side-by-side windows in Chrome for Android. However, you need to activate multiple windows first and then tap and hold any link on the currently open page to open it in the second window. It’s pretty hidden and not very easy – I’ve been looking into what Chrome does for years and only found out about it a few weeks ago.
The process is much easier on iOS. You can tap and hold any link to open it in a new window without triggering multi-window mode first, or you can use the gestures provided by iOS. Dead easy.
Chrome current tabs in the switcher
Another small improvement to Chrome on iOS is the handy tab switcher, which you can use to switch between open tabs on your current device. However, you can also get a list of your recently closed tabs and any tabs that you have opened on other devices. These functions are all available on Android, but not as easily accessible via the tab switcher as on iOS.
Gmail snooze settings
On iOS, you can use Gmail to adjust your snooze settings in the app so that you don’t have to open the web interface to change them. Small but why not add it to Android too?
Hide illustrations in Google Calendar
I like the cute Google Calendar event illustrations, but they may not be for everyone. If you’d prefer to keep your calendar serious and functional, you can turn off month and event images in the Calendar app on iOS using two toggles that are nowhere to be found on Android.
And just like that, your calendar becomes boring again, only calendar colors underline the schedule.
Limit Google Search Results by Time
Search tools have been added to the Google app on Android last year then mysteriously disappeared, never to be seen again. However, they are available on iOS so you can narrow down your search results by date (anytime, past the last hour, 24 hours, week, month, or year). Finding these filters on the web (desktop and mobile) and in the iOS app is confusing, but not the Android app.
Widgets, kind of
Google continues to offer the outdated Today Extensions (iOS 13 and earlier) for some of its apps on iOS. While these are not yet official “widgets”, they offer many features that could easily be implemented as an Android widget. Unfortunately, we don’t get any of these on our favorite platform.
Some of the most interesting options include some quick Chrome actions (including QR scanning), recommended websites you visit frequently, and a variety of interesting map widgets for local traffic, transit departures near you, travel times to your home or work as well as suggestions for actions from local guides. All of this would be welcome on Android.
Many Google apps offer feature parity for Android and iOS, but some (like Chrome or Assistant) are still more powerful on Android. However, it’s strange to see that in some cases the opposite is true, and that Google’s iOS teams are adding some functionality to the Apple platform before they go live on Android. Sure, none of these are critical, but some are pretty cool and useful and would be more than welcome additions to our mobile experience.