Google Docs gets a great free upgrade for iPad and Android tablet users

New changes to Google Workspace make Docs, Sheets and Slides nicer places to be on iOS and Android tablets

Google Pixel Tablet
(Image credit: Google)

Google has been making lots of updates to its Workspace interface and apps, and the latest bunch of upgrades are coming to tablets. They're part of Google's move to implement Material Design 3-compliant design improvements across all its work apps, and in addition to making your tablet experience look better it should help you get things done more efficiently too.

Writing on the official Google blog, the firm explains that the new formatting sidebar "reduces the number of taps needed to navigate to formatting options, enabling you to more easily arrange text, tables, images and more."

Material Design is Google's design language for apps, and it's also known as Material You. For the last 10 years or so it's set the rules for what Google recommends in user interface design, and as you'd expect Material Design 3 is the third major version of it. It's all about creating app designs that are clear, user-friendly and that work across all screen sizes – including the tablets that Android tended to forget about until relatively recently. This third version was announced in 2021 and informs the design of Android 12 and later.

When can I get the new Google Workspace update?

If you're on a rapid release domain you can get it right now; otherwise you should get the update in early March when it rolls out to all Google Workspace customers, individual Google Workspace subscribers, and personal Google account users too.

As you can see from the screenshots on Google's blog, the new sidebar is a much clearer and better organised way to see your formatting options than the current toolbar, which isn't as clear as it might be. And it follows in the footsteps of the newly redesigned comments panel across Docs, Sheets and Slides, which adds a bit of polish and clarity to the interface. 

There are some other key changes too. Slides now enables you to quickly set a background image by hovering over the border of an empty slide before dropping in an image from your desktop, from a web page or from the Content Library; that feature's rolling out from late February. And from this week onwards you'll be able to use Speaker Spotlight in the same app, embedding your camera feed directly into your presentations. That one's limited to business and education users only.

Carrie Marshall

Writer, musician and broadcaster Carrie Marshall has been covering technology since 1998 and is particularly interested in how tech can help us live our best lives. Her CV is a who’s who of magazines, newspapers, websites and radio programmes ranging from T3, Techradar and MacFormat to the BBC, Sunday Post and People’s Friend. Carrie has written more than a dozen books, ghost-wrote two more and co-wrote seven more books and a Radio 2 documentary series. When she’s not scribbling, she’s the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR (