Google Workspace adds pageless view, Maps and Gmail drafts
Google continues to modernize its document editing suite.
The latest Google Docs update makes pageless documents available to all users after the company announced the feature last May. It also adds new features like AI-generated document summaries, online Google Maps previews, and the ability to compose emails with other users before forwarding them to Gmail. Most of these features are launching today, while email composing will be rolling out in the “coming weeks.”
The update can be seen as part of a larger effort to compete with startups like Notion and Coda, which are reinventing document editing around dynamic, fluid pages. These products also caught the eye of Microsoft, which last November announced a brand new document-editing app called Loop.
While Google isn’t fundamentally reinventing Docs in response, it is leveraging its ecosystem of other apps and services to make documents more dynamic and less like the printed page.
“What makes me happy is that we already have all these awesome products in Workspace,” says Vishnu Sivaji, Product Manager at Google Workspace. “So now we’re thinking about how to make these features easy to discover and smooth to use by tying them together.”
For most Google Docs users, the most striking change will be the new pageless format, which extends white space to both edges of the screen and removes page markers used for printing purposes. It also enables fully responsive design, where documents reflow as users adjust their browser window size. (Pagination will still be the default, but users can switch to pageless formatting under File > Setup.)
While pageless formatting is a tabletop issue on newer editing tools such as Notion, Craft and Skiff, Sivaji says it was a major undertaking for Google, requiring a year of infrastructure development to ensure that it worked even for large and complex documents.
“It’s a hard engineering problem to replicate physical pages as a web application, and it’s also hard to have a very smooth infinite scrolling experience that supports the use cases that people use Google Docs,” he says.
Other changes won’t be as immediately noticeable, but explain where Google Docs and the Workspace suite as a whole are heading.
Document summaries created using AI technology, for example, will appear in a sidebar view where users can accept them or edit their text. When users hover over links to another document containing a summary, it appears in a pop-up preview window.
Other Google products also get hooks inside Docs. When linking to a location in Google Maps, users will be able to format the link as a simple address; hovering will bring up a pop-up panel with a summary and a link to directions. Users will then be able to open a Google Maps sidebar for more details.
Google is also adding a way to compose Gmail messages in Docs, so users can collaborate on messaging before pushing the content to Gmail itself. And a recently added meeting notes feature lets users pull contacts, action items, and other event details from Google Calendar. You can expect the lines between different Google Workspace products to blur in other ways in the future.
“We see that there is no more room for working in silos,” says Sivaji. “This idea of relying on a single tool tailored to a specific use case is obsolete.”
Build on what works
At two points in our interview, Sivaji points out that Google isn’t building any new products to replace its existing ones. To do that, he says, would require users to discover and learn to use another app, and for businesses, that would require more employee training.
“We think we have great starting points and we think the power is in connecting all of these abilities,” he said.
I read this as a subtle swipe at Microsoft, which teased a new product called Loop that looks a lot like Notion and Coda. While Loop will allow users to link to traditional Office documents, it will also offer its own canvas for words and tables. (Microsoft has yet to launch Loop and only promised more details “in the coming months.”)
While Google’s approach makes sense, especially for existing Docs users, it could also prove burdensome.
With Notion and Coda, for example, each note can have its own set of subpages, and both apps allow you to jump between pages with a side menu. The concept of a subpage can be a powerful tool for project management – it’s one of the main things that got me hooked on Notion – but when I mention it to Sivaji he’s wary of the introduction anything that drastically changes the Docs interface.
“It’s an active investment area,” he says. “I expect to see even more there, but we want to make sure it meets people’s needs in a way that isn’t shocking and feels natural.”
Shareable templates have also become a phenomenon for Notion and Coda, whose users have designed habit trackers, project planners and study systems that other users can install. Notion recently revamped its template gallery to include free and paid offerings, and Coda created a fund for makers as a step towards a full ecosystem for buying and selling templates. Some of these templates are so advanced that they look like apps in themselves.
This concept didn’t seem to be on Sivaji’s radar. When I brought it up, he just pointed out that some users sell Google Slides templates, that Workspace users can create and share templates within an organization. If Google plans to create a model ecosystem, Sivaji has not hinted at it.
Yet Google may not be in a position to introduce drastic changes. The company recently announced that it has more than 3 billion Workspace users, a number that includes Gmail and Google Meet as well as Docs, Sheets and Slides. So she has no pressure to fight for new users. Instead, it just needs to convince users that it needs to use more parts of Workspace already, so that the full suite becomes stickier for businesses and encourages more users to pay for Google services like the cloud storage.
Hence the desire to connect more of these workspace elements together.
“We really want to think about how we break down those silos of great individual apps to create a truly integrated solution,” says Sivaji.