March 17, 2008

Obsession of the moment: Google Docs as mobile eText reader

Google Docs as mobile eText reader

As a heavy reader who's also tech-savvy, like many others I have been striving for years to find a decent option for reading the various digital books, stories and articles I now own, and in general have found serious problems with just about every option out there: cellphone screens are too small, computer screens too irritating on the eyes, the Sony Reader too expensive, the Amazon Kindle pretty much useless for anything besides officially sanctioned Amazon eBooks, not to mention all the dozens of software platforms that have to be considered anymore when it comes to developing anything new for mobile devices. And this isn't even mentioning all the disastrous attempts at this topic in the '90s, all of which I tried at least once back then, none of which are even worth bringing up as an example of how not to do things.

In this world where no great options exist, then, I have at least stumbled across a simple "lifehack" option that seems to at least work pretty well; and that's merely to import your stories into the free online Google Docs, and then access the files later on the go through their mobile portal. For those who don't know, in fact, such online "web applications" are becoming more and more popular and powerful with each passing month, and with more and more of the tech world focused on creating such software, instead of the traditional stand-alone kind you buy on CD and install on your home PC; Google in particular has very quietly gotten extremely good at webapp development, something I'm surprised they don't talk about more in public (but then again, the reasons for most things done at Google are baffling to me).

As always, the team at Google have set things up smartly with their suite of Docs apps (including free simple online replacements for Microsoft's Word, Excel and Powerpoint) -- basically, they have invented a way so that you can fully edit your files when working on them through a computer, but only receive ultra-simple read-only versions when accessing them through a cellphone or PDA. In effect, then, it turns your files into perfectly-formatted eBooks for your mobile device, with Google doing the hard work of formatting the text and margins to the dimensions of your mobile screen, instead of having to rely on clunky proprietary eBook software that doesn't even work half the time. Plus, under this option you're not saddled with the exclusivity of a place like Amazon, where if the content isn't Amazon-approved then it won't open at all; since Google Docs is essentially a word processor when you're using the full version, you can pretty much include anything that counts as text, no matter whether or not Google has set up a special corporate partnership with the people behind that text.

Anyway, it's just a little trick that's been working well for me lately, considering that the vast majority of non-novels I read anymore in my life are accessed through purely electronic means; you will of course need an account at Google to try it out yourself, although as always an account at Google is free.

Filed by Jason Pettus at 10:11 AM, March 17, 2008. Filed under: Design | Literature | Literature:Fiction | Literature:Nonfiction | Profiles |