How to get the most out of Google’s apps and services when using an iPad

While Apple may have no plans to port any of its iOS apps to Android, Google has long built apps for iOS. In the midst of this holiday buying season, many Android phone users are showing that they are interested in iPads. And they’ll still be able to their favorite Google apps and services on their iPads.

In all, Google continues to develop and enhance twenty-nine different apps for the iPhone, sixteen of which are also available for the iPad as universal apps. The following will look at the best that Google and others have to offer for the iPad when it comes to accessing Google’s online services.

Google on iPad

Getting Started

iCloud with a Gmail account – Before you start downloading Google apps on your iPad, you will need to create an Apple ID. However, using an Apple based email address is not required when setting up a new Apple ID. You can use your Gmail email address to create an Apple ID. That Apple ID can then be used to create both an iTunes and iCloud account. You will need the iTunes account to at least download all of Google’s apps. As for the iCloud account, it can be used to make wireless backups of your device as well as utilize the peace of mind offered by the Find my iPad (Free Universal) feature. You do not need to use the mail, contacts, calendars, reminders, safari, notes and photos features associated with an iCloud account. For those features you can turn towards Google’s own apps.

Best mail on iOS is Google’s Gmail app – The Gmail (Free Universal) app that Google built is a much better overall experience than accessing your mail through the standard mail app on iOS. Since Google dropped support of its Google Sync feature, I have found that I receive my Gmail messages faster using the standalone Gmail app. With support for threaded conversations and integration into iOS’s own notification system, Gmail for the iPad can also help you organize your email better with support for Google’s archiving, labeling, starring, deleting and reporting spam capabilities.

All the other Gmail services – Setting up your Gmail account in the mail settings of iOS will allow your calendar, contacts and notes to sync with the default iPad apps provided by Apple. Just be sure to switch off the mail sync since you will be using the Gmail app as noted above. Unfortunately there is currently no way to sync your Google Tasks with iOS Reminders. For that service consider purchasing gTasks HD Pro ($3.99 Universal). It supports full synchronization with Google Tasks and will even allow you to create repeating tasks as well as multi-level sub-tasks.

Chrome instead of Safari – As for browsing the web, Google’s Chrome (Free Universal) app for iOS is your best alternative to using Safari on your iPad. Using it you can sync your open tabs, bookmarks, passwords, and omnibox data with your desktop and your Android phone. In case you did not know, the omnibox is the information box that appears on the search bar when entering in a URL or search term. Another great feature you will soon realize after installing Chrome on your iPad is the when opening links from within Google’s other apps, the link will open in Chrome, not Safari. Google has done a really good job at communicating to third-party iOS app developers that want to support opening links in Chrome instead of Safari. So don’t be too surprised that after installing Chrome on your iPad that other apps will start sending links to Chrome rather than Safari.

Google on iPad

Accessing Google Content

Google Play instead of iTunes – Getting to your online music library from your iPad will either require you to use Google’s Play Music app for iPhone. If you are looking for a way to access your Google Play music account using an app designed for the iPad, then give IIS’s gMusic 2 ($1.99 Universal) a try. It has been available since before Google had a native iOS app for Google Play in the app store. It will even allow you to play your favorite radio selections through your All Access account on Google Play. When it comes to accessing your Google Play Books on the other hand, Google’s own iOS app Play Books is an excellent way of accessing your library on the iPad.

Google+ instead of PhotoStream – Sharing photos with your different circles on Google+ can be accomplished by enabling the automatic upload feature present in the Google+ app. Once set, the photos you take with your iPad (and yes, more and more people are taking photos with their iPads) will be uploaded directly to your Google+ photo library. The Google+ app of course has more features than just photos. To quickly access just your photos, I would recommend using a third-party app titled Web Albums HD ($3.99 iPad). It provides a quick means of accessing all of your photo albums even when offline.

QuickOffice instead of iWork – Accessing your Google Docs on your Google Drive is easy when using QuickOffice (Free Universal). Earlier this year Google made QuickOffice free to iOS users rather than developing their own native office based app for iOS. And that was a very smart move on Google’s part since working with Office documents on an iPad is something that appeals to many. Additionally you can use Google Drive (Free Universal) to access all of your content stored in Googles cloud.

Google Maps instead of Maps – There may be a lot of back and forth as to which maps app is better, Google’s or Apple’s. But one thing is certain, Apple’s maps app cannot access any of your saved Google maps locations and routes, known as My Places. In fact, I have found that Google’s support for importing and exporting KML routes and waypoints to be excellent over the many, many years I have been using the service. By using the Google Maps (Free Universal) app I can access all of the saved location information that I have accumulated. Something that simply is not possible by using Apple’s built-in Maps app.

Google on iPad

Replacing Apple with Google

Hangouts instead of FaceTime – Google Talk and Google Voice have a new place to hang out. With Google Hangouts (Free Universal), you can call any of your other Google friends online and even answer calls from your Google Voice account. While the dedicated Google Voice app was designed as an iPhone app, there are some good iPad friendly apps out there. That is something that you cannot do with Apple alone, turn your iPad into a phone.

Google Wallet instead of Passbook – If you have already taken the time to set up all of your loyalty cards in Google Wallet (Free iPhone) there is no reason you should not be able to access them from your iPad as well. While the app was developed for the iPhone, you can install and use it on your iPad. With it you can quickly add credit cards by just taking a picture. It is also an easy way to make payments directly with anyone else that is also using Google Wallet. And this is something you cannot do currently with Apple on the iPad, download and install Passbook. Passbook is an iPhone only feature that is not accessible independently via the app store.

Voice Search instead of Siri – Using voice search inside of the Google Search (Free Universal) app for iOS may be the alternative to Siri that you have been looking for. Understanding what you have to ask of it and being able to speak the answers back to you can be a great help when you are trying to get out the door. The app also has a good overview of your reminders, weather, news, and traffic. A decent overall replacement for Apple’s own Notification Center.

Chromecast instead of Apple TV – The Chromecast (Free Universal) app that you download from the app store will allow you to set up, configure and manage your Chromecast device on your local WiFi network. With it and a Chromecast device attached to your HDTV, you can Cast your videos YouTube, Netflix, Google Play Movies and Google Play Music and Chrome to your TV with the press of a button. While not every source of content is accessible from your iPad, Google is doing everything it can to inspire a wave of new apps and offerings that will be Chromecast enables in the near future.

So why would someone who has an Android phone or a Chromebook buy an iPad in the first place? That is not the point. The point is that if you do make that choice (and it is your choice to make after all), Google will be there for you. Both directly through the development of their own iOS apps, and indirectly through supporting iOS developers, Google is doing quite a lot to make iOS devices work nearly as well as Android devices.