I happened to be looking through the settings of Google's Docs app for Android the other day when I spotted something interesting -- something I'd never before noticed.
Sitting amidst all of the app's everyday options is a quietly significant feature, disabled by default: the ability to create standard Word documents within the app with a single tap -- to start a file that's in the DOCX format from the get-go, in other words, rather than in Google's own proprietary format.
Huh. How 'bout that?
This may seem inconsequential -- and if you're 100% committed to Docs and the greater Google ecosystem, it very well may be. But for folks who still have ties to the Microsoft Office universe (as most business users do, at least to some extent), the presence of this option is actually pretty important.
Google has increasingly been working to make its mobile office offering more compatible with the Microsoft Office standard, as I learned when I tackled my latest in-depth analysis of Android's office options earlier this year. But even so, most of the efforts have felt more like begrudging acceptance than true native support -- more of "Okay, if you really must deal with that kind of file, we'll make it possible" as opposed to "Hey, look, we're giving you a fully Word-friendly word processing client."
Maybe it was just a matter of time. Or maybe it was Microsoft's impressively rapid rise to excellence with its own Android Office apps that forced Google to step up its stance.
Either way, Google Docs for Android is clearly now aiming to exist as a non-myopic Word alternative -- an app that supports the universally acceptable Word format not just as a tacked-on afterthought but as a core part of its functionality, for those who want it. You can still create files in Docs' own format and then convert them to DOCX later, of course, but if and when you're in a position where DOCX is the expected norm, you no longer have to take that extra step.
(See also: the fact that the Docs Android app finally supports Microsoft's popular Track Changes formatting -- a welcome recent addition for those of us who regularly receive documents notated with that system.)
To be sure, Google's Docs app is still nowhere near as fully featured as Microsoft's own Word app for Android. As I concluded in my aforementioned office app shootout, Microsoft's Android Office suite is clearly the best overall choice for anyone who needs all the desktop-level bells and whistles or the guarantee of flawless Office-file compatibility.
But for those of us who prefer the Google productivity approach -- an equally valid setup in which basic features are supplemented by outstanding systems for collaboration, sharing, and platform-agnostic interaction -- dealing with the pesky realities of a Word-dominated world is slowly but surely becoming less painful.