Saturday, September 30, 2023

The Google Docs API is here: you’ll soon be able to embed other apps in your docs

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Shreya Christina
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The @ symbol is about to become the most important feature in Google Docs. As Google continues to invest in making Workspace a more connected and powerful platform, it is also opening Docs to third-party developers at scale. In the future, all you need to do is type “@” and the name of any file or app you’re looking for, and you’ll be able to view and edit it from Google Docs.

The feature is called “smart chips” and essentially refers to embedding other apps in Google Docs. The API that makes all this possible is new — Google announced it on its Cloud Next conference together with a handful of partners. Asana users can manage their tasks through an embed in Docs; you can see visual previews of Miro and Figma boards, although there is no in-Docs editing power yet; and you can see live update analytics through Tableau.

The underlying shift here is huge, and Google is actually too late with it. Notion, Coda and other apps have gained popularity by developing digital documents into low-code website builders. You can embed YouTube videos and PDFs, work with your spreadsheets and manage a kanban board, all within a single ‘document’. Meanwhile, Google Docs has long been stuck with emulating an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper.

(A note is that this isn’t exactly related to yesterday’s YouTube announcement that all creators will get @handles going forward, but it’s interesting to see the company going all in on the symbol as an identity marker on the web … also incredibly late with this trend.)

But through Google’s “smart canvas” concept, the company is trying to catch up quickly. Many of the concepts that support the idea, like a borderless page and all these third-party embedded apps, will eventually make their way into tools like Slides and Sheets, but Docs is an obviously handy place to start.

Users working on a Figma document in a Meet conversation.

The Meet API allows you to use other apps in a Meet conversation.
Image: Google

Google is also giving developers more access to Meet, its other main work tool. Developers can include basic meeting controls—starting, scheduling, that sort of thing—into their apps, but they can also embed their technology into the Meet app itself in much the same way as Docs. For example, you can edit a Figma document together from the Meet call, without needing two windows or switching tabs a lot. Google is also adding similar functionality for Chat and Spaces as it desperately tries to catch up to Slack and Microsoft Teams.

The new chips are now available to developers and will be available to users in January. Aparna Pappu, the new head of Google Workspace, told The edge that becoming a platform is an important part of the product’s future. Overall, work tools are becoming more connected and integrated as they become more digital, and Google still has some catching up to do in making Docs the centerpiece of the employee work universe. If Google can convince developers to jump on board, it could win over and win back some of the users from that new generation of ultra-powerful editors.

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