Wednesday, January 18, 2012

5 google offline productivity apps

We Chromebook and Chrome users love web apps a lot, but we also hate them (occasionally) because most of them only works online.  I have pointed out this being a major drawback of Chromebook and Chrome OS in my previous posts, 9 Reasons why you shouldn’t buy a Chromebook and 5 things Chrome OS should learn from Joli OS.
But things could change.  We gradually see more and more offline web apps emerged in the Chrome Web Store.  In this article I’ll introduce 5 productivity and work related web apps that work without internet connection.  Choices are certainly endless, do let us know your favorite by leaving a comment here!

Offline Google Mail

This is not the first time Google made its services work offline.  In the past it was done through Google Gears.  Earlier this year many of these offline features were pulled down to prepare for a new stage of offline working enabled by HTML5.  This September we begin to see the results and this Offline Google Mail web app is one of them.
Offline GMail
It’s not just a hyperlink to Google Mail.  It can run as a background app in your computer and notify you whenever you receive a new mail.  Every time you run it on Chrome it synchronizes the internet and the storage in your computer so that you read the freshest emails even when internet connection stopped.  It also brings a tablet-like user interface which maximizes the use of screen real estate.
Offline GMail - Background App
This app is far from perfect, though.  A much complained missing feature is access to Contacts when offline.  Contacts are as important as emails for mobile workers.  Some other features on (my) wish list are keyboard shortcuts, caching of attachments, tasks integration…  After all it’s a good start, please work hard Google guys!

Offline Google Calendar

What?  Google Calendar works offline?  Yes, it is a BETA (a.k.a experimental) feature.  Click the top right gear icon in Google Calendar and choose Offline.  You’ll see this pop up window asking you to enable offline mode and warning you about store private data in your computer.
Offline Google Calendar
No, RSVPs you made to events when flying on an airplane would not be synchronized immediately (unless there is satellite internet connection, which I cannot afford).  But once you are online again the online and offline copies would be merged.

Offline Google Docs

Offline Google Docs works in the same way as the Offline Google Calendar.  You can enable the offline mode and get everything downloaded to your computer, then work your head off while on the plane or on a remote beach with no phone reception.
Offline Google Docs
Currently Google Docs can only load Google documents and spreadsheets offline.  And they are READ ONLY.  There is no way you can edit them offline.  And you cannot create new documents.  So what’s this for?  Well, I tried loading my itinerary when travelling abroad recently.  At that time I only needed to read the hotel address and transport directions.  But if you are expecting some editing function, you may need to wait until this technology appears.

Offline Calculator: Scientific Calculator

It’s quite annoying to know that a “computer”, which literally means something capable to compute, cannot be used to do simple calculations offline.  But that’s a common question I heard the most when the concept of Chromebook first came out.
SciCalc - Advanced Scientific Calculator
There are a few offline calculator for Chrome.  The one I’m introducing is Scientific Calculator.  You can use it to do simple maths as well as using 18 functions (e.g. cosine, exponent etc.) and 8 constants (e.g. Pi and e).

Offline Note Taker: Scratchpad

Scratchpad on Chromebook
If you want to take notes while offline, you can’t use Google Docs.  Scratchpad is a convenient tool you should try because it can sync notes back to Google Docs.  You can mark down things (formatting and bullet points supported) offline and have them loaded to the cloud when internet is available.  On Chromebook it appears as a pop up panels just as some other system notifications.


After writing this short blog post, I found great potential to write more because there are so many useful offline web apps out there.  I’ll continue writing on this topic to make it a series of offline productivity web app reviews.  Stay tuned!
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