Chips, canvases, and chats: Google Workspace’s plan to crush Office

Google’s Cloud Next developer event is today, and the Google Workspace team is using the opportunity to announce a number of new tools across Gmail, Docs, Meet, and the rest of the Workspace ecosystem. Google is investing in its “smart canvas” concept for Docs with features like embedding information and apps inside documents. It’s also releasing some new Meet features with hybrid work in mind, like AI-powered frame tools for conference room cameras that keeps speakers in focus at all times.

Google Workspace has a new leader: Aparna Pappu. Pappu took the position as VP and GM of Workspace in July, following Javier Soltero’s departure. Pappu had been at Google since 2007, but most recently served as the head of the Workspace engineering team. Now fully in charge of the business, she aims to carry on Soltero’s vision.

Little-known Google Workspace is part of a new generation of Google products that are popular in schools and colleges. A recent study revealed that Workspace is preferred to Microsoft Office in most settings, and Founder Pappu sees this as an opportunity to grow the service.

Google has been working on a new product called Google Workspace to make the workplace more connected. This will include embedded “chips” as seen in the GIF above!

Google has a tendency to launch new ideas and kill older ones. With Workspace, it’s one of Pappu’s jobs to create a coherent and consistent vision – one that is hard for Google to easily screw up.

Pappu maintains that the merger between Meet and Duo is still in place, despite any confusion or opposition. He also says that increasing communication among products is still a key part of Google’s overall Workspace roadmap.

“The origin story of our products is one of independent tools,” Pappu admits. Gmail, Docs, Keep and the rest were separate tools with different teams and separate goals, and they were only combined into a single suite of products much later. Google has begun to do more to make them feel more connected lately, most notably with the “chips” concept that allows users to embed data from one app into another. (Google also announced this week at Cloud Next that it’s bringing chip support to Sheets.)

Pappu rattles off a few examples of what this kind of connection looks like: automatically showing calendar availability in your emails; firing up a meeting within the Google Doc you’re currently editing so you can chat and edit in a single tab, or assigning a task in a comment that shows up in the Tasks app. For years, Google seemed content with building redundant functionality into every app, so they could do everything…. In recent months, its gone back to letting each tool do its thing. Pappu says she wants to do even more of that and ultimately use AI and machine learning for these tools to work together more proactively too.

While Workspace is a collaborative workspace and community, it also wants to be much more. “We cannot build every idea for the future of work tools,” says Matthews, “nor do we have the arrogance to think that we have all the ideas in the world.” Workspace wants to unleash creativity from around the world. So if you see a recent trend in companies like Notion, Coda and ClickUp; there are many who want to be the platform for work tools in the future.

Google wants to turn Workspace into a much more full-featured platform, but there are already a lot of other platforms that provide similar services.

Google is developing new APIs that will let developers start meetings or send messages from their apps. The Workspace team is already beta-testing this with Figma, Atlassian, and Asana. More integrations are on the way to make your job easier. The Google team is looking at ways to bring non-Google tools into Google products to expand the capability of the Docs canvas and embedded chips.

All of these developments have big implications for the way people work. It seems that people are back in the office after years of working from home, but there’s also a growing number who will never go back. Hybrid work is here to stay, but it’s uncertain how it’ll be done and many new questions have arisen. Including from Google.


For Pappu, the only answer is to offer as much flexibility as possible. “Can I trust my employees to work from anywhere?” she asks. “Can they bring their own devices? Should I trust them on a Wifi network in a Starbucks somewhere?”

During the conversation, Pappu mentioned Google’s Companion mode a few times as an example of how to successfully make hybrid work. She says that her team uses it in meetings to make hybrid go smoothly.

Companion Mode on Google Meet uses voice recognition to transcribe your words and share them in a live chat window. Making Google Meet the most intuitive video conference app.

Companion mode is a big part of the Workspace vision. Image: Google

As Pappu explains, data drives decisions. However, this all depends on how you measure the success of your project. She points out that there needs to be a long-term view on the success of your data and not just a “quick monthly assessment.” You can’t expect to ship a new update without taking responsibility for it in the future.

At one point during our conversation, I asked Pappu about her plan to win over Excel users – specifically, the hardcore, pivot-tabling typists and formula writers who typically never touch the mouse. Those people won’t find what they need from Google Sheets. In turn, those same people are often decision makers when it comes to buying software by way of their own experience of hardcore pivot-tabling and formula writing in Excel.
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Faced with the question, Pappu laughed. “She asks this question all the time,” she said.
“Google has made some Excel compatibility features over the last couple of years, but there’s just no out-doing Excel.” She explained that we will never be able to share 25 million cells in a spreadsheet seamlessly without warning Google first.

Instead of trying to convert people to a new way of working, Google is trying to make it easier for them. “If you can find ways to provide the right set-up and out of spreadsheets, then they’ll go a lot easier on their own,” he says. “Convince them that this is really going to be better.” Instead of dumping your data into a spreadsheet, use BigQuery, Data Studio and Looker. They’re simple but powerful tools that can help you visualize any data.

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