I’m leaning all in on this Google Smart Canvas thing here, so as I said in previous articles, you’re going to see me talking about it a lot more often as I explore its capabilities and use cases. I recently talked about how you could inject a writing timer or stopwatch for your creativity or work in Docs, and even the joy of using Pageless view and how it’s re-sparked my love for Google’s word processor.
From adding emoji to any part of your document to express yourself or give feedback in collaborative situations to creating custom dropdowns, meeting notes for Calendar events, drafting emails and more, I’ve become a bit infatuated. Google has openly stated that it’s got plans to add many, many more smart chips to Docs, Sheets and hopefully Slides before the end of the year, including chips from third party integrations, which is very exciting.
Today, I want to explore five things Smart Canvas can do to improve. It may be amazing, but it’s far from perfect. My hope is that you’ll agree with these and that someone at Google will be equipped to make some changes to streamline the experience of using Smart Canvas tools at home and on the go. Let me know in the comments if you’ve toyed with this or if this is your first introduction to it. I’ll be sure to give a full breakdown and tutorial of the many features over the next few weeks.
More flexible date picker
One of my favorite smart chips is the date chip. Google lets you inject today’s date, tomorrow’s date, or a generic date where you can pick any specific day you’d like. However, since I’m using Docs as my journal now and moving away from Keep, I’ve noticed that the date picker is quite limited compared to where it appears in other Google products and services. Instead of being able to tap the year and slide through the years quickly to choose a date far in the past, you must manually click through each month to get there! I had to insert a date chip for September 2019 as I was transcribing my bullet journal into a document, and let me tell you, this was tedious. I think I had to click through the months like 50 times to get there and that’s just annoying.
Mobile support for smart chips
Next, and this is probably my biggest gripe – Google needs to add mobile support for Smart Canvas elements. If you load up a document you’ve been creating on desktop through your phone as you head out on the go and want to jot something down, you’re met with really ugly, non-functional items. For example, you can’t change date chips, dropdowns work, but they’re boxy instead of rounded off, and Maps smart chips simply show the name of the location, and don’t open up in the Google Maps app at all. The worst offender is that you can’t even add chips from your phone, so yeah…there’s that.
Allow editing smart chip previews
This one isn’t really that big of a deal, but as a journal, Docs would benefit from being able to pop open linked smart chips for files (let’s say another document) and type some changes before closing it again. At this time, clicking on a Doc chip opens a quarter window preview at the bottom of the active document and lets you scroll through its contents. You can open it in another window if you want to make changes, but for small alterations, it would be wonderful to be able to do that in this smaller preview window without having to open another tab in Chrome.
Better touch support for tablets and styli
Remember how I mentioned the terrible mobile support? Well, it’s worse than we thought. Again with the idea of using Docs as a bullet journal – sometimes, I want to use my stylus or my finger for touch input instead of a mouse and keyboard. I’ve quickly noticed that inserting smart chips with the virtual keyboard is just impossible. The ‘@’ sign just sits there and no suggestions pop up in a context menu at all. Similarly, touching certain smart chips doesn’t activate them for alterations. Dropdowns work fine, but that’s about it.
Allow non-Workspace accounts to assign checklist items to their Google Tasks list
Okay, last one. I’ll of course add more observations over time as I use the tools more, but this one kind of annoys me. If you have a Google Workspace account, you can inject a ‘Task’ smart chip into your document and then assign yourself or another user to it. This drops it into your Google Tasks in the right-hand sidebar, making it easy to return to that document (that’s attached to the task) whenever you want to follow up. It’s honestly a really cool way to have a super messy but still somehow organized task system since you can drop tasks anywhere in your Google Drive across any document and see them all in your Google Tasks list all neat and tidy.
However, if you’re rocking a personal Google Account, you can’t do this! You can add a ‘Checklist’, but you can’t assign yourself to it. This makes perfect sense – you’re not a team, you’re an individual, and a task is solely for you, so seeing it when you come back to the document should be enough, right? Well, not really. There’s no way to see a list of all of your tasks across all documents since they don’t appear in Google Tasks in the sidebar. It’s a real bummer, but I’m hopeful that in the future, any checklist item you create in a Doc will automatically appear in the Tasks service.