Google adds new productivity tools to its Smart Canvas collaboration platform

It's also doing away with traditional pagination.


We've seen bits and pieces of Google's Smart Canvas platform trickle out since it was announced last May, and now, we're getting a look at a few more features coming today and in the next few weeks. The company is unveiling a set of updates for Google Docs, Sheets and Workspace that will make it easier for you and your teammates to work on the same files together.

After rolling out the "universal @ menu" last year, Google is now expanding the available building blocks that you can add to a doc. The company already released blocks for People and Meeting Notes, the latter of which lets you quickly insert automatically generated dates, meeting names, attendees and notes from your calendar events, Soon, you'll see options for email drafts and Maps.

The latter is fairly self-explanatory — you can embed a Google Maps link and when you click on it, a snippet shows up on the right column in the same page, giving you a preview of the area, as well as directions and traffic info. Just as you can in the Maps app, you can also send directions to your phone through this snippet.

An animation showing how the Maps smart chip works in Google's Smart Canvas.

Meanwhile, the new email draft building block lets you compose a message within a box in your Doc, and allows your collaborators to view and tweak your addressees, subject line and letter copy. Those with edit permissions can even send the emails by clicking the envelope icon to the top left of the block, and a small window will pop up with the contents exported to Gmail. The message will be sent from the email of the collaborator who clicked on the icon. Google said the email drafts building block will be available "in the coming weeks."

Because this new format of collaboration will allow people to embed multiple files into one, it's important to get a preview of every document within one page instead of having to open each to see what it contains. Of course, you could use informative titles, but a document summary can provide helpful details like "budget breakdown table here." Today, Google is adding automatically-generated summaries in Docs to make adding a summary to a document preview a little easier. When you click the Summary field, an AI-generated suggestion appears in the box, similar to Google's sentence completion suggestions, and you can hit tab to accept it.

An animation showing how the new automatically generated summaries in Docs works.

Since you can also already pull in slides and sheets to a document via the @ menu, it'd be a little inaccurate to think of Docs as a specific file type with a set canvas. Google's building blocks are very similar to how Microsoft's Fluid Framework is doing away with file formats and refocusing around the idea of a "free-flowing canvas."

But Google also wants to move its Workspace apps out of the confines of the traditional desktop view. It also unveiled today a "pageless format." Starting today, Workspace users will no longer see page boundaries in Docs. Instead of a white paper-like canvas flanked by gray space, the entire page will be white, and your content won't be broken up by page breaks. Those who prefer the traditional demarcations can still switch back to a paginated view.

An animation showing the new

In addition, the canvas will automatically resize to fit the width of the screen you're working on, whether it's a laptop, an external monitor or your phone. The content in your document will rearrange itself accordingly so you won't have to deal with endless horizontal scrollbars just because you're working while in transit.

Finally, those who often use formulas in Sheets may find the upcoming "formula corrections" feature useful. Like the already available "formula suggestions," this tool will help catch errors and troubleshoot your formulas. It will be available "in the coming weeks."

If you're not already a Google Workspace user, you can sign up for free and check out these new collaborative features when they roll out to the basic tiers. For now, between Google and Microsoft's tools, it looks like collaborative online work is going to get better, just in time for the hybrid workforce.