Google rebrands Apps for Work as G Suite, adds intelligent features

Docs, Sheets, Slides, Drive and Calendar all get enhancements

Google rebranded and enhanced its productivity suite Thursday with new intelligent capabilities that help it better compete with Microsoft Office 365.

G Suite is the new name for the group of applications that include Gmail, Google Calendar, Docs, Sheets, and Slides. It's a group of apps that the company is trying to push on organizations looking to make their employees more productive, with an emphasis on collaboration capabilities.

Docs, Sheets, and Slides are each getting new features aimed at making it easier to create files quickly with the help of Google intelligence. In addition, Google Calendar is getting an update to make it easier to schedule meetings, and Drive has a new feature making it easier for teams to use.

All told, these new feature launches are aimed at making the newly coined suite more appealing to teams that might be tempted to reach for Microsoft's intelligent productivity capabilities and enterprise-oriented features.

One of the most important announcements for enterprises is a new Team Drives feature that lets organizations set up groups that own files inside Google Drive. It's a shift from the product's previous design, which required every document, spreadsheet or slide deck to have a single person own it. The change could be important for organizations that want to more easily manage files as people come and go from teams.

Now, teams can have their own folder inside Drive and can own all of the files inside of it. Administrators can control access to the team Drive, and people can come and go. The feature is available in private beta Thursday.

In addition, the Google Hangouts video-conferencing service will gain capabilities that make it possible for people to join meetings from any device, without needing to have an application or plugin installed. Right now, that functionality is also available in private beta.

Docs, Sheets, and Slides are each getting new Explore features aimed at making it easier to intelligently create documents. In Docs, the existing Research feature has been rebranded as Explore and enhanced to quickly and automatically surface information about the subject of a document, both from the web and from files shared in Google Drive.

In Sheets, the Explore feature will now let users ask questions in natural language about data in a spreadsheet and get information back. It's similar to the Q&A feature in Microsoft's Power BI service, which makes it easier for people to get insight from potentially messy data without knowing complicated spreadsheet editing capabilities. 

The Slides feature makes it easier for people to find images that fit into their presentations with its Explore functionality and will automatically help lay out text and images to make them more visually appealing, thanks to the power of machine learning.

All of those features are similar to ones that Microsoft has already launched in Office 365 and may help Google become more appealing to customers.

In addition, teams looking to schedule meetings will have an easier way of setting things up with a Find a Time feature in Google Calendar. That feature, which was announced for Android earlier this year, is available for iOS on Thursday and will be available on the web by the end of this year. Users can also now reserve meeting rooms with Calendar.

Finally, Android users will get access to a new Quick Access capability in Google Drive that's designed to give people fast access to the files they need to work on after they open the app. It's powered by machine learning and designed to reduce the amount of time that people have to spend searching Drive for the files they need.

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Blair Hanley Frank

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