Google is adding a hand annotation highlight feature to Docs

For anyone who’s ever wished for the ability to annotate directly in a Google Doc, Google announced Tuesday that it’s rolling out a new formatting feature for Google Workspace customers, Google Workspace Individual subscribers and personal Google accounts that will let users write directly on a Google Doc with a stylus or their finger. The new feature includes a few standard pen and highlighter colors (black, blue, red, green, yellow) and an eraser. If you don’t like any of these colors, you can add your own.

There are so many use cases for a feature like this, across all age groups, industries, and professional and personal work. Google mentions some good ones in its announcement, especially for “teachers who provide students with feedback on their essays, reports, and short stories.” Anecdotally, I cannot understate how useful this feature could be for students and professors of creative writing.

It combines the old-fashioned way of handing out paper copies of your work with today’s computer technologies and classroom management platforms that integrate with Google Drive, such as Canvas or Blackboard. But you never have to worry about having to carry a huge stack of paper to class on your workshop day or running out of printing credits at the library. (Flash back to undergrad, circa 2006, when my alma mater started billing students for library course printing.)

There’s also the tactile aspect of this new feature; Many of us creative writers prefer to handwrite development notes on our colleagues’ work because not only is it more personal, but also because Google Docs’ system for tracking edits and comments keeps the page can quickly become confusing. The contrast between typed text and handwritten notes on the same page can make it easier for the writer receiving feedback to analyze the information. Especially if you write in a nice color. (Shout out to Allison and her baby blue gel pens for making constructive criticism fun.)

But there’s a glaring problem as the rollout begins: hand annotation is only available on Android devices. Windows, macOS, iOS, ChromeOS, and even Chrome browser users on all these devices only have the ability to view, hide, and delete documents with markups. So that shortens the list of compatible devices to Android phones and tablets. Many K-12 students use school-provided clamshell, non-touch Chromebooks for writing and feedback assignments, and the older the student, the more likely they are to have a clamshell laptop running Windows or macOS.

There’s another problem: Over the past decade, I can count the number of times I’ve seen one of my high school students or colleagues write half-handedly on a tablet or 2-in-1. So while it looks like Google has created a great feature that can be used by teachers and students inside and outside the classroom, most won’t have compatible devices.

If Google were to open up the feature to Windows, macOS, and iOS devices, that could help alleviate the problem. According to an October 2023 report published by Statista, Apple accounts for nearly 55.9 percent of the tablet market, and while the 2-in-1 laptop market is constantly growing, some colleges are encouraging their students to get convertible Windows laptops to purchase, depending on their field of study. .

Google’s rollout of the new feature began on February 27 for users enrolled in Rapid Release. Users under the Google Standard release will see the new feature on March 11. Each rollout takes approximately 15 days.

If you don’t know your release track, from the Admin console, go to Menu > Account > Account Settings > Preferences > Release Preferences > New Features to check.

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