Hooray for Quip: A fresh, cloud-centric take on the word processor
The mobile app revolution has changed a lot of how we do things, but not all of our apps have caught up to the finger-friendly, always-connected tools we use today. While some apps have been reinvented to match the phone and tablet platforms we're using them on, the venerable office productivity category has seen little true innovation.
Quip aims to change how we create and use documents on any device—smartphone, tablet, and desktop. The brains behind this cloud-based service and its iPhone, iPad, and Android apps are Bret Taylor and Kevin Gibbs, one-time collaborators at Google. (The preview version of Android is read-only at launch; a fully functional Android version may be a few months out, though Quip wouldn't commit to a timeframe.) Taylor's previous roles were as the CTO of Facebook and the cofounder of FriendFeed, so he's no stranger to the social sharing mindset.
That social mindset informs everything about how Quip revisits the twin concepts of document creation and collaboration.
The Quip approach: Always Be Sharing
In a blog post introducing the company on Tuesday, Taylor and Gibbs were right to note that how we do things in our office productivity apps hasn't changed a whole lot in the past 30 years.
Fundamentally, our existing tools -- from the granddaddy of them all, Microsoft Word, to newer device-based document editors like Quickoffice HD Pro -- start with a document type, a blank canvas, and the assumption that you'll then either invite others to have access to the document, or you'll simply email that document around for any necessary input and collaboration. It's this paradigm that makes Microsoft's “track changes” feature so indispensable in business.
But this approach also requires you to track the flurry of emails. Or, in the case of cloud-based editors like Google Docs, you have to sacrifice any record of what's changed, when, and by whom.
With Quip, the assumption is you're online everywhere -- and so is everyone else: You'll set up your account with your name and email address, and that info identifies you through your use of the service, tracking changes you make and what you've read. (Using Quip offline? No problem: The app saves your doc locally, and syncs with the cloud as soon as you regain a cloud connection.)
Whether you log in using the iOS app (I tested the iPad version) or using your Web browser on the desktop, Quip looks and behaves the same. This is by design, according to Quip: The company's goal was to create a familiar environment regardless of the device you're using, and to automatically resize the document for your device's screen size. That right there is a fundamental shift in thinking, and something that the apparently sleeping giant in Redmond has yet to master for its most core part of its Office suite, Microsoft Word.
Some subtle behavior shifts were required -- on my laptop, I had to mouse over a folder to change folder settings like the color or the folder name, while on iPad I simply long-tapped to get the same option -- but the look and intent follow the same vein. That familiarity is a boon for users; why should you have to deal with interface vagaries just because the device you're using is different?
This week, a National Transportation Safety Board judge dismissed a $10,000 fine that the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration had lodged against a photographer who had used a drone to take aerial photos for the University of Virginia. The judge found that the FAA hadn't actually issued any enforceable rules regarding the use of commercial drones.
If you've got a Windows XP machine -- either at home or in the office -- consider yourself lucky. In the past, you'd upgrade to a more recent Windows operating system without a thought. Today, you have many options.
It's designed for the 3.5 billion people who have feature phones today. It solves technical problems Google is not interested in and is a better fit for the pre-paid phones popular in developing countries. The only trick is getting developers on board.
The cloud has overcome a lot of its technical challenges, especially when it comes to security. But the biggest problems in cloud computing now are cultural.