Quip – The New Web and Mobile Focused Word Processor

The web’s got more than its share of project management and social networking apps. There’s more online storage and team chat apps than you can keep track of. It’d be crazy to imagine launching a new project management or chat app today that doesn’t have a web app — the web’s the de facto platform for them like no other category of apps.

This year, the word processor market is the one that’s getting disrupted and oversaturated with web apps. We’ve got the old-timers – Google Docs and Microsoft Office Web Apps – alongside Apple’s still-in-beta iWork for iCloud web apps, and plenty of smaller competitors like Zoho and the many Etherpad clones. But then, there’s the brand-new writing and collaboration focused apps like Draft and Editorially, both of which are aimed at collaborative Markdown writing online.

Then, there’s Quip, the latest entry into the fray. Just launched today by a team that worked together on Google Maps, Google App Engine, and later Facebook, Quip bills itself as a “modern word processor that enables you to create beautiful documents on any device — phones, tablets and the desktop.” With native apps on iOS and a beta Android app, and a web app to cover desktops and laptops, it’s taking on the quest, as so many others have, to unseat Word as the king of word processing.

Back to the Basics

Convincing people to switch away from Microsoft Office has traditionally been a quixotic quest. There’s tons of Office alternates out there that have simply been ignored, because businesses, universities, governments and more are standardized on Office, and don’t plan to change. Today, however, there’s a real reason many might consider switching: Word’s on less and less of the devices most of us use all day. Even Google Docs fails rather badly on tablets and smartphones, and iWork — while beautiful and feature-filled — has no collaboration tools. Many people actually need a new way to work on documents.

The new writing apps like Draft and Editorially are great for writers accustomed already to working in Markdown and plain text editors, but few normal users want to learn Markdown just to add formatting to their documents. So Quip aims to be the app that can replace Word for most of our use cases, and at the same time work on every device we’d be likely to use throughout the day and let us collaborate with others as simply as we keep in touch on social networks.

Your new mobile-first Office

Your new mobile-first Office

To do that, you have to start over and reimagine what a 21st century word processor should look like. Quip’s UI, though, isn’t fully new. You’ll create an account either by logging in with your Google ID, or if you use a non-Gmail email account you’ll be asked to add a password for your Quip account. You’ll then see a desktop that looks almost like a mix between an iWork app and the new Dropbox-owned Mailbox email app, and will be asked to add your profile picture from Facebook or Twitter. Everything feels like a native app rather than a web app — all the way down to the lack of account settings and options to upload your own profile picture. It’s a streamlined experience, without the menus and options we’re accustomed to in web apps — much more like the iCloud web apps. But that’s not necessarily bad.

But you came here to write documents, not to gawk at a UI. So select the intro document, or open one of the folders of sample documents, to get a taste of how it works. Or create a new document — or create a new folder, and create a new document in it. This part, at least, is immediately familiar.

Amazing how much you can do with a few basic options.

Amazing how much you can do with a few basic options.

Writing a document is equally familiar, though perhaps with more of a web-style twist than Word. You’ll have a heading at the top and body text below that, by default, but you can change that around as you need. There’s no font options — headings are all set in the sans-serif Atlas Grotesk font, while body text is set in the serif Lyon Text font — but you can use the standard CMD+b/i keyboard shortcuts to set text as bold or italicized. There’s also no way to import existing documents, but you can copy/paste formatted text into Quip for the most part.

The UI itself is interesting. There’s your document view, with an ever-present sidebar that shows notes added about the document, and snippets of changes made over time. You can tap the back arrow on the document to push the document off to the right and show a fuller sidebar with more details as well as your “inbox” list of recent documents, or tap the “Desktop” tab to go back and see all your documents and folders. The UI is very fluid, and everything loads fast, so unless your internet connection is very shaky, you’ll find it brings a nice editing environment.

Tweaking text, one paragraph at a time.

Tweaking text, one paragraph at a time.

Jumping back into your document editing, you’ll find more options on the right of any paragraph in Quip. Hover over the right-side, and you’ll see a small menu to let you set any paragraph as a paragraph, heading (in small, medium, or large), or a list (with numbers, bullet-points, or checkmarks). If you set a paragraph as a heading and then start a new line, the new paragraph will be set as normal paragraph body text, but if you start a list, pressing enter will just start a new point in your list as you’d expect. It’s interesting that the main interaction with text is per-paragraph, but it doesn’t actually feel odd to set it that way, and is more web-centric with normal headings rather than simple font settings. Also, it makes more sense with collaboration, as we’ll look at in a bit.

Adding images, tables, and wiki-style links to other documents with a simple @ symbol

Adding images, tables, and wiki-style links to other documents with a simple @ symbol

First, though, there’s one more very interesting Quip feature: the @ symbol. Quip’s founders say it was designed — first and foremost — for simplicity, mobility, interactivity, and collaboration — and the @ symbol is the embodiment of nearly all of that. It brings an option to upload a picture or insert a table into a document — no, the tables don’t double as spreadsheets — but also lets you insert a wiki-style link to any other document in your Quip account, or to any of the collaborators you’re working with. It’s simple and obvious.

And the neat thing is, all of these editing features work the exact same in the Quip iOS app on the iPhone and iPad, and on the web. They’re designed first-and-foremost to work great everywhere. You can then share documents with others online, or export them as PDF — though links to documents and people, unfortunately, don’t export right now.

Collaboration Baked In

Keeping up with changes — and keeping from overwriting others' work — is simple

Keeping up with changes — and keeping from overwriting others’ work — is simple

The most interesting thing is how Quip is designed from the ground-up for collaboration. Real-time — or not real-time — co-editing isn’t just one of Quip’s features: it’s the way the app works by default. Even if you aren’t collaborating with anyone else, there’s an ever-present sidebar on the left showing the recent changes to the documents. Add collaborators to your documents, though, and the left side makes more sense. You’ll see the changes that each collaborate made — and the device they made it on — listed in a way that makes it easy to see what’s going on. Then, everyone can add comments or even upload images in the sidebar, to keep a conversation going about the document’s direction.

Collaboration is where the paragraph-by-paragraph editing design makes the most sense, though, since Quip will lock a paragraph while one user is editing it, presumably to prevent editing conflicts. Changes will show up fairly fast — I saw a 5-10 second delay in my tests — but it’s not designed to have two people editing the same sentence at the same time. Instead, you’ll need to wait until your collaborator finishes editing a paragraph or other section to add your changes to it, or tap their name and tell Quip to let you take over. It’s a smart way to make collaborative editing work issue-free, one that works great in my tests.

Quip also has a built-in tool to send a message to anyone on your team, but it’s not working right now — it’ll be interesting to see what comes of that going forward, but it looks like it’d be a way to send a “email” or direct message of sorts to any collaborator, keeping you from needing to jump into an email or social network app to keep the conversation going with your team. That could be very useful.

Conclusion

There’s new apps, and then there’s new apps. Quip falls in the latter category. It’s brand new, in a very good way.

Word was designed for making documents that would be printed from a desktop PC. Google Docs was designed to bring that same paradigm to the web. Draft was designed for writing in Markdown on your own and getting others’ feedback on it. Editorially was designed for writing in Markdown in a team, in a strict editorial process. Quip, it seems, takes a simplified set of the best features from all of the above, bringing rich text document editing that’s great on your own, perfect for simultaneous collaboration with others, in a way that’s still print-worthy if you really want. It’s far more on the side of Word and Google Docs than Draft and Editorially were designed to be, and has a far clearer shot at attracting normal Word users ready to try something new than most writing apps ever would.

Quip is free for individuals collaborating with up to 5 other people, and already smartly has business plans at $12/user/month for up to 250 collaborators in an account. If you’re ok with giving up most of your document formatting settings, it’s ready for you to start relying on today. And you know what? You’ll likely find that you really enjoy using it. It’s fast, fluid, and does the stuff it’s designed for perfectly.

Google Docs and Office Web Apps are going to be better with legacy documents, and iWork for iCloud will make much prettier documents, but you won’t find any other app that’s simpler to use everywhere than Quip. And that’s a major selling point in today’s multiple device world.


Summary

The word processor reinvented for the web, with basic rich text, near-real-time co-editing, PDF export, and native iOS and Android apps.

  • Quip  | 
  • Free; $12/user/month for businesses  | 
  • Quip
9

Comments are closed.