Word processors were designed for desktop computers. Given that many of us still sit down at laptops or desktops when it's time to type, that isn't too much of issue. We generally consider those to be better devices for typing than tablets or smartphones, but how much of this stems from our reliance on software that isn't designed to truly adapt to mobile screens and interfaces? Quip is a freemium new word processing app designed explicitly for mobile devices, and it's hoping to change word processing to match our new lifestyles. It comes from former Facebook CTO Bret Taylor and has garnered quite a bit of press, but is it the revolution he pitches it as? Kind of, yeah.
Ignore the iPhone imagery in the screenshots above. This is an early preview for Android of an app that already exists for iOS, so they get a pass for that. Here's what matters - Quip makes editing documents social. It doesn't introduce functionality that is currently impossible, as Google Drive already makes it easy to edit files across multiple devices and communicate with friends and colleagues about them. if anything, Google Docs introduced collaborative editing before social was the cool thing to do. What Quip adds to the table is its presentation. It doesn't organize people around documents, it organizes documents around people. This is evident from the moment a user first opens the app. We're given a list of conversation threads, not files, and they reorder themselves according to which are the most recent, just as we've come to expect from mobile instant messaging apps.
Clicking on a thread presents the conversation. While it may be easy to ignore or miss comments on a Google document, it's nigh impossible to do so in Quip. The conversation is the focus, and the shared document is tacked on. It's more of a difference in perception than functionality. Two or more people are still working on a document together, but users have to swipe from the conversation to get to the document, rather than access a chat thread hidden in a document. In the case of the Android release, though, swiping doesn't yet work and users have to press the icon in the top-right corner. The instructions make no mention of this, since they think we're all iPhone users, but this is a just a preview, so again, they get a pass.
Since this isn't even an alpha, I couldn't yet create or edit documents. At the end of the day, that functionality will determine whether Quip is worth its weight in salt. Yet as things are, this is a project worth watching. Once the iOS theme is removed and the full feature-set is rolled out, this might be an ideal way of collaborating around documents on the go. To be truly useful, though, Quip needs to integrate with the Microsoft Office documents and Google Docs that teams have developed. The iOS version of the app can export to PDF and aims for flawless copy and pasting, but that may still be more hassle than it's worth. And even with document support, I've still seen nothing here that would pull me away from my laptop when it comes time to get serious typing done. I think Quip is aware of this, because users can still access documents using a web browser, allowing them to type with a full keyboard and larger screen.
Desktop word processing may be dated, but it's still the best tool for the job. Yet if you're dying for a replacement, you can judge Quip for yourself. Check out the preview below and see if you might want to use a service like this once the full Android version is available.