Still Needed for the iPhone: A Great Office Suite

By  |  Tuesday, June 16, 2009 at 1:33 pm

Documents to GoA year into the era of third-party iPhone software, there may be 50,000 applications for Apple’s phone. But nobody needs that many, of course–hey, they’d be a tight squeeze even if you’ve got a 32GB iPhone 3G S. What you want are…the applications you want. One of the ones I want is a solid, simple Microsoft Office-compatible suite for my iPhone. And I’m still waiting for one that’s everything an iPhone suite should be.

Last year, things looked promising: The two major makers of mobile suites, Dataviz and Quickoffice, both announced plans to support the iPhone. Quickoffice got there first, but did so in drips and drabs: First, it released a version that only had a spreadsheet and some file management tools. Then it added a word processor that lacked core features such as autocorrection. Then it finally came out with an update that’s pretty good, but is still hobbled by the fact that there’s no way for it to get at file attachments in the phone’s e-mail application, since Apple don’t permit it. (Instead, you can shuttle documents back and forth via MobileMe or Wi-Fi.)

Documents to GoYesterday, DataViz announced that its Documents to Go suite was live on the iPhone App Store. And once again, it turns out that it’s less of a suite and more of a work in progress. The current version is a word processor that’s slicker than Quickoffice’s, with two-way file synchronization and optional support for Exchange attachments. But there’s no spreadsheet. DataViz says that people who buy Docs to Go now at discounted prices ($5 without Exchange support, $10 with) will get the spreadsheet for free later.

I’m not sure why it’s taken both companies so long to get their venerable, well-done packages onto the iPhone, other than that building a capable productivity suite that’s compatible with Microsoft Office is a larger challenge than designing even an admirable Twitter client. (Let’s not even discuss fart apps.) I also worry that the pressure on iPhone developers to release apps at the cheapest possible price makes it hard for them to justify investing immense resources in building ambitious stuff: Docs to Go for iPhone may start at five bucks, but the highest-end version of its Palm-based ancestor goes for $90. But maybe suite companies will end up selling enough iPhone products in such high volume that it’ll work out.

Long-term, I remain optimistic: Quickoffice has already made a lot of progress, and a few minutes with Documents to Go’s word processor will tell you that DataViz hasn’t been slacking–it’s just been making sure that what it releases is really good. I also think that Apple will eventually give apps like these the hooks into the OS they need to be integrated with e-mail and other iPhone apps. For now, though, I’m still waiting for iPhone suites to give me everything that came standard on my Psion Series 3 palmtop fifteen years ago.


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7 Comments For This Post

  1. Neal Freeland Says:

    I totally agree. I just got the iPhone and really love how well designed it is. I really just want it to work with Outlook, but I have to hack my productivity tools together through iTunes and a couple of other applications. I wish it just worked seemlessly with Office. Me and like 100 M people.

  2. Dave Zatz Says:

    Wasn’t Microsoft supposedly working on something?

  3. tom b Says:

    “Wasn’t Microsoft supposedly working on something?”

    Don’t hold your breath–like, when is MSFT going to have a decent Office suite for the PC?

  4. Kyle K Says:

    Funny I was just searching on the app store for 30 minutes looking for a good office suite or something to that nature. Within 5 minutes after closing iTunes I stumbled accross this article.

  5. Geo Says:

    You can use google doc, the mobile version of their site is great. Someone should develop an app that just allow an offline mode.

  6. Rob Says:

    I’m baffled. There is no way in hell I could, or would even want to try to, edit my professional Word reports on the iPhone. The screen is too small.

  7. Kyle Says:

    An options to turn off Cover Flow. It is just eye candy they use to sell the phone. It is not an efficient way to find and play music. There should be an option to disable it. I sometimes hold my phone crooked and it keeps slipping into Cover Flow when I don’t want it to.

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