Venerable mobile office suite Quickoffice has landed on the iPad. Quickoffice Connect for iPad carries an introductory price of $9.99, does Microsoft Office-compatible word processing and spreadsheets, and sports a user interface designed with the iPad in mind. (For instance, if you touch and hold the right side of a document, you get thumbnails of all the pages.) It also has built-in support for document sharing via Google Docs, Dropbox, Box.net, and Mobile Me, plus simple file transfers to and from your computer over Wi-Fi.
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Quickoffice–which was the first office suite for the iPhone–is now the first with a very cool feature: built-in support for Google Docs. It’s part of Quickoffice Connect Mobile Suite 3.0, which was announced this week at Macworld 2010.
For everything that’s amazing about the iPhone, there are still some things about it that are amazingly limited. One example: The sandboxing of third-party apps has meant that there’s been no way to edit documents that folks send to you as e-mail file attachments.
Today, Quickoffice released an update to its $12.99 iPhone office suite–the only real suite for the iPhone–with support for attachments, letting you edit Word and Excel attachments. Apple hasn’t un-sandboxed anything–Quickoffice came up with a workaround. Once you’ve verified the e-mail addresses you use with your iPhone, you can forward an e-mail with an attachment to firstname.lastname@example.org. Once you do, it’s available within Quickoffice for editing. And if you need to e-mail the edited version as an attachment, you can.
It’s not as simple as if Apple simply provided the hooks for Quickoffice to grab attachments, and you probably won’t want to use it for sensitive documents, since the process involves e-mailing files to an external address. But it works quite well–it’s sort of an elegant kludge, and it makes Quickoffice for the iPhone much, much more useful. Actually, it makes the iPhone more useful, period. The new version of the suite also provides support for universal Cut and Paste, offers better spreadsheet formatting, and lets you shake the phone to undo.
A 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.)
Yesterday, 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.
Paradoxical but true: The iPhone is both the most highly evolved mobile platform ever and one that’s remarkably rudimentary in some major ways. What’s good about it is so good that I sometimes forget that. But every time I do, something happens to remind me of the things it still can’t do, and of how little we know of Apple’s road map for the phone and its software.
CTIA Wireless IT & Entertainment, the fall edition of the big cell phone show, is going on in San Francisco this week, and as usual the Mobile Focus press event piggybacked on it. I attended MobileFocus tonight and was pleased to find the Quickoffice folks–who make office suites for the Symbian and Palm platforms– there. I was even more pleased when they told me they were getting into the iPhone software business.
They showed me a free application they plan to ship in November that lets you do something you might assume Apple’s MobileMe would do: allow you to shuttle files between the iPhone and the iDisk online storage that comes with a MobileMe account. Quickoffice’s software supports the WebDAV standard, so it also works with Box.net, Google Docs, and other forms of online storage. Very clever.