Hands-on: Quip, the so-called "modern word processor," is cool, but doesn't feel done

A new app called Quip bills itself as a “modern word processor,” built primarily for phones and tablets with collaboration in mind.

It's certainly an alluring hook. As dependable as Microsoft Office can be, it's pretty much the opposite of fresh and exciting. The concept of word processing is ripe for reinvention on mobile devices, especially because Microsoft has shown little interest in bringing full-fledged versions of Office to iOS and Android tablets.

Quip on the iPhone. The iPad interface is at the top of the article.

Quip seems tailor-made to build buzz. It's an attractive app for iPhone, iPad, and the Web, with a limited preview available for Android, with your document intelligently reformatting to fit the screen at hand. The fact that Quip's founders are noteworthy in the tech industry—Bret Taylor co-created Google Maps and was Facebook's CTO, and Kevin Gibbs worked on Google's data center technology—is helping feed the hype.

However, it seems like a misnomer to call Quip a “word processor” right now. At best, it is a modern note-taking app that competes in some way with apps like Evernote, Google Keep and Catch Notes, with an extra focus on collaboration.

Quip is a word processor in only the most basic sense, that you can type words on a keyboard and they will appear on the screen. You can add headings, images, tables, lists and links to other Quip documents, but that's it.

Among the things you cannot do in Quip: embolden text, italicize text, underline text, highlight text, add a hyperlink to text, change fonts, change font sizes, change font colors, check grammar, align text, create columns, adjust paragraph formatting, check word counts, or create macros. Oh, and there's no support for Word docs.

Correction: It is possible to create bold, underlined and italicized text. You can do so with keyboard shortcuts (assuming you have a physical keyboard) or you can highlight text, then select the formatting option in a pop-up that appears above the text. It also possible to add hyperlinks to text, but in a roundabout way: You must paste the URL into the document, type the text you'd like to link somewhere within the URL, then delete the surrounding URL text. Quip says it is working to make these options more visible but wants to strike a balance with simplicity.

The only ways to extract documents from Quip are to save them as PDF files—but only through the Web version—or to manually copy and paste text. (Amusingly, one of Quip's App Store screenshots shows how the app can be used to write a press release; most writers will tell you that attaching a press release as a PDF is a great way to get it sent straight to the trash.) At least you can print.

Quip on the web.

Perhaps Quip's self-definition of “modern word processor” is a statement on social networking, because the one thing it does well is let you collaborate with other users. As you edit a document, a sidebar on the left shows messages and a running list of changes by other users. From here, you can attach files, invite other collaborators, and see who's read the latest changes. Quip also send you a push notification when someone else opens or otherwise engages one of your documents. Everything you type syncs online automatically. It works nicely, but it also has one glaring omission: There's no way to revert to a previous version of the document.

In fairness, this is version 1.0 software. Many of the things that are missing from Quip could be added over time, and Quip could become a powerful tool for editing documents with other people. Until then, the “modern word processor” won't help you get much work done beyond the very basics.

Subscribe to the Apple @ Work Newsletter

Comments