Virtual workspaces can be integral security and productivity elements of mobile first and Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) initiatives. Last December, I heard from hopTo about their new virtual workspace app for the iPad (there isn't an Android app). Currently, the hopTo app is a free download from the App Store. Using the app requires signing up for a free hopTo account as part of the setup process.
I spent time using hopTo when I got back to work after the holiday and got to see where this latest addition to virtual workspaces stacks up in the market. Visually, hopTo is a gorgeous looking app on my iPad Air, but virtual workspaces need to be more than just a pretty user interface to make mobile users productive.
The hopTo app supports:
- Cloud-based document editing
- Tabbed user interface that supports some multitasking
- Consolidated view over documents across Dropbox, Google Drive, Box, and connected Windows PC
- Search across multiple cloud storage accounts and connected Windows PC
Currently, hopTo has no offline support. While Wi-Fi is prevalent these days, I always like to see iPad apps for document editing include offline mode for when the broadband goes down or the power goes off. Figure A shows a typical hopTo workspace:
The user interface of hopTo is visually appealing.
Connect to your documents
The hopTo virtual workspace includes connectors for Dropbox, Box, Google Drive, and Windows PCs. A SharePoint Online/Office 365 Connector would certainly round out the hopTo solution.
The Windows PC connector requires you to download an app to a Windows PC for local install. This is probably going to be out of reach for a number of potential corporate users of their product. Even for many small to medium businesses (SMBs), and freelancers for that matter, storing files in the cloud is a regular thing, so I'm not sure this is going to be a widely-used connector. At the time of publication, they don't have similar access support for Mac users. However, Microsoft SkyDrive support is on the product roadmap.
Work with documents
When I first began using a tablet, I was reluctant to use the device for more than just light editing or document reviewing. I know that today's iPad keyboards and iPad app word processors are changing that for many users (myself included). I expect as hopTo matures, the app will help convert even more users to creating and editing documents and spreadsheets on their iPads.
If you or your team stashes many documents in the cloud, hopTo does provide a robust search feature across your cloud accounts. You also have the option to tap on a cloud folder and then search just that folder. Figure B shows my Dropbox account as accessed by hopTo:
Dropbox files in hopTo.
The hopTo app support the following file formats:
- Microsoft Word (*.docx)
- Microsoft Excel (*.xlsx)
- Portable Document Format (*.PDF)
It also supports the major image formats and some audio files.
You can open an existing file with just a tap. I found opening a file to be a bit slow in some of my tests, but the app has a progress icon you can watch. The app blurs out the rest of the screen when it opens a file, and I found this alternatively annoying and distracting during my testing. Figure C shows an open Word document in hopTo:
Opening a Word document in Dropbox via hopTo.
The app's strong suit is its support for creating and editing Word documents and Excel spreadsheets. While the virtual keyboard takes up some screen real estate, the app's menus are clearly delineated and should require a very little (if any) learning curve.
You have to press and hold down the plus sign [+] in the upper right-hand corner to create a new Word document or Excel spreadsheet. I'm becoming a fan of minimalist apps, but this new feature may not be as apparent to some less-experienced iPad users. When you select a document type, you must then specify a cloud account where you want to save the document. Figure D shows a blank spreadsheet in hopTo:
Blank spreadsheet in hopTo.
During my testing, I found the hopTo app having to reconnect to my hopTo account more than once. Additionally, opening up the connection ran a bit slow over my home Wi-Fi network. Neither of these issues were showstoppers in my book (even when I replicated the same errors on public Wi-Fi). However, that's just me. I know that performance counts with virtual workspace apps, because it's too easy to switch to another solution.
While hopTo bills their solution as a virtual workspace, I see them as more a competitor to apps like CloudOn and Quickoffice — not a product like the Nubo virtual workspace. This app isn't going to challenge Microsoft Office anytime soon, though I see it ultimately contributing to overall advancements for mobile word processors and spreadsheets. Just like the other apps from mobile startups I reviewed in the past year, their message and positioning will certainly change in the future.
Have you tried out hopTo? Share your experience in the discussion thread below.
Will Kelly is a freelance technical writer and analyst currently focusing on enterprise mobility, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), and the consumerization of IT. He has also written about cloud computing, Big Data, virtualization, project management applications, Google Apps, Microsoft technologies, and online collaboration for TechRepublic and other sites. Will also works as a contract technical writer for clients in the Washington, DC area and nationwide. Follow Will on Twitter: @willkelly.