Quip: And so begins the era of the mobile first word processor

Will Kelly reviews Quip, a new mobile first word processor, and lets us know if he sees a mobile first word processing future.


Quip, a new mobile first word processor, is coming into the tablet market at a unique time a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and enterprise mobility drive increasingly mobile enterprises. The company is founded by Bret Taylor, formerly CTO of Facebook, and Kevin Gibbs, formerly tech lead for Google Apps Engine, which gives it some serious street cred and sets the bar high for the Quip app.

You can sign up with Quip using any valid email address. I got Quip working great with both my regular Google account and my Google Apps for Business account. The basic Quip app is free and supports up to five users. I tested the free version, but there's also Quip Business ($12.00/month per user) and plans for Quip Enterprise.

Using Quip

When I downloaded the app to my iPad and opened it for the first time, signing in with my Google account brought up the Quip Desktop (Figure A).

Figure A

Figure A
The Quip Desktop.

Quip adapts to any screen and brings real-time, collaborative editing (including support for offline editing) to the iPad or iPhone. The collaborative angle is something I have yet to see in other mobile word processors. Where Quip gets it right is in the app’s simplicity. Every document has a chat thread, and every document edit appears in a document “news feed” on the left side of the app (Figure B). This news feed is great for mobile workers and others who don’t like following track changes. 

Figure B

Figure B
A document open in Quip.

You can use the @symbol to link to other people and documents. This creates a link from which you can start chat sessions or open linked documents. Figure C shows how messages to another user appear in the news feed.

Figure C

Figure C
Message other document collaborators in Quip.

It’s easy to create folders in Quip to organize your documents. You also have the option to create private folders to secure documents for your project team or department.

The interactive and shared checklists are still on the simple side. There is a benefit to centralizing such a function with your team’s documents, but other companies -- like Asana, Do, and Producteev -- offer capable mobile apps (tied to their cloud platforms) that blow away this fledgling task management feature.

Quip’s alerts when edits are made to a document show that these app developers have some game. It’s simple and common sense enough to be standard in such word processors, but nobody else offers it -- not even Apple Pages (however, I expect the final release of iWork for iCloud might change that).

Quip and document complexity

I’m from a world where documents mean templates and styles. Quip sticks with just the basics. You aren’t going to be writing a customer-facing manual, but you can certainly write articles, blog posts, or other simple documents that require minimal formatting, such as headings, bold, and underlining. You can also insert images and create simple tables.

My first inclination about Quip is that it’s useful for collaborating on basic content. For example, I can see a team collaborating on installation procedures or a requirements document in Quip. Unfortunately, the only way to get documents out of Quip is through PDF output in the desktop browser version. This makes Quip off limits for most, if not all, external documents.

Quip on PCs

Quip also works on PCs. I like the thought of Quip for team-based collaborative document authoring, with members using whatever device they choose and keeping documents out of the email inbox. However, the Quip user interface looks stretched and tired out on larger monitors.

Quip on Android

A preview version of Quip for Android is available in the Google Play Store. However, at the time of this writing, the app only supports viewing documents and replying to existing conversations. I tried out the preview app on one of my Android tablets (Figure D) and was pleased to see that it looked very similar to the iOS app, but I’m hesitant to pass a final judgment on the app until I can create some documents with Quip on my Android tablet.

Figure D

Figure D

Quip (Preview) app for Android.

Final thoughts

I’ve long been on the fence about mobile word processors for anything outside of light editing. However, my time writing for TechRepublic's Tablets in the Enterprise blog has enabled me to step away from the long documents, templates, and styles and manuals bias from my work as a technical writer. The fact is, with the rise of enterprise mobility and BYOD), the age-old word processing model is due for an overhaul. Such an overhaul is going to come from nimble startups like Quip, because -- as the launch of Office Mobile for Office 365 shows all too clearly -- Microsoft either can’t or won’t launch a solid mobile Office suite that works across mobile devices.

In my opinion, Quip -- with a properly executed roadmap -- has the potential to set the rules for word processing in organizations that depend on mobile workers. However, Quip needs more time to get there.  

By Will Kelly

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 ap...