Bret Taylor is an experienced engineer and with some pedigree too — he helped create Google Maps and was formerly Facebook’s CTO.
Nonetheless, it was still something of a surprise when he announced his new tablet-focused venture, called Quip, at the end of July.
Founded by Taylor and former Google employee Kevin Gibbs, Quip is a new company on a mission – improving productivity on tablets.
“When we decided to build Quip, it was based on the premise that the shift to tablets and phones is so fundamental and so all-encompassing that it dwarfs the sum of all of these features in importance,” the company said in its first blog post.
“Quip is our perspective on how modern, mobile documents should work. We've re-thought everything — from the user interface to the underlying technology — to create the product that we want to use to get work done every day.”
(Deployment of tablet apps in the enterprise will be among the key topics discussed at the upcoming TabletBiz conference in New York on November 13, 2013)
Taking Quip for a spin
To get a feel on how Quip compares to rivals like Apple’s iWork, Google Docs/Drive, Quickoffice and CloudOn, TabTimes took the iPad app, which is available for free from the App Store, out for a spin. (There is also a preview edition available for download at Google's Play Store).
In many respects, Quip is a little bit out of the ordinary.
I say a little bit because there’s not much difference in look, feel or general navigation to other apps. There is standard tutorial and a landing page with a folder view to the left and a right-sided panel for viewing documents. The user interface, while slick and sporting some neat typography, doesn’t scream innovation.
But Quip comes with its own rich editing tools, succinct messaging and the ability to share documents with friends, family and co-workers.
Starting off, navigation is a real breeze. The landing page shows you some examples of documents folders in the left-sided panel, and there is a '+' button at the top left to start a new conversation. To create a new document you hit the button at the bottom right and there is a small search bar at the top.
Opening one of these folders is easy enough – you tap once to view the documents and touch once again on the desired document to bring it into view on the right-side of the screen.
But in a slightly different twist, the messaging bar takes priority over the document, which appears just at the edge of the screen.
The messaging box is spacious and is beautifully designed. A grey textured background underlays the text boxes, which display the name of the person in bold, the text in a smaller font and a time, date and device (web or tablet) beside the name.
Perhaps in a bid to spice things up and keep the message box looking lively, message boxes are different for different actions.
For example, if you were to add an ordinary comment it would be displayed in a usual text box—not dissimilar to what you see on Skype, Gmail Chat and WhatsApp. But if you were to edit a document, a comment would automatically appear in the message thread as a kind of screenshot with details of the change.
You can also send photos (new, camera roll or most recently used) in the message thread, and these can be opened out in full-screen mode.
(Innovative tablet apps will be shown at the upcoming Tablet Ecosystem conference coming to New York on November 13, 2013).
Conventional editing tools
Quip is more conventional when it comes to editing tools. Using the iPad's virtual keyboard, you can create and edit documents and type on them freely as you would do with Quickoffice or Apple Pages.
There are tools for basic formatting that I would expect to be improved in the next release.
For instance, when changing the size of the heading I had options for small, medium or large. There were no options for different fonts or individual font sizes.
There are options for adding bulleted, numbered or checklist bullet points as well as images, URL links, a folder or even – rather neatly – one of your colleagues (providing they also use Quip). This could be particularly advantageous if you want to alert a worker to an error or something that needs doing quickly (adding a contact shows if they are online or offline).
There is a tick button for completing editing but no undo button. Instead, you’ll have to do this manually.
If there is one area of Quip that shows it's a version 1.0 product it is probably the app’s sharing capabilities.
The options aren’t bad by any means – sharing documents is actually as easy as tapping the person icon at the top toolbar when in a folder – but you expect there to be more options.
At the moment, you can only enter email addresses or send to your iPad contacts, which I didn’t find overly useful.