Walt Mossberg

Quickoffice Brings Editing to iPhones, But Put It on Hold

I am typing these words in a full-fledged word processor on an Apple iPhone. It’s a third-party app that allows you to edit, format or create Microsoft Word and Excel documents, and then send them back to a PC or Mac where they can be opened in Word or Excel. Oh, and it has cut, copy and paste in its word processor — a capability long missing from the iPhone that isn’t due from Apple (AAPL) itself until this summer.

Devotees of older smart phones, tired of iPhone hype, will be quick to note this is no innovation. Devices like Windows Mobile phones, Palm (PALM) Treos and BlackBerrys have made these abilities available for years. But, for the 37 million iPhone and iPod Touch owners, it’s potentially a major step forward, closing a hole in a hand-held computing platform that is otherwise more elegant and versatile than any other.

This new app, called Quickoffice, has some nice features. Its cut, copy and paste function is very well designed. It can save files locally on the phone. It has a built-in email function for sending files to others, and it can upload or download files to and from a PC or Mac, or to and from online storage.

But there’s a catch. While Quickoffice, which is also available on other platforms, did work OK in my tests, it has some major drawbacks that keep me from recommending it right now. The product’s maker, Quickoffice Inc., acknowledges these and is working to fix them by summer. But, especially because Quickoffice costs $19.99, a Rolls-Royce price in the iPhone’s app store, you might want to hold off on buying it until the fixes are in place.

In particular, Quickoffice can’t simply load and edit any Word or Excel file you receive as an email attachment. The company claims this is a built-in iPhone limitation, but it’s still a big problem for users. Instead, to get files into Quickoffice for editing, you have to transfer them using a Wi-Fi network from your PC or Mac, or from the iDisk online storage feature of Apple’s MobileMe Web service, which costs $99 a year.

Also, amazingly, Quickoffice shipped without any automatic typo-correcting function or spell checker. For various technical reasons, it couldn’t even use the one built into the iPhone. So, you have to do a lot of correcting of typos once the file gets onto a computer. For instance, the first words of this column, as originally created in Quickoffice, read: “I am typing these words in a full-feledged word pricessor … ” I had to clean them up in Word on my laptop.

Quickoffice

The Quickword app on iPhone

And, while you can view a text or spreadsheet file in landscape mode, you can do only limited editing of text documents in this mode, and no editing at all of spreadsheet documents viewed in landscape.

Quickoffice for the iPhone consists of three modules. One is Quickword, the word processor. The second is Quicksheet, the spreadsheet program. These two, also separately available from the app store at $12.99 each, can handle standard Microsoft (MSFT) .doc and . xls files, but not Microsoft’s newer .docx and .xlsx formats. The third module, called Quickoffice Files, merely transfers and displays files, but doesn’t allow editing or creating them. It handles a much wider variety of file types, and is sold separately for $1.99.

Cut, copy and paste is implemented nicely. You simply double-tap to select a word or triple-tap to select a paragraph. Small dots appear at either end of the selection, allowing you to expand or contract the selected section of text. Once your selection is done, you can then cut it or copy it, or change its formatting. To cut or copy your selection, you just choose cut or copy from a popup menu. To paste, you tap once elsewhere in the document, and then select Paste from a popup menu. You can paste text copied or cut from one Quickword document into another, but not into any other app on the iPhone. (Apple will add that ability this summer.)

Quickword is the better of the two main modules. It has an impressive suite of features, including the ability to bold or italicize characters, change fonts and colors, create bullet points, and undo or redo changes. All of this formatting was retained correctly when I transferred the files to a computer, and vice versa. Quickword doesn’t have every feature of Word on a computer, but its feature set is strong.

Quicksheet has 125 functions. It also does formatting of cells well, and has undo and redo. Again, it isn’t as powerful as Excel, but its capabilities are decent. Unfortunately, unlike in the word processor, I found some problems in Quicksheet. In one simple spreadsheet I imported, it failed to properly display text that stretched across multiple cells, and failed to do a simple recalculation that worked perfectly in Excel. Also, it lacks cut, copy and paste.

Getting documents into the app is a pain. Unless you have a MobileMe account, on either Windows or Mac, you have to type a geeky numerical address into a Web browser and then choose a file from your computer using the browser page that comes up.

Quickoffice is an OK start, but it needs a lot of work.

Find all of Walt Mossberg’s columns and videos online, free, at the All Things Digital Web site, walt.allthingsd.com. Email him at mossberg@wsj.com.


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