Lauren Goode

Quip Is Great for Collaborating, but Still a Word-Processing Work in Progress

I’m writing this column using a new app running on my desktop browser. When I’m finished, I’ll send it to my editor, who is also using this app, by simply hitting a “share” button and typing in her name. If I head out to a meeting or to get lunch, I can glance down at the iPhone version of the app and see the edits she’s making in real time.

This new app is called Quip, a cloud-based tool that wants to propel word processing into the future — specifically, a future in which more and more people are working on their mobile devices. It combines elements of Microsoft Word, Google Drive, chat messaging and even Twitter dialogue to let you draft documents and share them easily with others.

Quip is free to download and is available on Web browsers, iPhone and iPad. It’s also available on Android devices, but only as a “preview” version, which means that documents can only be read, not edited.

For consumers, it’s free to use. Quip for businesses, which applies to companies of five employees or more, costs $12 per person per month.

I’ve been testing Quip for the past week, making a comprehensive to-do list for my upcoming cross-country move. I’ve also drafted sample articles and charts for my colleagues.

Normally, I use Evernote for personal task lists, and Google Drive for some work-related items. And I frequently revert back to what some people would call the “Dark Ages” by using Microsoft Word and then sending an attachment via email.

How does Quip compare?

Let’s just say it’s not quite there yet: My editor and I both opted to use Microsoft Word for finalizing this column because it has many more editing tools than Quip does.

Quip does offer some cool collaborative features that make it easy — almost fun — to edit shared documents with friends and colleagues. For example, in Google Drive, it can be hard to know what someone is changing in a document as they’re changing it. Quip lets users know explicitly when and where changes occurred.

And while other word-processing and task-management apps let you easily draft and edit on mobile — like Office Mobile, available to Office 365 subscribers, or Evernote — Quip takes it a step further, with mobile notifications.

But Quip is still a work in progress. It lacks many of the basic word-processing functions of Microsoft Word — as well as some that are found in Google Drive. There are other little things missing, too.

To get started, you log into Quip with any email credentials. From there, you’re taken to the Quip desktop, which displays your files on the right, with a full-length vertical pane on the left that acts as a chat box.

One thing I noticed right away is that Quip doesn’t offer different font styles. It doesn’t give users a quick way of making a word appear in bold, italics or underlined; for that, users can only use a keyboard shortcut, like Control + B on Windows to make a word boldfaced.

And unlike other word-processing apps, Quip doesn’t have a toolbar of editing options at the top of the page. Instead, there’s a little style tab on the right-hand side of the page that aligns itself with whatever paragraph you’re working on, for easy access. This tab, in addition to changing the font size, offers the option to create bullet points or a checklist.

Quip does have a unique shortcut for attaching different media to a document: You can either click a paperclip icon, or you can use the “@” symbol, which is used in Twitter to mention or communicate directly with other Twitter users. As I type in the @ symbol right now in Quip, I have the option to attach an image or link to this document, link to another Quip document in my account, create a table or chart or mention another Quip user in my post (like @Katherine, my editor).

As I made edits to my Quip documents, the changes appeared in the left-side vertical pane (also where IMs are exchanged). The edits appeared on bits of torn paper, so they were distinguished from chats. Deleted text appeared in red text; adds were in green.

When I was ready to share my Quip documents, I opened the “people” icon and added the person with whom I wanted to share, whether by name, email or text message.

If I shared a document with a person who wasn’t using Quip, he or she would be able to read the document by clicking on a link, but wouldn’t be able to collaborate without downloading the Quip app. This is not unlike the sharing process in Google Drive, which requires entering in someone’s Gmail address to share and collaborate on a Google document.

I like all of these aspects of Quip, especially the prominent chat function. Being able to easily start conversations with my editor, or with my boyfriend about our packing and moving to-do list, made working on these documents slightly more enjoyable. (One thing to note: You’ll be sent email notifications for every chat line exchanged if you don’t turn off this function in Quip email settings. I suggest doing this.)

You’ll also get browser — and mobile — notifications when someone opens, reads and edits a Quip document. I drafted a test document and sent it to my editor, then headed away from the desk with my iPhone in hand. I received a mobile notification when she opened the shared Quip, and could see the changes she was making as she made them.

I also got the same notifications when working in Quip on my iPad. And we could chat through the app as we each made changes on mobile.

Like other cloud-based productivity apps, Quip allows you to read docs and make changes while you’re offline, too, but the changes won’t sync until you’re back online.

If that all sounds pretty good, consider just a few more nitpicky things I discovered: Quip only shows your files in “tile” mode on your desktop, rather than listing them in chronological order, whereas Evernote and Google Drive offer different organizational styles for your files. It exports files to PDF format, but not to Microsoft Word format.

And, while you can upload or insert an external document — like an Excel spreadsheet — into an existing Quip document, you can’t just upload it to Quip and have it live on the Quip desktop as its own .xls file. You can do this in Google Drive.

I plan to keep using Quip for projects that require active collaboration, and I’m curious to see how it evolves. But in its current form it still won’t tear me away from Evernote, Drive or even Microsoft Word.

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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus