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Quickoffice for iPhone

Word, Excel, PowerPoint, cutting & pasting, and more!
by Conrad H. Blickenstorfer

I recently had a discussion with one of our contributors who is a diehard Windows Mobile fan and only recently grudgingly began to admit that the iPhone is pretty good. However, he is not ready yet to switch because the iPhone does not do "real" work like cutting and pasting, or work with Office applications. Well, there's an app for that, several actually, but none better than Quickoffice. You can read and write Word and Excel applications, and also view PowerPoint files and a good many other file formats, including PDF. And you can even cut and paste, albeit only within the application. Here's what Quickoffice 1.1.1 for the iPhone lets you do:

  • View/edit/create Word files
  • View/edit/create Excel files
  • View/edit/create text files
  • View PowerPoint files
  • View QuickTime movies
  • Listen to mp3 files
  • View PDF files
  • Email files from within Quickoffice
  • Copy to/from desktop via WiFi
  • Use MobileMe account for storage
There are a number of other files Quickoffice can read (.htm, .html, .mht, .rtf, .jpg, .tiff, .gif as well as iWork files) and some it can't. iWork '09 is a no-go for now, and the infamous Office 2007-style .docx and .xlsx files are view-only.

Below are screenshots that show the Quickoffice files listing on the iPhone on the left and one of the sample Excel files that comes with the application on the right:

Storing documents

As far as reading and saving documents goes, you can save locally (including making new folders and subfolders), you can save on your MobileMe account, or you can save on your Mac via WiFi (you enter an IP address in your browser). This works quite well if you accept that this is the way it is and you don't get hung up over not having a card slot.

Cut & paste

One of the things sorely missing from the iPhone has been cutting and pasting. Well, at least within its own documents, Quickoffice does cutting and pasting. Doing it is simple and very clever. You double-tap a word to select it. The text is highlighted in blue and has two handles. You can then drag either handle wherever you want to select more text. You then use a menu to cut, copy, paste or delete. If you want to select an entire paragraph, triple-tap will do it. Simple as that, and it works great.

To move the cursor around you tap and hold like in other iPhone text applications. But Quickoffice improved things a bit. Instead of getting the iPhone loupe when you tap and hold, you automatically zoom in so you can clearly see what you are doing. The text isn't entirely sharp when Quickoffice zooms in, but other than that it is easier to orient yourself this way than it is with the Apple loupe.

Things that Quickoffice does that the iPhone usually doesn't

There are things that Quickoffice does that the iPhone Notes application doesn't. You can write in landscape mode, and switching simply requires turning the iPhone, just like in many other iPhone apps. You can also format text. There are seven fonts (Arial, Courier, Georgia, Helvetica, Times New Roman, Trebuchet, and Verdana), bold, italic, text sizes from 8 to 72 points, as well as different text colors and text highlighting. To apply formatting you have to close the iPhone keyboard, which can slow things down.

Zooming in and out works like in most other iPhone apps, by pinching and expanding, but in Quickoffice text automatically reformats when you zoom in and out. This means you don't have to scroll and pan as much.

Things that are missing or could work better

There are some iPhone features that are not available inside of Quickoffice, and I never knew how much I'd miss them. In the original version of Quickoffice for the iPhone, a glitch made the shift key work like the caps lock key, so capitalization was either on or off. That was a real pain, but Quickoffice fixed that in new version that became available on April 27, 2009. The other thing that's missing is auto correction. It made me realize just how useful it is and how much I miss it when it is not there. And with the onscreen keyboard one of the most criticized parts of the iPhone, not having the handy auto-correction that fixed a lot of errors automatically surely doesn't help.

Unlike many other iPhone apps that are far simpler than Quickoffice, there is no settings control panel. It'd be nice to have one for preferred settings.

There is an autosave that keeps you from losing unsaved text. That's good, but I wish autosave would not butt in while I am typing.

Scrolling within an Excel sheet is done by dragging it around, and that works as smoothly as we've become accustomed to on the iPhone. However, when you drag it takes a little while for newly visible areas to fill in.

Can Quickoffice handle complex and larger files?

Can Quickoffice handle large files? Definitely. I downloaded a 120,000 Word document, equivalent to a fairly large book, and Quickoffice didn't have any problems at all.

As far as spreadsheets go, Quickoffice easily handled the ones I use for business. Colors and formatting all came through as it should. They are fairly sizeable, but size and complexity are relative and your mileage may vary. If you're hell-bent on creating complex spreadsheets right on the iPhone, Quickoffice has over 125 functions and also supports some of the more advanced Excel features such as array formulae, named ranges and implicit intersections.

Downloading and viewing a sizeable 47-page PDF file from MobileMe took mere seconds. That's pretty amazing. PowerPoint presentations, likewise, downloaded very quickly and displayed beautifully. Same for QuickTime movies, JPEG images, and MP3 music files. If you attempt to download a larger video file, Quickoffice may alert you that downloading may take a bit of time.

Emailing files

One fairly serious limitation of the original version of Quickoffice for the iPhone was that that you could not email files. A good number of early users loudly complained via the feedback feature in the App store. They felt that not being able to email files from within Quickoffice made the app useless for those who rely on receiving files, then editing or revising them before mailing them back or forwarding them to others. Quickoffice listened and made that feature available in its version 1.1.1 update.

On April 27, 2009, Quickoffice 1.1.1 became available as a free update. It fixed the infuriating shift key problem where shift had acted as a cap lock, and lets you email remote and local files without having to download them. To email files, you tap the email icon, then select the file(s) to be emailed. Quickoffice then automatically brings up the mail application.

The update also announced drag and drop files between the iPhone and the computer and mounting the iPhone as a wireless drive via WiFi. I don't think that has been implemented in version 1.1.1 yet.

The WiFi connection works via browser. You enter a special WiFi mode that tells you the exact IP address and port to enter into the desktop browser. Do that and you get the Quickoffice browser through which you can see the files on your iPhone and up and download them from there. This is still not as easy as simple drag and drop, but it works just fine.

Bottom line

We're living in a world where our productivity depends on access to our electronic data and the tools we use to work with that data. The problem is that while the tools we use—software such as Microsoft Office—are standardized, our computing platforms are not. There is a huge difference between working on a desktop or full-function notebook with their large displays and keyboards, or sitting somewhere with the tiny iPhone. Unlike Pocket PCs that for many years have provided decent functionality but an unsatisfactory user experience, the iPhone is both sleek and powerful. And now, thanks to applications like Quickoffice, it's turning into a mainstream tool for real work.

Quickoffice singlehandedly advanced the case of the iPhone as a serious business tool by a mile. With Quickoffice you can read, create and edit Word and Excel files on the iPhone, read numerous other file formats, move and email them, and even cut and paste within the application. This app is worth its US$20 price many times over.

Available from the Apple apps store, or check it out at the Quickoffice website.