Here comes Quip, a new startup that’s making the office-productivity software wars more interesting than they’ve been in decades.
Launched by Bret Taylor, the former CTO of Facebook and cofounder of social aggregator FriendFeed, and Kevin Gibbs, who worked with Taylor at Google, Quip aims to reinvent document creation and collaboration in the age of the tablet, according to a post on Quip’s website.
Quip is currently available as an iPhone and iPad app and on the Web at Quip.com, with an Android version in a rough beta. It’s free for personal use; Quip will charge companies with more than five users $12 per user per month.
Taking On The Giants
ReadWrite spoke to Taylor briefly Tuesday evening after the post went up. We’ve been tracking Taylor’s new startup since last December, when a few mysterious hints about his effort sprang up on Quip’s website, on Twitter and in trademark filings.
He sounded undaunted by the idea of taking on Google, his and Gibbs’s former employer, and Microsoft, the big player in office-productivity software in the desktop and the cloud.
Taylor’s argument: The rise of the tablet and the smartphone as users’ primary computing devices is so fundamental a shift that there’s an opportunity to reinvent productivity software.
“What’s been disappointing is that the applications you have to use every day for work haven’t benefitted from the mobile transition,” Taylor says. “We’re still stuck in 1998 in that software and the rest of the world has moved on.”
Disappointing Docs, Overwhelming Office
It’s hard to disagree. While Google Docs has shown it’s possible to do word processing online, the Web giant hasn’t broken free of print metaphors.
“One of the interesting things is that Google Docs is still on a virtual 8 1/2 x 11 piece of paper,” observes Taylor.
In the ’80s, the big innovation in desktop productivity software was the concept of WYSIWYG: what you see is what you get. What mattered was that what you saw on a screen matched what you eventually printed on a page. But what if you create documents that aren’t ever meant to be printed—and that live on screens of varying sizes, not fixed pages?
“Our layout engine isn’t just WYSIWYG—you aren’t just positioning text on a page,” says Taylor. “Your document will re-layout and re-format for the size of the screen, even complex layouts like images and tables.”
In that way, Quip’s product is the responsive design movement’s answer to document creation. What others—including ReadWrite—have done for website design, Taylor and Gibbs hope to do for all manner of shared online documents.
“Our point of view is that by producing software that works exceptionally well in this environment, even though we’re small, we have the opportunity to succeed here,” Taylor says.
Quip’s available now. Try it out and tell us what you think.