The baseline of iOS document sync and editing rests with Apple's iCloud, which allows the company's three productivity apps (Keynote, Numbers and Pages) to automatically back up, synchronize versions across devices and accept uploaded files via the web browser -- or, if you're sneaky, you can use a Mac folder that ties into the cloud storage service. That's all well and good, but it doesn't deliver the syncing magic of services like Dropbox, Box.com, Egnyte or SugarSync for easy and rapid file access on the iPad.
Of course, getting your files onto the iPad is only half the trip -- specifically, half of the round trip. "Round tripping" files means that your iPad productivity apps need to be able to save modified documents back to the cloud, creating new versions automatically rather than having to be manually emailed, uploaded or copied over. Cracking that challenge is a key advantage for apps that aim to address the enterprise/mobile professional market.
This week, two major players announced new round tripping features for their productivity platforms; one's from an application vendor moving into the cloud, and the other's from the cloud storage side opening up new opportunities for app developers.
First, we have Connect by QuickOffice. QuickOffice was founded in 2002 and grew up in the smartphone space, but CEO & co-founder Alan Masarek told TUAW that "things have really gotten off the hook for us with tablets." In fact, the flagship QuickOffice HD product is the #2 highest-grossing iPad app in the store, sometimes trading spots for #1 with Apple's Pages app.
QuickOffice HD already allows solid document, spreadsheet and presentation editing (including the XML/Office 2010 and 2011 formats for Excel and Word), with good round-trip cloud storage hooks for most popular services. The recently-released Pro Select HD product allows administrators to set data security policies and turn off specific file access methods. With Connect by QuickOffice, the company is moving towards providing a proprietary, highly tuned cloud storage system of its own with the viewing and editing prowess of QuickOffice HD on the front end.
The new app will allow users to sync immediately, save round-trip and access files stored on remote computers (either in designated folders, or via remote access to the full volume) while still providing sync with other cloud services besides the core Connect service. Collaboration options include file sharing and commenting; you can manage your shared files online via the Connect web portal.
Connect will be offered on a free/subscription basis -- the free version lets you view files and sync up to two devices. Premium and Pro subscriptions (at $19.99 or $69.99/year, with Premium going up to $44.99 after an introductory period) add editing features while bumping up the device limits and file sync capacity. Connect by QuickOffice should be available as a free download in the App Store within the next few days.
The second new wrinkle is from cloud storage vendor Box.com (formerly Box.net). The company's free iPad app has been revamped as Box OneCloud, providing quick links to over 30 Box-friendly iOS applications for viewing and editing files. Four of those apps get pride of place as "premier apps," offering -- wait for it -- round-trip file saves directly back to Box.com for the simplest possible integration and file management. Rockin' demo video below.
The four premier apps available at launch with Box OneCloud are portable document reader/annotation tool PDF Expert, speech-savvy notetaking app PaperPort Notes, remote signature & authorization app Adobe EchoSign and, surprise surprise, QuickOffice HD. All four should gracefully save back to Box, and there will be more premier apps coming in the future. Box accounts are available free for personal use (5 GB storage, with paid upgrades available), and business accounts start at $15 per user per month.
The iPad may not be the ideal tool for office applications, but if these two vendors have anything to say about it the story is going to get better.