Apple, Google, or Microsoft? Your platform will dictate your office app

Signs point to an Apple-only, Google-only, and Microsoft-only set of productivity apps for their respective platforms

Earlier this week, I had a story and a related spreadsheet nearly ready for my editor, but I needed to verify a few details first. Because I was nowhere near a computer that day, I couldn't fire up Microsoft Word and Excel to update the story and spreadsheet. However, I had an iPhone and an iPad, so I moved the files to my Dropbox account, where I could update the files on the road and send it to my editor.

I didn't have Wi-Fi access when the missing notes came in, so I couldn't use my iPad without spending $20 to enable a cellular connection. My iPhone has several office apps on it, so I went with that. Because the files were in Dropbox, I launched Quickoffice Pro, as it directly connects to Dropbox and other cloud services -- unlike Apple's iWork suite, which requires copying files from cloud services to the apps via Open In, then copying them back out, whch creates version-control hassles. Unfortunately, Dropbox was no longer there.

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It turns out that Dropbox support in Quickoffice Pro for the iPhone (and Android smartphones) went away in April. Dropbox had changed its APIs in 2012 and gave developers a year to adapt. Although Google updated Quickoffice Pro for the iPad (and Android tablets) to the new Dropbox APIs, it didn't do so for the iPhone version. In fact, the iPhone version has not been updated since May 2012 and is apparently an abandoned product. (Google told me it had nothing to say on the matter. It's also kept its silence on the Quickoffice support forums about the issue, despite dozens of pleas from customers.)

My workaround was to access Apple's iWorks apps on my iPhone, despite the clunkiness of using iOS's Open In facility for file sharing across apps rather than a direct connection to Dropbox. Of course, if I had stored the files in my Box or Google Drive account rather than Dropbox, Quickoffice would still have been able to access them. But while setting up the files, I wasn't aware that Quickoffice Pro on the iPhone no longer supported Dropbox, and once you're on the go, your files are where your files are.

[UPDATED 9/20/13] And it gets worse. Yesterday, Google released a new version of Quickoffice (for iPhones and iPads, as well as Android) that is free if you have a Google account. But it supports only Google Drive, no longer other cloud services like Box and Dropbox. Worse, you can no longer edit files stored in Google Drive but instead use the woefully incapable Google Drive app to do so. These changes make Quickoffice much less useful, removing one of its major advantages over Apple's iWork suite. And if you think that holding on to the prior versions will let you have your Quickoffice and cloud services too, sorry: As of March 2014, those older Quicloffice versions will lose their support for cloud services other than Google Drive.

These incidents bring to mind the changing dynamics of the mobile apps world. For the first few years, the two major office apps -- Quickoffice and Documents to Go -- were available on iOS and Android, creating a sense that a company could pick a standard office suite regardless of the devices its users bought. Apple, as is often the case, was the exception: Its iWork suite is iOS-only on mobile, just as it is OS X-only on the desktop. That fact only made Quickoffice (the significantly better of the two cross-platform suites) more attractive.

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