I’m writing this paragraph on an Android phone. No, wait, a Mac. Now an iPad. And now a Windows PC.
My digital flexibility is thanks to Connect by Quickoffice, a new service and set of applications that let me keep all my important documents constantly updated on whatever device I happen to have with me.
Quickoffice is familiar to many mobile-device users for its apps that create, open and edit files compatible with Microsoft’s Office formats. Connect, which I’ve been using in pre-release form for the last couple of weeks, provides an easy-to-use conduit to make sure the various versions of those files are always in sync, regardless of where they happen to physically reside.
The proliferation of smartphones and tablets has made it easier than ever to make changes on the go to a memo, spreadsheet or presentation, and online-storage sites like Google Docs and Dropbox let you upload a document from, say, your desktop Windows PC, pull it down onto your iPad for a few quick tweaks, then send it back to the Cloud.
But that means you now have two versions of your document floating around: the latest one, on your iPad and the online site, and the previous one, still residing on your PC’s hard drive. Each additional device you use creates more opportunities for confusion.
Completing the Circuit
Connect aims to solve that problem by completing the circuit for you automatically. Any changes you make to a file will be reflected on all your enrolled devices, assuring that whatever version you summon, from wherever, will always be the latest.
The concept is familiar to users of Apple’s iWork applications -- Pages, Numbers and Keynote -- who already enjoy similar functionality on their iPads and iPhones through Apple’s iCloud service. But there’s not even an easy way yet to extend that convenience to Mac computers. And Apple, of course, has very little incentive to make it easier for you to use Android phones and Windows PCs. That’s where Connect comes in.
The first step is to download the Connect software to each of your various devices -- from the Apple App Store and Google Play for iOS and Android devices, respectively, and from the Quickoffice website for Windows PCs and Macs.
On each device, the software creates a folder called “My Connect.” Any document you place in it is automatically uploaded to the Quickoffice service, then pushed out to the My Connect folders on all your other devices. In my tests, mostly done before the service became publicly available, new or changed documents were usually updated on other devices within five minutes, though I sometimes experienced longer delays.
In addition to My Connect, you can also designate specific folders on your computer to be available through Connect, and you can allow other people access for collaborating purposes. You can also tie in your existing cloud-storage accounts, including Google Docs, Microsoft’s SkyDrive, Dropbox, Evernote and Box.
Besides passing this column around from device to device as I was writing it, I designated a folder on my Windows PC whose contents I wanted to make available on whatever gadget I happened to be carrying. I also used Connect to import a Powerpoint presentation from Google Docs onto an iPad, where I used the Quickoffice editing tools to modify it, added it to the My Connect folder and later summoned it on a Windows PC for some further polishing.
The process was sometimes bumpy. For example, a Microsoft Word document from my PC popped up normally on all my devices except for my Samsung Droid Charge phone, where it appeared grayed out and inaccessible, though other Word files showed up fine. For a while, I could access Connect documents on my Mac, but the ones I created there weren’t reaching my other devices. A company engineer eventually helped me clear up that problem.
My issues may have stemmed from the fact that I was mostly using early versions of the software, and when I encountered problems I could still remotely search my devices for the file I needed. Still, for Connect to live up to its promise, it will need to deliver a more seamless experience than I encountered.
Connect has three levels of service. The free version is limited to syncing two devices, and doesn’t include the tools for making changes on your mobile devices. A premium edition -- $20 a year for now, eventually $45 -- is more useful, adding editing capabilities and allowing you to enroll up to four devices. A $70 tier allows six devices and additional features that include being able to retrieve older versions of a document.
If you’re already paying for cloud-based storage from Dropbox or some other provider, you may decide that you can manage to keep things straight on your own. But the more devices you have, the more valuable you’ll find Connect.
(Rich Jaroslovsky is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)
Today’s Muse highlights include a review of Tulsi restaurant and the Pulitzer Prizes.