When I’m traveling I prefer to take my iPad to work from remote locations, rather than a phone (too small for my eyes and fat fingers) or a laptop (to bulky to get through airport security). But how do I work with my QuickBooks file when I’m on the road? Let’s take a look at a new iPad app that has a lot of potential to help with this task – qBooks.
- You can use a remote access tool like LogMeIn Ignition (there are several options here). To do this you must leave the “home computer” on all the time, and nobody else can be using it. Response time may be slow.
- You can use a QuickBooks Hosting company to host your QuickBooks installation, and then you can access from your web browser. There are several companies that do this, such as Cloud9. This is more expensive than just having it on your desktop system, though, and might not make sense if you don’t need web access all the time.
- How about QuickBooks Online? That is a great option, but note that this is a very different product than QuickBooks on your desktop, and it might not provide you with the features you need. This also is accessed via a web browser.
- You can use a remote access product like QuickBooks Connect (and QuickBooks Mobile as an app). You may incur monthly fees to use this, and this product is limited to a small number of functions at this time.
Now we can add qBooks to that list. This is an app for your iPad that provides a wide variety of functions that allow you to work with your QuickBooks desktop database from your iPad easily. This app has the advantage of working with your normal Desktop installation, while being a native iPad app.
I’ll review version 1.00, which has been released recently.
How Does It Work?
To use qBooks you will set up a “syncing” tool on your Windows desktop, where you have QuickBooks running. qBooks uses its own syncing tool, rather than using the QuickBooks “Sync Manager”. I think that this is a good idea, as Intuit’s Sync Manager is not my favorite Intuit invention. I find it to be unreliable and cantankerous.
This syncing tool, “OpCenter”, will copy your QuickBooks company file to a “cloud” based server where it is available to your iPad. Syncing can be set up to occur periodically, at an interval from one to five hours depending on your settings. You can also force a sync at any time. The initial sync may take awhile as it will be uploading a large amount of data, but any subsequent sync will be faster as it only has to upload new or changed records.
Note that you might not have ALL of your data synchronized, just the last 6 to 18 months (depending on how you set this up).
Each time that you start the app on your iPad the data in the cloud server will be synchronized with the data on your iPad. This is a bidirectional sync. As I understand it, after syncing you have a copy of the data on your iPad, so that you can work with it without having to be online all of the time. When you are able to connect again the data will be synchronized. This is a very good feature.
When your data sync is done, you see the initial product screen. Scrolling down the left you see the types of list records and transactions that you can work with. At this time this is heavily oriented towards the sales side of things.
Navigation is fairly straight forward – tap on a record or transaction to open it, look for buttons in the upper portion of the screen to add records (the “+” symbol), save your work and so forth.
Let’s look at editing a list record and adding a transaction.
Editing List Records
I’ll tap on Academy Training Institute in the Customers list, to see the customer record and a list of transactions (called “Instruments” in qBooks) for that customer.
Clicking on the green Edit button shows me the information that I can work with for this customer.
As you can see, this is not a complete set of the data that you can find in QuickBooks. The most critical information is there, but this isn’t everything.
If you edit information here and save it, the changes will be sent back to your desktop during the next data sync.
This is a common example of what you will see with list records. Much of the important information is shown, but you don’t have access to ALL of the data that you see in QuickBooks.
Adding a Transaction
This is one of the most important features of a product like this, in my mind – the ability to add transactions such as invoices and sales orders. Let’s take a look at adding an invoice.
Select Invoices on the left, then click the + button in the upper right.
In the new invoice window you will select the customer name and other features by tapping on the field next to each label.
qBooks does a good job on bringing over the supporting lists for these fields, such as the ship method, terms and sales rep.
Tapping on the Add Item field opens the item list. This list is not your complete item list from QuickBooks. It doesn’t include sales tax items or other charge items, for example. This may be a limit for some people.
If you tap on an item you can add it to the invoice and set the quantity, as well as modifying the description. You cannot control the taxable settings in this window.
When you are done you will be given the option to email the invoice. This feature works very smoothly and quickly. Here’s what it looks like:
However, look at the totals for this invoice. Going back to QuickBooks I can see that the invoice has been saved, but it doesn’t match what I see in qBooks. QuickBooks saved this as a taxable invoice, where qBooks created it without tax. Note that this should have been a taxable invoice because the customer has a default tax rate set up.
Now, after the next sync back to the iPad, you see that the amount has been updated to include the sales tax. However, you will also note that the correct amounts aren’t showing, the program is rounding rates and amounts to the nearest dollar.
At first I thought that this was a major bug in the program, but after commenting this via email with Tech Support , I was directed to the iPad Settings app:
Turning the Show cents preference to “On” resolves this problem and the invoice shows the correct amount. I wish that this had been enabled by default, but at least that was easy to change!
It is important to note that newly added invoices won’t show up in the customer list in qBooks until you have completed the sync cycle – sending the transaction to OpCenter, having QuickBooks on your desktop retrieve it from OpCenter and then sending it back, and then having your iPad retrieve it back from OpCenter.
Pricing and Options
Pricing for this product was a bit confusing at first, but once I understood it I was amazed. Some of the odd policies here have to do with how Apple controls pricing of things in the App Center.
You start off by buying the product in the App Center for $0.99. This gets you a demo version, essentially. It did seem a bit odd to me, buying the demo? But, for $0.99, I can’t complain too much. This lets you see the product on your iPad and play with it, but the data you are using is a dummy set of data.
Then you can register the product for no charge, and you are given the option to download the OpCenter syncing tool on your Windows desktop. Install this and then sync your database with the OpCenter server. I recommend that you pay careful attention to the installation steps that they outline for you on their web site – if you miss a step you may have to start over. This wasn’t entirely convenient, you have to uninstall the product and erase a file and then reinstall.
Once you have the sync tool set up your own QuickBooks company data is uploaded to your iPad. This allows you to see SOME of your real data, so that you can see how the sync works. You can’t see the details of all of your data, just the first 10 records. You can use those first ten records to actually view and add transactions. This is, essentially, a more advanced demo with your own data.
If you are convinced that this is the tool for you there are two “in product” purchases you can make:
- $24.99 for a View function, which will let you see all of your data, but not sync data back to your desktop.
- $49.99 for a Write function, which provides you with full access to the supported features. You can view data, you can add transactions, you can edit records. This includes the View function, you don’t have to purchase both.
Note that this is a one time purchase. No monthly “server” fees for the syncing tool, no other charges. That is an incredible deal! Access to all of the functions for a total of $59.98, and not recurring charges for the “cloud” based sync server.
The product supports the U.S. Windows desktop versions of QuickBooks Pro, Premier and Enterprise from 2006 through 2012, as well as the Australian version (which supports VAT transactions). Oddly enough, not the Canadian or UK versions.
Is Your Data Secure?
You should always be very concerned about the security of your data any time you are using a “cloud” based system. There are two main aspects to this, protection from data loss and protection from illegal access to your data. Based on what the qBooks people say, neither of these issues are a problem.
Data loss? The primary data store is still your QuickBooks desktop database. As long as you have proper backups of your local QuickBooks company file you are in good shape. qBooks isn’t the main receptacle of your data.
Data Security? According to the qBooks folks they are using a very secure and encrypted system. I can’t really confirm that but it sounds like they have done this correctly. In addition, and this may be even more valuable – the “sync” process is only storing evennt and error logs, and only the latest set of data to be synchronized is moving through their system. Unlike Intuit QuickBooks Connect, there isn’t a complete copy of your company data in their server. That is an important difference, and adds a layer of security.
Does It Work?
Ah, that is always the tough part. Does this work? I’ve pointed out a few of the issues that I ran into, and there are a few more I’ve stumbled across.
- Sales tax is not included in the order until you sync the order to QuickBooks and back. This is a problem since you are asked to email the order before the sync takes place. You don’t have to send that invoice before sales tax is created – once syncing is done then you have an option to email it again. However, it is too easy to send the invoice off before tax is added, and if you haven’t synced your data (if you are offline, for example) then you can’t see the tax amount.
- “Cents” display is turned off by default. Not a big deal, you can enable this preference, but it can be very confusing until you find this.
- The Customer list only shows the higher level customer record – you can’t see “jobs”. This makes it difficult to see invoices for a job in some places, such as in the customer list (you can see jobs when creating a transaction like an invoice). This was a problem – if I have an invoice for a job, when I look at the customer list I can’t see that invoice. I can find it in the invoice list, but that isn’t the first place you look and it isn’t the easiest to use if you are trying to look up an invoice for a customer.
- You are limited to one customer file on a QuickBooks computer system. If you work with multiple company files you can’t use this product for more than one QuickBooks company file at a particular site.
- You don’t have access to all of the data fields in your records. For example, you can create an inventory assembly item, but you can’t create the Bill of Materials for that item. You can’t set the taxable status of an item in the item list, or in an invoice. You can’t add an “other charge” item to an invoice. There are a number of examples of this kind of shortcoming.
- Installation is a bit rough, and there are security features that are missing. I don’t like downloading an “msi” file to install a product on Windows – my Windows 7 system gave me many different security warnings. The product also isn’t “signed” so QuickBooks warns you when you connect. These aren’t deal breakers – as long as you know that you are downloading a product from a trusted source. However, they are issues that aren’t that difficult to resolve by a software developer, and it looks a bit sloppy to me.
- I definitely don’t like the location that the software is installed in the computer – it creates folders in the root folder instead of the proper location. This is definitely a no-no in modern Windows software development practices.
- There are a few bugs here and there where I couldn’t always get some dropdown lists to work unless I tapped on other fields, and I’m still investigating a situation where invoices don’t always seem to show the proper totals.
On the other hand, let’s look at the positives here.
- The OpCenter sync tool is not a new program itself, it has been around for at least a couple of years in use with some other products by this company.
- I am very impressed with how well the sync manager tool works. It was smooth and the setup process was done very well. Particularly when you compare this with Intuit’s Sync Manager (although Intuit Sync Manager allows you to sync multiple company files on one machine).
- The breadth of data that qBooks is working with is very similar to what Intuit provides currently with QuickBooks Connect. Each of these products provides slightly different features. QuickBooks Connect, for example, won’t currently let you add items to the item list.
- This is a native iPad app, rather than trying to work through a web browser. This provides you with a fast and easy to use interface. It also lets you work if you are not connected to the Internet (and that feature seems to work very well). In my mind a native app almost always provides you with a better user experience than a web app.
- Tech Support seems to be fairly fast, and it is free. I haven’t used this much – I only made one call when I messed up the installation and I was able to get hold of someone immediately. I also was able to get support via email for several of the questions (such as the “cents” setting). The product (and their web site) has an extensive array of video tutorials that provide fast answers to common questions.
- The price is incredibly low, particularly since you don’t have to pay a monthly access fee.
I didn’t get into other aspects of the product, such as payment processing and expenses, so I can’t comment much on those at this time. This is an area that doesn’t seem to be as well developed as the sales side. And, no inventory management (other than sales). This is not a complete QuickBooks product, but it is a good start.
This is version 1.0, so it isn’t surprising to me that there are some rough edges. The problems that I’ve come across so far should be easy to fix in the short term. In fact, the developer tells me that version 1.1 is already going through the approval/release process and that this update will fix the sales tax and “job” problems that I pointed out. And, the updates will be free to all users.
I’m encouraged by the work done so far and I hope that they continue to develop the features. I’m going to keep an eye on this product to see how it develops. This has the potential to be a very useful product for people who need to work out of their office.