QuickBooks Online update, First Take: New look, open API

As small businesses take to the cloud, QuickBooks Online gets a totally new look, along with an open API to encourage third-party developers to jump onto the Intuit platform. But will it be enough to recover ground already lost to newer and nimbler competitors?
Written by Alan Stevens, Contributor on

Intuit seems to have woken up to the fact that small businesses are serious when they say they want to do businesses on the go, leading it to completely re-engineer its QuickBooks Online service to suit. Out go previous attempts at replicating its popular QuickBooks desktop product in a browser, and in comes a much simpler UI, together with workflows that are clearly designed with touchscreens in mind. Intuit has also decided it can't do everything by itself and is looking to fill any gaps by opening up its API to third parties.

There's a lot to like in the revamped QuickBooks Online, the most obvious change being the new interface, which is a major departure for the company. Not only is it cleaner and more modern-looking, it now takes you straight to the tasks that small businesses need to perform on a daily basis.

The revamped QuickBooks Online has a simpler user interface that makes it easy to drill down into the detail of your company's accounts.
Image: Alan Stevens/ZDNet

The new dashboard also shows you the current status of your finances, while also allowing you to quickly drill down from this screen to see the invoices you need to chase or the bills that need paying, for example.

This is the QuickBooks Online UI that has been replaced.
Image: Alan Stevens/ZDNet

A simple colour scheme and uncluttered layout make the new UI easy to learn and a delight to use — even in a mobile browser on a smartphone or tablet. It also matches the existing interface in the QuickBooks Online apps for iOS and Android devices, which allow you to raise estimates and invoices and perform other common accounting tasks on the move.

The new setup wizard asks fewer questions, filling in common settings by matching your business's profile to existing ones.
Image: Alan Stevens/ZDNet

Setup has also been enhanced. The lengthy interview at the start is replaced by a mere handful of questions about your company and industry sector. QuickBooks will then check other customers in the same line of business and apply the most common settings automatically. It's quick and works well, and we're assured it's done anonymously to avoid violating data-protection laws. You can always tweak things later if you want. As with the previous release, you can also link directly to online bank accounts, and automated tools are available to help when it comes to regular reconciliation.

The Customers tab in the new QuickBooks Online interface.
Image: Alan Stevens/ZDNet

On the downside, the core bookkeeping functionality doesn't change that much in this revamp, and there are still a few things missing. Most notable is support for flat-rate VAT, which was missing when we looked at the previous version in 2011. Although Intuit says it's a high priority, it's still missing from the online service and has only just been added to the desktop product. Automatic VAT reporting is also absent, although having to cut and paste from the QuickBooks return into the HMRC website isn't that big an issue.

Some of the drawbacks we noted inour last review have been addressed, such as the ability to upgrade from the desktop version of QuickBooks to the online service using a third-party tool called Movemybooks. Likewise, you can add stock control using a service called SOS Inventory and payroll via The Payroll Site. It's also possible to accept card payments both through Intuit's own online handling service and on the spot using a mobile card reader.

The new QuickBooks Online UI matches that of the iOS and Android apps.
Image: Alan Stevens/ZDNet

There are currently some 20-plus applications that can be integrated with QuickBooks Online and, having now opened up its API, Intuit expects a lot more to follow. The plan is for QuickBooks Online to become a platform for all kinds of applications that small businesses might need beyond basic bookkeeping.

Whether Intuit can deliver on this aim remains to be seen as it's an increasingly crowded and competitive market and Intuit is still playing catch-up with nimbler start-ups — some with a significant customer base already. The company may also need to develop its own marketplace to provide simpler access to the expected add-on apps.

In the meantime, new subscribers will automatically get the new QuickBooks Online service from 24 October onwards, which is timely given that Intuit is predicting more new online than desktop customers in the future. Existing customers, on the other hand, will have to wait to be selectively invited to upgrade over the following year. However, that isn't a bad idea as it gives time to get ready for the change rather than be presented with a fait accompli as often happens when online services are revamped.

Pricing is also unchanged, starting at £9/month (ex. VAT) for the single-user Simple Start service, £19/month for Online Essentials and £29/month for QuickBooks Online Plus.

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