As was reported earlier Wednesday, the latest version of QuickBooks, Intuit's small business finance tracking application, offers up four major new features and more than fifty other enhancements or refinements. QuickBooks for Mac 2012 isn't slated to arrive until the end of this month, but I had the chance to spend some time with these features, forming a few first impressions of the update.
QuickBooks 2012's new forms interface appears to be a pretty thorough redesign of the way you interact with estimates, invoices, and your customer data. While data entry on these forms remains the same as it was in earlier versions of the application, there are now a number of new buttons that give you quick access to features for printing, emailing, and previewing the form you're looking at.
There are also two new sidebars, one of which displays a list of all the invoices or estimates you've created and the other which offers up account information for the customer whose invoice or estimate is currently being displayed in the main window.
The information displayed in the invoice sidebar can be filtered using a Spotlight-like search field and each entry in the sidebar offers visual cues that let you know when an invoice is overdue. The account information sidebar displays your customer's phone number and email address as well as the current open balance and a list of recent customer transactions. Intuit has also added a new button that lets you preview your form without requiring you to use the print preview option available in every OS X print dialog.
These are all great additions to the application that make your customer and vendor information easy to access without requiring you to jump between the application's many modules.
Better search tools
Like the Finder, Mail, iTunes, and other Mac OS savvy applications, QuickBooks now includes some sophisticated search features that allow you to find transactions and other financial information based upon very specific criteria. As is the case with other applications that offer these kinds of search tools, data in your query's found set is updated as you type and the data can also be fine-tuned by filtering out data in specific fields. Once a query has been created you have the option to save the search so that you can use it again later. An important note here, though: QuickBooks has always had a pretty sophisticated but challenging-to-use tool for finding transactions. That tool has not gone away and is available from the new find interface with the click of a button.
Progress invoicing, better looking reports
One of the new features I really like in QuickBooks 2012 is progress invoicing. Previous versions of QuickBooks made it difficult to manage partial invoices. In many cases, if you wanted to invoice for a portion of a job that had been completed, you had to use some kind of spreadsheet or other ledger system to track what portion of a job had been completed, what portion of that portion had already been billed for, and then bill for the portion that you'd just completed.
Progress invoicing in the new version of QuickBooks should eliminate the need to use third-party applications for tracking partial invoices. When creating a progress invoice, you have the option of billing for a percentage of the work that has been done, selecting only the items that you want to invoice for, or you can select percentages or dollar amounts for specific line items on your invoice.
Graphs and reports in QuickBooks 2012 appear to be much improved, having shed the pre-OS X look that has persisted throughout the years. Data from reports can be exported, without additional setup, to Apple's Numbers and Microsoft's Excel where you can then tweak your data and add it to printed reports you create in applications like Pages and Word.
Although I've seen it in action, one of the features I haven't yet had the chance to personally test out is the automatic categorization tools that Intuit picked up in its purchase of Mint.com a few years ago. Like Mint, QuickBooks is now able to take any of the transactions imported from your bank, figure out where and with what institution the transaction took place and then automatically rename the payee and properly categorize the transaction in a way that makes sense, with very little interaction from the user. This is one of my favorite Mint.com features and if it works like it does on Mint it's bound to be a huge time-saver to anyone importing banking data, as most banks use odd naming conventions for ATM withdrawals or purchases made at chain stores.
It's hard for me to know yet whether or not the updated QuickBooks is all that it promises to be, but it seems that, unlike previous versions of the program, QuickBooks 2012 is much more than changes to the façade. I like the new forms interface, and I think the program's new smart search features are likely to make it easier for users to create the kinds of useful custom searches that most businesses need.
Whether or not this translates into making QuickBooks the application that every small business needs to run a business remains to be seen, but I'm looking forward to digging in and seeing what QuickBooks 2012 really has to offer.