Microsoft Office for iPad = 5 reasons it matters, 5 it doesn’t

Thursday 28th March, Microsoft and their new CEO Satya Nadella took the wraps off Office for iPad. Office for iPad delivers at least the traditional selection of Office apps, Word, Excel and PowerPoint, first to the iPad in a way that’s literally incomparable, more on that in a minute.

Since, during, and even before, the announcement, we’ve been hearing “this is bad for Microsoft”, “Microsoft doesn’t care about Windows 8/Phone”, all of these are complete rubbish! Microsoft is a software company, as long as you are using Microsoft software, they couldn’t care less what device you choose to use it on, this is also further less of the truth when you consider Microsoft offer Office on both those platforms in compelling ways too.

Instead of doing a massive re-cap of an event you can re-watch yourself, we’ve decided to do things a bit differently, here are 5 reasons why Office matters on the iPad, and 5 reasons why it may not, hopefully these will help you decide if Office for your iPad is something to consider.

Why it matters

1. It’s incomparable

Image from WSJ
Image from WSJ

Office for iPad proves what it means to have something official, we’re used to checking our iPad/Android/etc devices for a “non-official” version off an official app and experiencing some pretty poor experiences! Don’t get us wrong, some do work, but if they do work, they don’t deliver that perfect solution you’d expect. With Office for iPad, Microsoft have essentially reminded all of us why Office is such a powerful tool, and how, even on an iPad, when designed with any device in mind, it really just as powerful as you’d expect from a Desktop OS.

Of course it’s important to mention, that Office for iPad will not allow Visual Basic / Macros available in any of the 3 apps included, this is simply due to not only security, but general limitations when coding Office for the iPad. Aside from that, more or less everything needed for editing and creation is there with Office for iPad.

2. Compatibility

Office file formats

It doesn’t matter who makes it, but every Office third party app will have listed on their last software update “fixes compatibility…” or “Compatibility” mentioned in most fixes as the app moves forward, and compatibility is really the key with Office for iPad. Microsoft even showed a Word document opened using the iPad default viewer, known as Preview on both iOS and OS X. The document had layout problems, text in incorrect placement, then when the same document was opened in Office Word, everything was laid out correctly, that kind of compatibility that you really need to be sure of not only when opening a file, but especially for creation and the end result when the document is opened at the other end.

The biggest and best feature of Office Word, PowerPoint and Excel for iPad is they are free to use and download. Through a completely free download you can open any document in them and view, or present in PowerPoint, any file completely free and with compatibility you’d expect from the suite. It’s only when you get to further document creation, or editing, that you even need to consider Office 365, which remains the way most of these apps are funded.

3. You already have an Office 365 account

office-logo_v3

Office 365 maybe the single most reason why you don’t want, or simply aren’t interested in Office for your iPad, but it’s really so much better than first impressions may have you believe, especially if you already have an Office 365 thanks to a purchase of Office for Windows, for example. If you have an Office 365 account created through the iPhone/Android Office app, which is now completely free to use, Windows version of Office 2013 *except on Windows RT*, or Office for OS X *only the upcoming version*, you’ll only be using a small amount of your seemingly unlimited license available to you!

  • Also with an Office 365 account, you can install the latest and greatest versions of Office on up to 5 Windows or Mac computers, then a list of iPads too for no extra cost, making the £79 / $99 (or £7.99 / $9.99 a month within the app) a year price rather attractive, especially as future versions of Office, including updates, service packs, and entire releases, will also be available for no extra cost too. Licenses are also transferrable should you change computers moving forward.
    Office for Windows 365 includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, Publisher and Access 2013. Office for Mac includes Word, Excel and PowerPoint 2012 with a future optimised 365 version coming later this year.
  • Microsoft also throw in free up to 60 minutes every month around the world Skype calls, plus additional 20GB of OneDrive storage to store all your documents and files on top of existing storage.

4. Have you seen iWork for iOS?!

The first thing any iPad user should do if considering, or even simply thinking about Microsoft Office for the iPad, it’s checking out the competition. The biggest and most popular service on iOS is of course Apple’s offering, iWork for iPad. This is how it compares!

ONEDRIVE & iCLOUD

Both iCloud and OneDrive provide, not only default storage location for the respective Office suites, but WebApps for the suite available for free online within a browser. Whilst Microsoft provide an extra 20GB of OneDrive storage along with a 365 Subscription, on top of the 7GB default storage, Microsoft already has 22GB more available storage than Apple does with iCloud before we even get to features, so if storage is a key feature, this maybe something to keep in mind. Both offer WebApps, but it must be noted that whilst Apple does allow people using Windows (Vista/7/8/RT)  to browse and use the iWork WebApps, you can not use them, or the entire iCloud suite from a competing mobile platform, something Microsoft do allow with Office Online.

So, pros and cons across the board really, let’s get on to the apps themselves though.

MICROSOFT WORD & PAGES FOR iPAD

Word and Pages iPad

Apple provide any new iOS user the opportunity to get much of their suites for free with the purchase of a new iOS device, be that all well and good, you really do need to check out the immense differences when looking at the two offerings. Pages for iPad is a dreadful app, we noted back when the OS X version of iWork received its current update that it seemed to remove a heap of features, and it’s that much less feature base you get from Pages in comparison to Word.

The UI is also a problem with Pages, just simply looking at how you change basic features like font selection to style options, the iPad app just doesn’t take advantage of the fact you’re using an iPad instead of a phone, a problem we’ve been seeing across the board with iOS 7 apps by Apple. The Word app for iPad does the complete opposite, using the familiar Ribbon interface to switch between given options throughout the application and everything works together with much more fluidity too.

MICROSOFT POWERPOINT & KEYNOTE FOR iPAD

PowerPoint and Keynote iPad

As far as a good Presentation app goes though, Keynote and PowerPoint are much closer than Word/Pages, instead of a clear win for Office counter-part, both offerings have their set of Pros and Cons, focusing mainly on Apple’s offering.

Keynote has forever been a killer Presentation app for the Mac, but even today that magic just hasn’t translated over to iOS just yet, but Apple do offer a very broad feature set on the iPad offering, whilst their is a learning curve for the iOS version, and some confusing differences even between the iPad and the Mac version, which is really bad for an average consumer, Apple do provide a decent enough app.

PowerPoint follows off where Word left off, you get the same familiar UI you’d expect from an Office app, and the features, but more importantly compatibility as we mentioned in point 2. We’ve created Presentations in Keynote for iPad, saved them as a PPT/PPTX, opened them in PowerPoint and transitions, text formats and more have been completely different, or result in glitchy results, to be sure that doesn’t happen, PowerPoint for iPad is the clear winner until Apple fix the entire back end of those bugs. Whilst the bugs may not occur when going between Keynote for iOS/Mac, compatibility across the board is key when using productivity apps.

PowerPoint, be it a much closer result, still wins in terms of usability, compatibility and even in terms of exclusive features. Big features of PowerPoint for iPad, not only some exclusive transitions, but two touch-optimised features for when in presentation mode. One mimics a laser pen by tap and holding the display in presentation mode, and a highlighting tool.

MICROSOFT EXCEL & NUMBERS FOR iPAD

Excel and Numbers iPad

Excel is a funny one as off the bat, both Numbers and Excel share a missing feature on the iPad variants in comparison to the Desktop counterparts in VB and Macro compatibility. If this was OS X iWork vs Office for Mac, we’d mark that as a win for Office as Microsoft do provide those on the Mac versions, but on the iPad, whilst they are missing, they’re also impossible to implement on to the iPad using an ARM architecture, making the missing features for most part irrelevant for comparison, also Excel will mimic any already implemented Macros.

Numbers has never been a good application, whether on the Mac or on the iPad/iPhone, and has always suffered for being a very basic application compared to not just Office, but even third party Mac alternatives like Neo or Open Office. On the iPad the app similarly suffers from poor app design than both Keynote and Pages have, whilst this could be accommodated with the iOS 7 update, the iOS 6 version of Numbers wasn’t much friendlier. What we do like in Numbers is Cell creation, whilst both Excel and Number insert Cell information and equations via an ‘⨏x’ tool menu, Number displays the menu straight above the keyboard, whereas Excel confusingly displays it at the traditional top position, which isn’t at first obvious to the user. Apple have made a slightly better customised keyboard for Numbers too, including a butter for the shortcuts for equation suggestions, rather than the Excel option of having to physically type to get suggestions, although Speadsheet users will likely know what they’re typing without those.

Despite our little niggle over the equation and calculation UI in Excel, other than that it all comes down to the same thing. Microsoft’s offering on the iPad across the board use the entire screen real-estate resulting in a much more, not only attractive, but useful applications. Excel also includes better compatibility than Numbers, be them both lacking VB/Macro support, Excel does at least display created Macros through its viewer, something Numbers can not.

SUMMARY

Of course the choice is yours, which you prefer but when compared, if you’re doing things iWork vs Office on an iPad, the choice for us is simple.

5. Perfect synchronisation

Every file created in Office for iPad is automatically saved and synchronised across OneDrive, meaning every version of Microsoft Office, whether it’s running on Windows or the iPad, you can instantly access your created app simply and easily without really any hassle at all. This level of synchronisation across all your devices is incredibly valuable when you’re dealing with files you really don’t want to lose. Microsoft also provide automatic savings during creating the app should something happen along the way, which you can recover and finish later on a different device should it come to it.

Why it may not/doesn’t

1. You don’t have an Office 365 account

Is Office for iPad worth it if you don’t have an Office 365 account? If you’re asking yourself that we’d probably say no, and we do think this will go on to be the biggest Con of Office for the iPad, but with great software, comes a price, which is something you have to live with. As we mentioned above, if Office becomes something you need, the 365 route is definitely the best route, as you’ll get the latest version of Office running for a one off yearly charge on all your devices at once.

2. Alternatives serve you well *enough*

Whilst we compared Office versus Apple’s iWork suite, we should also mention Google have a compelling offering via their Drive software, and their is many more really good Office apps for iPad. Whilst none of the apps compare in feature set to the Microsoft apps, if they work well enough for you, why switch. Only if compatibility, reliability and features are important to you should you look at Microsoft Office for iPad, as it really is the only solution that offers these with perfect implementation.

3. You don’t have an iPad

That’s fine, Microsoft now offer Microsoft Office completely free on your iPhone, Android phone or Windows Phone. If you purchase a Microsoft Surface 2, Lumia 2520 you’ll also get the full Office 2013 suite and updates, or available via purchase on Windows and Mac OS X as well.

4. What about the keyboard?

This is one criticism that we have to mention. Microsoft Office is a full on application for productivity and Office work, whilst it is possible minus a physical keyboard, we wouldn’t like to write a full essay or do real extensive work minus a physical keyboard. Whilst Microsoft and others do a very decent job of making the apps work on touch, touch keyboards do get very cumbersome for long periods of time.

It is important to mention however, multiple keyboard accessories are available for the iPad which all apps on iOS natively support out of the box, you can also use Bluetooth keyboard on the iPad too, so if this is the only problem you have with Office for iPad, this may be a viable solution for you.

5. You don’t like Microsoft… Apple / Google / etc FTW

Favouritism and hatred towards any company is pointless and will only lead to you missing out on somewhat better hardware and software moving forward. Keeping an open mind on every piece of technology, whether hardware or software, and giving everything as it comes a chance is always best. Almost forcing yourself to like a single collection of things is really pathetic and is also so obvious, making you kind of look sad … sorry but it’s true. Whilst we understand that many solutions and options work better for some and not others, having pointless bias towards any company really is pointless.

SIDENOTE

You maybe wondering about OneNote. Whilst OneNote is an Office application, it has recently gone completely free and is available as a completely free app, whether on Windows desktop or in the Windows Store, Mac App Store, iOS App Store, Google Play, or installed by default on Windows Phone.  OneNote for iPad did receive an update following the Word, Excel and PowerPoint releases to further fit the UI.

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