Hands-on: Office for the iPad

Excel for iPad

In August of 1997 then-Apple CEO Steve Jobs said at a Macworld keynote: “We have to let go of this notion that for Apple to win, Microsoft has to lose.” Years later, the rivalry between the two companies continued much like the rivalries between the Yankees and the Red Sox: bitterly and with a few virtual baseball bats wielded. For a while it seemed like Office for the iPad, a highly-desired product, would be a casualty of of this rivalry, but on Thursday, Microsoft finally launched the software.

New Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella could well have started his keynote yesterday with: “We have to let go of this notion that for Microsoft to win, Apple has to lose.” And with Office for iPad, Microsoft pitched a no-hitter. For those of you not as obsessed with baseball as I am, this is a good thing for Microsoft, Apple and us.

Here’s my take on the new software. Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint are available on the iPad.

Getting the money talk over early

The Office for iPad apps require a subscription to Office 365, which costs around $99 a year. With this subscription you can install Office on up to 5 PCs or Macs, and your iPad does not count against that limit. While having to pay a subscription stings, it’s lessened somewhat by knowing I won’t have to shell out for the next version of Office for the Mac as well. Between the iPad, Mac, and my Windows installs, individual licenses for all three suites would have been very expensive. You can use the free versions of the suite to read files. So if you don’t need to edit files on your iPad, but need them to at least look correct on the screen, that is an option.

Why Microsoft Office matters to me

I’ve been highly-critical of iWork in the past. My feelings about the suite still stand: it’s fine if I need to create a simple document. If I need to round-trip, or even open a complex Office document, it treats the file with all the grace and dignity of a puppy with a new squeaky toy.

The reality of my life is that I live in a Microsoft Office world. When Julia White (General Manager of the Microsoft Office group) started off her demo by opening up a Word document on her iPad, pretty much everyone who has ever opened a Word document on the iPad nodded at what appeared on the screen: a mangled document with the text flowing in the wrong direction and the graphic above the text.

I wrote recently about how I wanted to make 2014 the year of the iPad for me, and the lack of Office on the iPad was a big limiter. I usually bring my iPad to meetings for reference and note-taking and the ability to bring up a document and show it to someone with the formatting intact was a big deal for me.

My expectations for the suite I think are realistic: be able to open, modify and create Office documents and not have them chewed to pieces.

How the new apps hold up

OneDrive integration

I’m going to start of with how the three new apps work with One Drive, Microsoft’s cloud storage. All of the apps can read and write from OneDrive. If you don’t want to use OneDrive, you can save the files for all apps locally and transfer the files via iTunes. None of the apps use iCloud at all, which is to be expected. A nice change from iCloud is I can also finally store all my files in a folder for the project and not in two different app’s sandboxes.

One area I was a little surprised by is if you want to add an image, you have to import it via the Camera Roll. I had thought I’d be able to point it at an image on my OneDrive directory, but any images you want to import to your files need to be in the Camera Roll first.


The first thing I did after downloading Word for iPad was open up one of my standard work documents. It came across 99.9 percent fine. That missing 1 percent was because a font used in the document (Franklin Gothic) wasn’t one of the fonts on the iPad. Unfortunately, there’s no way to add the missing fonts. That said, the document retained all of its formatting including the 3 points of space between paragraphs that was defined in the style. The graphics came across great as well.

The part that made me extremely happy was that the Table of Contents came in intact and I could update with both new pages and new headers. I was able to successfully mark up the document with both tracked changes and comments. I can also edit the header and footer and add page numbers.

There are a few limitations. While I can use any of the styles that were imported as part of the document, I couldn’t find a way to create any. The same held true for the Table of Contents; I could edit the existing TOC but I couldn’t add one to a new document. Also, for students none of the biblipographic reference tools from the desktop version of Word are present. This is an area I really hope they add since I would have loved just bringing an iPad to the school library.

ipad-word-mtc-screen480x480 Excel

Most of the formatting issues I’ve had with iWork have been opening Excel documents in Numbers, both on OS X and iOS. So far, it seems like those formatting issues have been minimized with Excel for iPad. What did impress me is the array of functions available. I’m not a heavy Excel user by any stretch (when asked in an interview what my favorite Excel function is, I felt like I should answer with what part of a salad I think I am; the answer would have been about as relevant).

However, a quick perusal of the functions showed me that vlookup is one of the functions available. Vlookup is one of my “well, if they have this, then it’s probably got a good slate of functions” tool. Speaking of vlookup, I’m going to assume it only works with references in the same document. I also like that it shows the recently used functions at the top of the list.

So far, I feel confident that Excel for iPad should meet most user’s needs for mobile spreadsheet. Opening up and making edits to a few work spreadsheets left me with confidence that if I make edits to a document on my iPad in a meeting and send it to my boss, I’ll still keep my job.



Keynote is the one iWork app (on either platform) that I’ve long thought it was superior to its Office counterpart. Keynote by now even does a decent job of handling its competitor’s files. So, this test has the amusing side effect of seeing how well PowerPoint handles my Keynote files instead of the other way around. The few sample files I loaded looked ok, and the animations seemed to work as intended. One nice addition is if you are in the Slideshow view and press and hold on the screen, you get a laser pointer (aside: Keynote for iPad has the same feature).

So, when would I use PowerPoint iPad over Keynote?

The obvious one that comes to mind is if you positively, absolutely, have to use the corporate deck and you don’t want to risk any conversion errors. These days, it seems like PowerPoint is used more as a handout tool than a presentation tool, but that’s a rant for another time. If you really have to stay within the Office dome, it’s probably best to also use PowerPoint. The good news is it looks up to the task. There are a lot of transitions to choose from. I haven’t done a comparison to the transitions on the desktop app, but it looks like most of them are covered here. Presenting on the iPad is still something I’d have to get used to, but I can see editing on the go with this app.


Final thoughts

After working with the suite for the day, I’m very impressed. I feel that we finally have the high-end productivity suite I’ve been waiting for since the iPad launched in 2010. While iWork is a good suite, it’s not a good suite for me. I round trip with too many Office users for iWork to be my main productivity suite unless I want the night to end in tears.

So far, in just a few short hours, Word has removed Pages from the first screen of my iPad. There still a few limitations, like printing. While Microsoft says that will be feature added soon, since I’ve never needed to print from my iPad I’m not too upset it’s not here.

What is exciting is I feel this is just the beginning. Unlike Apple’s relaunch of iWork for iPad, I feel this tool is one I can actually use on a daily basis. I’m thrilled that Satya’s first big move is bringing Office to the iPad. While it took too long, and likely took a CEO change to help push it out the door, I’m glad it’s here.


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