Microsoft Office Apps for iPad Review

I'm not sure Microsoft would know what to make of me. At work, I'm professionally wedded to them, using a number of their corporate tools to drive the IT services across a university campus. In many areas of enterprise IT, not just the stuff you see on your PC, Microsoft are still big players.

Historically, that's helped them do very well in the home too. For a long time, a new computer meant a PC with Windows and Office.

Alternatives have always existed, but outside of geek circles, there was rarely a desire to switch.

People stuck with the familiar and it helped that pretty much everyone else had Microsoft Office, so you also knew they'd be able to open what you'd written.

Microsoft are now the underdog

The reason I'm not sure Microsoft would know what to make of me, is that I find it much harder now to recommend their products to friends and family . Microsoft may still dominate the corporate world, but at home, they are now the underdog.

Lack of familiarity no longer has to put people off buying something different and I'm not just referring to software. Apple and Android tablets are so easy to use that no one bothers to supply an instruction manual. Creating documents and spreadsheets can be migrated into the cloud where you can access all your files online from any of your devices at any time from a browser or an app. You can even collaborate live with your friends in the same documents whilst miles apart. If you do need a good old fashioned DOC or XLS file to pass to a Microsoft Office user, I can't think of any alternative that doesn't offer these formats as a 'Save as' file type.

MS Word on an iPad. Who would have thought it?

In spite of that, there was a lot of excitable press coverage when Microsoft released Office apps for iPad, but some have asked why, given that there are so many good alternatives already available.

So, is there any reason at all why any of us should stump up the monthly subscription for the iPad versions of Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint?

First, let's take a closer look at them.

Microsoft Word

It's immediately clear that Microsoft is not attempting to recreate the entire desktop version of Word for your tablet. Wisely taking the assumption that for power users, an iPad will likely be a companion device, they've stripped Word back to core functionality. This makes it easy to pick up and use, whilst offering enough functionality to enable you to create a complete and professional piece of work or make edits when on the go. Starting a new file opens up a selection of quality looking templates, or you can start from scratch with a blank page.

Files are expected to be stored either in OneDrive or locally on the ipad. OneDrive is a good service, but it would be nice to be able to select from more storage products easily.

A simple ribbon bar allows you to manage your text layout, insert pictures, tables, lists, shapes and so on, whilst the all important spellcheck is present and correct to pick out the typos.

A quick look at the competition suggests there is really nothing here that you can't get from cheaper apps (or even free), but Microsoft have included one function that really scores big points.

Yes, 'track changes' is finally available on an iPad app! For those not in the know, it represents an essential feature for those who are collaborating on a document.

The Track Changes function finally appears on an iPad

Complete a draft and pass it to someone else. They enable 'Track Changes' and start to pick out the flaws, re-writing paragraphs, suggesting alternative words and so on. Once passed back to the author, they have the opportunity to review each change before accepting it or discarding it. Once completed, track changes is switched off, all the old prose is discarded and the final finished document is ready for publication. This feature alone will sell the app to many people.

Microsoft Excel

It's impressive to see the kinds of spreadsheets that Excel on an iPad is capable of running. Remember that the iPad is based on mobile technology and has a reputation for information consumption, not creation and manipulation - but it can also do some serious work if you need it to.

Like with Word, Microsoft haven't tried to squeeze in the full desktop version. They recognise that iPad users are not likely to spend a whole day manipulating pivot tables and processing huge formulas. That said, there is likely to be a lot more power here than the average home user needs.

Happily, it's all very accessible and even though I'm not sure a 10" screen (or 8" for iPad Mini owners) is the ideal place to be working on a spreadsheet, I think I could be happy plotting the home finances on it or referencing a larger document when it's too much hassle to fire up the laptop.

Microsoft PowerPoint

PowerPoint is probably one of the most hated names in computing and the phrase 'Death by PowerPoint' can be heard on the lips of suits leaving boring meeting rooms across the business parks of this great land. Of course it's not really PowerPoint's fault. 'Less is more' should be a general rule. It's great that the iPad version can handle all the transition effects between slides, but use them all in one presentation and I guarantee your audience will have turned a funny shade of green.

Whilst daily users of Word and Excel iPad apps should seriously consider investing in a bluetooth keyboard (click here, here and here for my suggestions) - PowerPoint is rather more comfortable on a touchscreen device and it can be a nice experience moving pictures and text around here than it is with a traditional keyboard and mouse.

Once again though, there isn't a whole lot of functionality that couldn't be gotten from alternative and likely cheaper apps and they have the advantage that everyone has seen PowerPoint a billion times and you have the opportunity to look and feel a little different if you side with the competition. 

Once you've got a work in progress, PowerPoint is really useful on a tablet

Interestingly, the iPad makes for an excellent presentation delivery device, simply because it's easy to use whilst standing up. It's also a very handy form for the practice runs, you can pace round nervously with it, which is what  I like to do before public speaking. Things will be even better when wireless projectors are commonplace.


iPad owners have gotten used to fairly small outlays for apps or even to getting them for free. Apple's own suite of office apps used to cost a relative premium at £6.99 each, but are now offered free with each new iPad purchase. For those who want a little less device dependence, Google Drive will run on pretty much anything with an internet connection and give you access to your files anytime you like (signal excepting).

Microsoft's Office apps can be downloaded for free, but will only open documents in 'read-only' mode unless you have an Office 365 subscription. For home users, this comes in at a heady £6.99 a month! This includes the desktop version and updates as they're released, but the iPad version alone is hard to recommend at this price for most people.

Move over Angry Birds, the iPad is all grown up

Coupled with the fact that you can only work with documents held in Microsoft's OneDrive cloud storage service (or documents held locally on the iPad) and I'd be inclined to say that unless you specifically need these products, then the competition's cheapness and flexibilty trump these admittedly very nice apps.

If you have Office 365 for work, or your employer has licensed you a copy of the iPad apps, for power users, there are reasons to download. The iPad is a tremendous companion device in the office and I've long stopped taking my laptop into meetings. Having Word, Excel and PowerPoint on my iPad represents the last hurdle being cleared. Many is the time we've been reviewing some large document in a meeting. Perhaps a tender document with page after page of table, chart, list and so on to review. Usually created in Word or Excel, iPad apps have always been able to open them, but the formatting has always changed and it's been a frustrating experience to work with them. I would never consider editing these complex documents for fear of breaking something. Not so with Microsoft Office apps for iPad.

So in summary, Office for iPad represents an excellent opportunity to leverage your tablet for work and conveniently get at your documents where a laptop or desktop can be a hassle. For home users, it's harder to recommend.


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