Apple’s category-killer tablet has been on the market for more than four years, so Microsoft sure took its sweet time developing iPad-specific versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint. The good news: Office for iPad isn’t just the PC version ported to a tablet. Microsoft has come up with a streamlined, touch-friendly interface with easy-to-tap buttons and tabs.
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For instance, Word for iPad’s toolbar has just five tabs (compared with nine on the PC version of Word 2013). Still, it has most of the essential writing and editing tools, including the ability to insert tables, pictures and shapes. Sharing documents is easy, too. Simply tap the “Share” button in the upper-right corner and attach a file to an e-mail. Or e-mail a link to your OneDrive account, where Microsoft stores your Office for iPad files. (Office for iPad users must save their files to OneDrive, which may rankle users of other cloud services but allows you to begin writing, say, a letter on Word for iPad, take a break, and pick up exactly where you left off on your PC or Mac.) So what’s missing? Word for iPad has fewer templates, fonts, layout tools and other infrequently used features. And the software is compatible only with iPad 2 and newer versions.
Similarly, Excel for iPad imports the essentials from Microsoft’s powerful spreadsheet. Like Word, its interface is less cluttered and, frankly, less confusing than the PC version. The Word, Excel and PowerPoint apps will work with a physical keyboard, if you prefer. Don’t have one? An on-screen numeric keyboard in Excel displays mathematical symbols and numbers, making it handy for entering formulas and digits. Touch commands are smartly implemented, too. To select a cell, you tap it; to open a cell for data entry, you double-tap it. You can’t add comments to a spreadsheet, although you can read or delete existing ones.
PowerPoint for iPad has a smaller toolkit than its desktop sibling, but its touch-based tools are intuitively designed. Basic tasks, such as rotating an image or italicizing text, are easily accomplished via taps and drags. The app offers a generous selection of picture frames and slide transitions, and novices can create slide shows with ease. However, PowerPoint for iPad doesn’t play audio or video clips.
The three Office for iPad apps are free in the Apple App Store—if you only want to view Word, Excel and PowerPoint files. To create and edit files, however, you will need an Office 365 subscription, which starts at $7 per month, or $70 per year for one copy of Office for a PC or Mac and one copy of Office for iPad. For $10 per month, or $100 per year, you can run Office on up to five PCs or Macs and five tablets.
Do you need Office for iPad? If you already have an Office 365 subscription, perhaps through work, the suite is a free bonus and definitely worth the download. Likewise, if compatibility with documents generated on your home or office computer is important but you like the convenience of a tablet, the steep price may be worth it—even if you have to pay for it yourself. If not, cheaper productivity suites can get the job done. Apple’s iWork suite—which includes Pages, a very good word-processing app, as well as Numbers (spreadsheet) and Keynote (presentation)—is free with every new iPad. If you have an older iPad, you can buy Pages, Numbers and Keynote for $10 each.