Home Your Tech Mobility Office for iPad – Version 1.0 is good but lacks some PC functionality

Office for iPad – Version 1.0 is good but lacks some PC functionality

Microsoft has released Office for iPad – at least bringing Word, Excel and PowerPoint functionality to the world’s most popular tablet. The Office viewer is free – if you want to create and edit you will need an Office 365 subscription.

Putting the consumer/entertainment use of an iPad aside for the moment - limited need for content creation - we need to start from an education, small office, and business perspective – the lingua franca (bridging language) of which is Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Few businesses or educational institutions accept documents in say iWorks or other so-called Office compatible apps – because being very objective, these are not!

Word is a standard because back in 1983 it provided almost complete backwards compatibility for WordStar and Word Perfect on Xenix, UNIX, Atari, MS-DOS, Mac OS, and later Windows. More than 1 billion people use it. While it is essentially about standards, it is more about convenience – almost everyone can read a .doc/x, xls/x, ppt/x file.

Yet while Word, Excel, and PowerPoint are the Rolls Royce of productivity programs replete with thousands of features – most only use a handful of these. For that reason alone iWorks et al., have gained massive acceptance because the average ‘work processor’ inputs text and numbers, performs simple formatting, and seldom uses more than a few basic formulas.

If you don’t fully appreciate the magnitude of the this compatibility issue read ‘iWorks - iWorse’ that outlines some of the fundamental differences and incompatibles – in particular click the link to Apple’s own Document compatibility pages. For this reason alone Office for iPad is a major advance for its users.

Testing, testing, testing – does this thing work?

Login to your ITunes account and find Microsoft Office. Downloading and installing the free read only versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint took about 20 minutes over a very fast broadband connection - I suspect this app is popular as Word is only a 2MB download.

You will then have to log into a Microsoft account or create one using your email address and set up OneDrive. By default, Office uses OneDrive (formerly called SkyDrive) to store files – but it will chew up data – the full version will do auto-save and update increasing data use. Importantly if you want to use Office offline remember to save files to your device or email them to yourself.

If you want to get the full read and write version, you will need to do that later via your Office 365 subscription. Login, open ‘My Account’ and select iPad from the mobility segment. This unlocks the read only version that you previously installed.

Summary – before the comparison of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint ahead

The PC version of Office is the gold standard. Using a PC, keyboard, and mouse is still the way to do the heavy lifting and document creation. It also affords the opportunity to use a mouse, keyboard, and larger screen - that is possibly more important as complex Excel spreadsheets need lots of space.

I estimate that the iOS version has perhaps 50% of the PC functionality. It has similar screen layouts, preserves formatting, and unlike iWorks – no apparent corruption in moving files to iOS and back.

For people that use Office already and have Office 365 Home Premium it is a no brainer – it did not use one of my five precious licences so there is no cost in using the read/write version. For others the cost of an Office 365 account is around AU$119 per annum for up to five PC’s or Macs’ and some mobile devices. There is a trial version as well if you want to try it first.

For version 1.0 the iOS Office is pretty good. Users will complain that one or another of their must have features has been left out and Microsoft will round this product out over time. Importantly – and this is the crux – you do not lose any formatting or functionality by transferring from iOS to PC etc.

First impressions - Word

The PC version has every bell and whistle crammed into nine ribbons. iPad has five sparsely populated ribbons. Detailed comparisons between PC and iOS are useless but suffice to say it has a base level font and layout compatibility that will suit most users.

Home Tab - There is a drop down list Office compatible fonts and iOS fonts – use Office fonts – not Apple fonts - if you want layout compatibility.

Insert Tab - Missing Symbol insertion, header and footer (on layout tab), and comments (although it may have them elsewhere).

Design Tab - Missing – no themes, effects, watermarks etc.

Layout tab -Missing many precise text and page arrangements like align, bring forward etc.

References Tab – Missing from iOS so no Table of Contents etc.

Mailing Tab – missing from iOS so no mail merge – understandable as iPad does not have many printer options

Review Tab – missing a number of review tools.

Opinion - Word

Fantastic to see the layout corruption issues that occurred with IWorks moving from iPad to PC overcome but users will have to be careful that they do not chose iOS fonts or features. My advice is to use the PC for serious Word design and construction and iOS for light edits.

First impressions – Excel

The PC version has eight tabs. As we see in Word above only the most frequently used are in the iOS version.

I tried on a multi-sheet spreadsheet with thousands of relatively simple formulas – everything was fine. The main difference is the screen real estate – an iPad or mini does not offer sufficient for complex spread sheets.

Using touch to move around is a bit problematic. Instead of moving the sheet, it hid columns and rows - later I found that the Freeze pane option was causing that. In addition, I suspect that a lot of initial “where is this feature issues” will be found buried somewhere in the iOS version.

Home tab – missing conditional formatting and text formatting.

Insert Tab – missing Pivot table, Sparkline’s, filters, hyperlink and text formatting like Word Art and Symbols.

Page Layout – missing entire tab so it is hard to make it look as you want it to.

Formulas – This is possibly the Achilles heel for power users. It is missing formula auditing and has a reduced function library (although I could not check all functions in this test). Calculate options are missing.

Data tab – missing entire tab so external data, data tools and Access data linking are not there.

Review tab – Spelling is automatically checked so the Proofing section and Language segments are missing. Comments are limited and Changes – sharing the workbook, protecting the sheet or workbook - are gone.

View Tab – There are no alternative workbook views, no Macro access (no way to run Visual Basic) and the iOS version is limited to five display options – formula bar, sheet tables, heading and gridlines.

Opinion - Excel

Excel was made for big screens – 24” or larger! The sheer bulk of information in a typical spreadsheet makes touch navigation a little more difficult that zooming to a cell using a mouse – although repetitive strain injury won’t be as much of an issue.

Like Word – use a PC for heavy lifting and iOS for review and minor edits. It is not a creation device.

First impressions - PowerPoint

Death by PowerPoint (or Keynote) is now available on the iPad.

What you notice is that there is no page up/down button or mouse control, nor do the directional arrows work on an iPad so moving from page to page is by right to left swipe. It would have been nice to have keyboard control as well.

Its nine tabs are reduced to six.

Home tab – missing drawing tools and Word art – essentially just fonts and colours. Like Word stick to TrueType fonts or layout will be affected.

Insert tab – Word Art, Illustrations, equations and symbols and media insertion are missing. Yet an embedded video did play.

Design tab – missing making it difficult to select a theme and set up a presentation from scratch.

Transition tab – No preview function – it just applies the transition selected. No sound options.

Animation tab – missing completely and no hint where these functions may be in iOS

Slide show tab – The only iOS options are from start or from current. Gone are Setup and rehearse, on-line conversion and monitor type.

Review Tab – Only contains show comments – gone is proofing, language support, comments and compare.

View tab – missing various ways to view the presentation, master views, hand out views etc. Macros are also missing.

New tab – Shape – gives some drawing and paintbrush functionality.


Its PowerPoint light and you need to work out if you can live without some of the perhaps more obscure tools the PC version provides.

Like Word and Excel the functions have been scaled back – I am sure that if you dig deep enough you may find some of the notable absences


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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw ray@im.com.au  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!