Last week, new Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella unveiled a version of Office 365 designed for the Apple iPad.
Many iPad owners have long been calling for a version of Office for their favourite tablet, and the release is well overdue.
The only question is: Will it live up to expectations?
Office for the iPad consists of the three main Microsoft Office apps: Word, Excel and PowerPoint.
It has been specifically designed for the iPad, using a combination of iPad and Microsoft design elements.
The apps are available on a freemium model, with subscribers able to read and present documents with a free Office 365 subscription.
Meanwhile, paid Office 365 subscribers, including current Mac and Windows subscribers, can create and edit new content using the iPad apps.
Key features of the release include integration of the ribbon navigation menu, OAuth user authentication and real time collaborative real-time editing of documents saved in OneDrive.
The iPad version of Word includes the ability to edit charts and images, Excel features a custom numeric onscreen keypad for editing formulas and the ability to edit charts, while PowerPoint includes the ability to annotate or use a ‘laser pointer’ on slides, controlled by the iPad’s touchscreen.
What’s the consensus?
Over at Ars Technica, Andrew Cunningham noted that while not all of the features of the desktop version of Office are in the iPad version, most of the key ones are:
Each application gives you fewer features than the full desktop versions of the applications, but more features than the Web-based versions. This is, we would say, the right balance to strike. In Word, for example, you can easily change fonts and font sizes, margins, footnotes, alignment, and create numbered lists, and it’s pretty simple to create basic tables or insert pictures from your camera roll. Track Changes is here, and it works well. Assuming you’re a student working on a basic research paper, a person putting together a basic spreadsheet to track expenses, or someone throwing together a PowerPoint deck for that big meeting this afternoon that you forgot about, you can do all of this in Office for iPad without ever thinking about it.
Another strong point, noted by Cunningham, is its full compatibility with Office for the PC and Mac:
[Compatibility] is the one area where competing applications continue to fall down. There are many cases where precise preservation of formatting between multiple editors is not just desired, but essential—publishing is one, creating PowerPoint decks is another—and generally speaking, you can’t count on Google Drive or iWork to totally preserve your work in any but the simplest documents.
Engadget noted that you need to subscribe to Office 365 to edit documents, along with an important benefit for anyone who already has a PC or Mac account for the service:
As with Office Mobile for iPhone, each of these core programs is free to download, and you can use them in read-only mode without a paid subscription. If you wanna edit or create documents, though — and let’s face it: You definitely will — an Office 365 subscription is required. In particular, we’re told it will even work with Microsoft’s upcoming 365 Personal plan, which will cost $7 a month when it launches later this spring. And if you happen to be a student using Office 365 for University ($80 for four years), the monthly cost of ownership drops to just $1.67.
All told, this subscription model isn’t a problem if you already have an Office sub; in fact, your iPad download won’t even count toward the usual five-PC/Mac limit. Unfortunately, too, this is also one of the only mobile office suites that works with Microsoft OneDrive and SharePoint, so if that’s where you store your documents, you’re best off sticking with Office.
Time was impressed with the job Microsoft has done to customise the user interface for the iPad:
Once I was up and running, I found a lot in all three new apps that’s impressive. They look very much like Office as it exists elsewhere, but Microsoft didn’t just cram the existing interface onto the iPad’s screen. The Ribbon toolbar, for instance, is skinny and streamlined, freeing up more of the iPad’s limited on-screen real estate for content. The level of polish and performance is high: Actions such as dragging, dropping and resizing objects feel as if they were designed to work well with the touchscreen, which isn’t always true of the more conventional version of Office that comes with Microsoft’s Surface 2 tablet.
Finally, TechCrunch pointed out a couple of the flaws in this version, including its inability to print using Apple’s AirPrint system:
My main complaint with Office on the iPad is no easy access to an AirPlay button for beaming it to a Wi-Fi connected screen. You can do it via the iPad’s native AirPlay menu, but it’s not nearly as convenient as it could be. And why not offer Chromecast support Microsoft, while you’re playing platform agnostic?
Oh, one more, significant complaint: There’s no way to print anything from any of the Office apps. This is crazy, given that Apple supports AirPrint and makes that feature available to developers. I’m not sure why Microsoft omitted it, but I expect they’ll add it back soon enough, when denizens of mobile Office users send in complaints asking where to find the feature (and likely voicing disbelief that it isn’t present somewhere).
It’s worth noting that, according to a number of accounts, the ability to print will be added in a future version.
Should I get it?
If you own an iPad and need to view Office documents on the go, this is your new go-to app.
Likewise, if you already use Office 365 for work, or have an account for your Mac or PC, there’s really no reason why you wouldn’t want to download it for your iPad as well.