I took the apps for a quick spin, and they are impressive, though I personally don’t have much need for them right now.
It took four years, but Microsoft has finally released full-featured Office apps for the iPad. As expected, the new Word, Excel, and PowerPoint apps are free to install but require an Office 365 subscription to unlock the full set of features.
Make no mistake about it: These three apps are feature-rich, powerful tools for creating and editing Office documents. They look and act like their Office 2013 counterparts on Windows. And although these iPad apps obviously can’t replicate every feature of the full desktop programs, they deliver an impressive subset of those features. Anyone who was expecting Office Lite or a rehash of the underwhelming Office for iPhone will be pleasantly surprised.
What’s fascinating about Office for the iPad is how it leapfrogs Microsoft’s Windows tablets. On Windows 8 and Windows RT devices, Office is still a desktop app with some grudging interface tweaks designed to ease the pain of using an app without a mouse. Anyone who owns a Surface RT is likely to look enviously at these iPad apps, which for now are the gold standard for Office on a modern tablet.
Office for iPad represents the distilled Office experience, poured into an iOS glass. Quite frankly, I prefer it to working in Office on the desktop, if only because Microsoft organizes the most commonly-used functions so intuitively, using an icon-driven ribbon at the top of the screen.
I haven’t yet spent enough time with Office for iPad alongside the Apple iWork suite to definitively give one suite the edge over the other. My initial impression, however, is that you’ll prefer Word for iPad over Pages, with perhaps a slight edge to Excel over Numbers, as well. I’ve always been very impressed with Keynote, however, and I suspect that most iPad users will prefer to stick with it.
Working with text in Office for iPad should be intuitive to anyone who has used iOS: Tapping once on a word moves the cursor to that location; tapping twice creates the slider bars for highlighting a block of text. Pressing and releasing brings up a set of options to select or insert text. Holding down your finger brings up the zoom or spyglass icon. (Atalla said that Microsoft developed an elongated, widened zoom that highlighted a word. All I saw was the default circular view, however.)
The text selection and zooming do seem to be a bit different—and perhaps faster—than normal.
If you’ve got a complex report that you’ve been working on in Word, and you want to access it on your iPad, you can either export that file in RTF format, or import it in Pages from the .doc file, but there’s a good chance that the formatting won’t match. If you use any kind of auto-numbering or fields, they won’t transfer at all, so you simply couldn’t use Pages to edit the document (though you may be able to view it).
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.
Ballmer and Gates think losing the platform war, no longer being the largest and the no-one-ever-got-fired-for choice means the end of the Microsoft as we know it, and they may be right. But it’s the also the beginning of the only Microsoft that can stop the bleeding and thrive.
Apple’s refusal to put locally accessible file storage on iOS has opened the door for Microsoft to lock people to their cloud.
While one of the big holdups for Office for iPad was getting the software just right, another was Apple’s policy that apps that sell things — including subscriptions — use Apple’s in-app purchase mechanism and hand over 30 percent of that revenue to Apple.
I’ve been using Office for iPad since Monday on a loaner Apple iPad Air. The device itself is beautiful, thin and light, and iOS 7, while an improvement over previous versions, still lacks basic productivity features like the ability to run at least two apps side-by-side. So it’s important to understand that the biggest limitation of Office on this platform isn’t Office, it’s the iPad. You can only do—or at least see—one thing at a time.
Update (2014-04-01): Mark Hachman:
The first iteration of Microsoft’s Office for iPad lacks the ability to print, an unfortunate omission that Microsoft representatives intimated will be fixed in a forthcoming release.
Update (2014-04-07): Eric Wilfrid:
We made some bold moves in performance-tuning Office applications for iPad. We changed how Excel draws the contents of spreadsheets, because the old way wasn’t fast enough. We modified Word to render documents on a background thread, because the tried-and-true way didn’t allow the kind of scrolling performance iPad users expect. And there’s my favorite demo: insert a picture in any of the apps, grab the rotation handle, and enjoy the way the OfficeArt graphics engine was re-engineered to take full advantage of hardware acceleration in iOS. The monitor in the hallway outside my office has each day’s performance measurements on it. We’re still looking at performance every day, and we already have some ideas about how Office on your iPad can get even faster.
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