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Microsoft Office for iPad review: Finally! True productivity on your tablet

Mark Hachman | March 28, 2014
When Apple announced that its iWork suite would be bundled, free of charge, with new iOS and Mac devices, it seemingly slammed the door on Microsoft's Office ambitions for the iPad. How could Microsoft bring its pricey Office suite into a world of free (and almost free) apps?

When Apple announced that its iWork suite would be bundled, free of charge, with new iOS and Mac devices, it seemingly slammed the door on Microsoft's Office ambitions for the iPad. How could Microsoft bring its pricey Office suite into a world of free (and almost free) apps?

The answer: Outdo iWork in both form and function. Apple claims that products like its Pages are the most beautiful office software for iPad and other Apple devices. With Office for iPad, Microsoft has stolen that crown.

Microsoft's Office for iPad is a collection of three apps: Word, PowerPoint, and Excel. (OneNote for the iPad has been available since 2011, and Microsoft's Lync, Skype, and Yammer are also available.) Users can download each, free of charge, from Apple's iTunes on an iPad running iOS 7.0 or above. And each is free to use to view documents that have been created elsewhere.

But Office 365 also includes a subscription to OneDrive, Microsoft's cloud storage solution, a central repository from which one can withdraw and store documents. In a nice twist, you can connect both your personal OneDrive and OneDrive for Business accounts and connect to SharePoint as well. However, to create or edit  documents, you must subscribe to Office 365: either Office 365 Home Premium ($9.99 per month), the upcoming Office 365 Personal ($6.99 per month), or one of several business options. Each Office 365 subscription includes at least one tablet subscription, which covers Office for iPad.

What makes Office for iPad so important, naturally, is that one can actually do something with the document, rather than hunt and peck at it, as one must in Office Mobile on a smartphone.

Built for touch from the ground up

According to Michael Atalla, director of product management for Office, Office for iPad represents neither a "blown-up" Office Mobile for iPhone nor a stripped-down Office for Windows, but rather a custom version of Office designed expressly for the iPad.

I completely agree. Office for iPad represents the distilled Office experience, poured into an iOS glass. Quite frankly, I prefer it to working in Office 2013, if only because Microsoft organizes the most commonly-used functions so intuitively, using an icon-driven ribbon at the top of the screen. In Word, for example, Office for iPad preserves the footnoting capability but cuts out the "Mailings" and "References" headings. Chances are you won't miss them.

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 a series of slider bars to highlight 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.

 

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