Word for the iPad: is it really any good?

Microsoft Office for iPad is out, finally. I’ve whined here for a years about how the iPad isn’t really up to snuff for serious business work. Does this change my opinion?

Well yes, substantially. I’ve never liked the Office alternatives available for iOS and Android. They always convert things. And not perfectly in my experience. The ability to edit directly in a version of Office is fantastic. Of course to do that you will need an Office 365 subscription but I’ve had one of those years. It’s a bargain — five installs of Office on Windows or Mac and now five installs of the tablet apps too, plus I get email and Exchange on my package for about £13.99 a month (you can subcribe for less if you drop the email I believe).

I can’t see myself using Excel on an iPad. Or PowerPoint (not when the VGA adapter costs a ridiculous £40 and so far as I can see you just get mirrored screens, not the useful notes facility you have with a laptop). But Word….?

Here’s what it looks like.

Photo

It’s nice, it’s clean, it had no problems dealing with a full-length book very quickly. If all you want to do is read and edit everyday Word documents this looks great. My requirements are a bit out of the ordinary though. I need to navigate long documents of 100K words or more. So I have reservations as well as things I’m pleased about. Let’s run through them…

The Good Points

  • Native application that works alongside OneDrive and Dropbox to open Word documents without any conversion, and with absolute accuracy as far as my own manuscripts are concerned. OneDrive is a one-step open process. With Dropbox you have the usual messy iPad thing of opening it in the viewer then sending it to Word with ‘Open with’ and then saving a local copy. But it works in the end.
  • The price if you’re an Office 365 subscriber is a steal — free.
  • Very easy to use and understand if you’re a Word user already.
  • Comments and track changes are handled very well indeed — much as they are on Office 13 as far as I can see.

The Drawbacks

  • No navigation facilities. So you can’t move from heading to heading to different parts of your document. You just have to keep on scrolling or do a search.
  • There are some font limitations on the iPad.
  • You can’t hide the Ribbon as you can on Windows and Mac (which I found very annoying for some reason). You can hide it actually — just tap the tab. Never knew this until pointed out on Twitter — thank you.
  • The keyboard is the ordinary iPad one without the added cursors and punctuation buttons you get on some other writing apps on the iPad.

In short… far and away the best word processor I’ve seen on the iPad and for lots of people this is going to be a real winner. But if you’re dealing with the heavy lifting of a full-length novel a Surface tablet, which comes with a proper version of Word pretty much as it is in Office 13, is a better bet. Not as nice a general tablet as the iPad, but more proficient for business.

Of course this is a version one iPad app and one can only hope Microsoft will deal with the finer points — hiding the ribbon, introducing some heading-based navigation system — later on. Just those two changes would alter my opinion radically.

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