Microsoft Office for iPad: The Cons
- You can use all three apps for free. But unless you subscribe to Office 365, you can't edit or create new files using Office iPad apps.
- An Office 365 subscription costs $100 a year for the Home Premium version, versus a one-time licensing fee of $140 for Office Home and Student 2013 for one PC or Office for Mac Home and Student 2011 for one Mac.
But there are some benefits to Office 365 subscriptions. In addition to gaining full editing and creation tools in Office apps for up to five iPad or Windows tablets, you can install the Office suite on up to five different Windows or Mac computers. You also get 20GB of Microsoft OneDrive storage for up to five years, plus 60 minutes of Skype phone calls each month.
The Office 365 Small Business Premium plan costs $150 a year for up to five users, and it offers additional benefits, such as 25GB email storage with anti-virus and anti-spam.
- No printer support. Office apps for iPad currently lack the capability to send your files to a printer. Microsoft says it will add printing to the iPad apps soon, however.
- There's no Save button, which can be a difficult adjustment for people who frequently save their work in Office desktop programs. But on the iPad, each app auto-saves files.
- If you use Dropbox or other OneDrive competitor, things can get tricky. Microsoft really, really wants you to use its cloud storage/file sync/file sharing service. The free 20GB of storage space for Office 365 subscribers is a strong incentive.
But what if you're wedded to Dropbox or another OneDrive competitor? None of the Office iPad apps let you directly access files from any cloud service other than OneDrive, OneDrive for Business, or a SharePoint site.
If you're a loyal Dropbox user, for example, you'll need to open the Dropbox iPad app; find the file you want to change; and open it. Once you make edits, to save the file back to Dropbox, you'd email the file to yourself as an attachment; open the email on your iPad; tap to open the attachment; click the "Open in Dropbox" icon; choose the Dropbox folder you want to save it in; and click "Save." That's a lot of extra work.
- You can't search for files. None of the Office iPad apps let you search for your files. Instead, there is a "Recent" tab, which displays the files you most recently created or edited. And you can tap a thumbtack icon next to a file, which keeps the file at the top of the list to make it easier to find.
- You can't access the Camera to take pictures in any of the apps. Also, you can't add a video to a PowerPoint presentation on your iPad, unlike Apple's Keynote presentation app.
- PowerPoint lacks a button for AirPlay, to project your presentation directly on an Apple TV. You can work around this using the iOS 7's screen mirroring feature, however.
- No scroll bars. The lack of scroll bars can be disorienting, especially if you're working with large Excel spreadsheets.
- You can only have one document open at a time. If you're used to cutting and pasting between, say, multiple Word docs with ease, you'll be disappointed. This is more a limitation of iOS than it is a Microsoft failing, but it's something to be aware of nonetheless.
- You can't save files to other formats. Unlike Apple's iWork suite, you can't save text files to PDF, spreadsheet files to CSV, and so on.
- As mentioned earlier, you can't insert comments into Office files on your iPad. You can read comments added to the file by desktop Office users, though.
- Most reviewers agree that PowerPoint is the weakest of the three Office apps. Says InfoWorld: "PowerPoint for iPad is more than a viewer but less than a creator. It's fine for basic editing and simple presentations. But road warriors can do so much more in (Apple's) Keynote."
The Bottom Line
Microsoft Office junkies will most likely welcome the iPad versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Office agnostics should consider Apple's own iWork suite of productivity apps: Pages (for text), Numbers (for spreadsheets), and Keynote (for presentations), which also have Mac OS counterparts.
You don’t need an annual subscription for iWork. The apps automatically sync your files across iOS and Mac OS devices. Also, iWork apps offer attractive features that the Office for iPad apps don't. For example, Pages is much more adept at page layout than Word for iPad.
James A. Martin is a marketing consultant specializing in SEO, social media, mobile apps, and business blogging. Follow him on Twitter and Pinterest.
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