In the Fall 2009 issue of iPhone Life magazine, I authored an article that looked at the two major mobile application suites that allowed iPhone users to work with Microsoft Office documents and spreadsheets (iphonelife.com/issues/Fall2009/TurningIphoneMobileOffice). With the release of the iPad, developers including Apple, have stepped up to the plate to offer a selection of apps for viewing, editing, and creating documents, spreadsheets, and presentations on the go with the iPad. In addition, Apple included support for Bluetooth-enabled external keyboards in the iPad. Coupled with the tablet's 9.7-inch color display, all this makes it possible to create and work with documents of substantial length and detail.
Apple was first out of the gate with their iWork suite for the iPad, which includes the Pages, Numbers, and Keynote apps. Third party developers took a bit longer as they worked hard to create iPad-optimized appsthat would take advantage of the large screen, slick user interface, and wireless connectivity. The best of these applications are Documents To Go, Office2 HD, and Quickoffice. Each has its own strengths and all of them are much less expensive than Apple's complete iWork suite.
Apple iWork: Pages, Numbers, and Keynote
Apple showed off the iPad version of their iWork app suite when they announced the iPad back in January of this year. This suite is composed of three separate applications: Pages (apple.com/ipad/features/pages.html), Numbers (apple.com/ipad/features/ numbers.html), and Keynote (apple.com/ipad/features/keynote.html). These are well-designed, highly usable applications that almost make working with documents fun. In spite of its name, you cannot purchase them as a suite; they are sold individually.
Pages is a word processing app that is focused on creating new documents using the iPad's touch screen interface. You can also import and edit existing documents from Pages ‘09 or Microsoft Word. To transfer existing documents to your iPad, you need to send them as an e-mail attachment, download them from the Web, or transfer them from your Mac or PC using the File Sharing functionality built into the latest versions of iTunes. You can also use these methods to export a document from Pages.
Pages provides you with 15 slick templates with which you can start a new document. The program includes easy-to-use tools for inserting media, tables, charts, and shapes. It also includes tools for adding and editing headers and footers, and for adjusting margins. A menu bar at the top of the screen includes a ruler and options for bolding, italicizing, and underlining text, as well as changing text alignment. You can also change fonts, text size and color, create lists and outlines, select styles, specify 1-4 columns, change line spacing, and more. Some users have reported problems importing highly formatted documents, but most documents should be fine.
I'm an engineer and spend most of my time working with data. Consequently, the iWork app that is most useful to me is Numbers. I never thought that working with a spreadsheet could be so much fun. The app supports the importing of Excel, Numbers for Mac, and CSV files. Unfortunately, you can only export spreadsheets in the Numbers for Mac and PDF formats. This limits the value of the app for me because I need to move spreadsheets between Excel on my desktop and the iPad—and make changes to the spreadsheet on either platform!
As with Pages, Numbers has some slick templates to help you get started. In addition, Numbers has similar support for formatting, layout, and inserting media. The large keyboard/tool area that appears at the bottom of the spreadsheet makes it easy to enter data and functions, and format cells. And the app makes it easy to insert a chart and populate it with data by simply dragging your finger over the desired cells. If only Excel could be this easy use.
Keynote is the only true presentations app available for the iPad. As with Numbers, its exporting capabilities are limited. You can import standard Office PowerPoint files, but you can only export your files in Keynote ‘09 for Mac and PDF formats. Like the other iWork apps, it is touch friendly, visually well designed, and includes an easy-to-access toolbar in the upper right corner of the screen.
I was impressed that the app includes 30 slide animations/transitions, an easy-to-use slide sorter, the ability to integrate videos, and a cool laser pointer mode that can be used when you're giving a presentation. (For more on Keynotes strengths and limitations, see "Make Mobile Presentations with the iPad" on page 43.)
Documents To Go
iPhone version $9.99; app2.me/128; update supporting iPad screen in development 5/25/10.
DataViz (dataviz.com) released the full version of its Documents To Go suite just in time to include it in this article. The app suite allows you to "round trip" (import and export) Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents as well as open documents sent as e-mail attachments. You can also access documents via a desktop app that provides two-way sync over a Wi-Fi connection (available for Mac and PCs), or through iTunes File Sharing technology. Documents To Go supports the creation, import, and export of Office 97-2004 as well as 2007-2008 documents.
The toolbar for formatting, saving, sending, etc. is found at the bottom of the display and is pretty self-explanatory. A limited number of fonts are supported, but all standard functions are there. There is no way to insert objects, images, or charts into your Word document. However, the PowerPoint app does allow you to add and display speaker notes—a welcome and vital addition. Performance was snappy, it was easy to get and share documents, and all the editing and document creation features work well together.
By the way, final editing of this article was performed on the iPad with Documents To Go while I was on a vacation in Spain.
Office2 HD lets you view, create, and edit Word (.doc) documents and Excel (.xls) spreadsheets on your iPad. It is a fairly powerful Office app suite, but unfortunately it does not yet support Office 2007+ formats. You can access files stored in Google Docs, DropBox, iDisk, myDisk.se, Box.net, and any WebDAV server, and use the app to open, edit, save, delete, or rename them. You can also e-mail files, in Word and Excel format, as attachments. Office2 HD supports the "Open In..." method found in the iPad e-mail application which means you can use this program to access attachments sent to you. You can also transfer files to your iPad via iTunes and open them with Office2 HD.
The application started out being pretty basic and initial version lacked the eye candy found in the iWork applications. However, it's been updated a couple times since then, and is now a definite contender in the iPad Office space. The action icons are similar to those found in Documents To Go.
The word processor app provides several font types, colors, and font sizes to choose from. It's easy to create bulleted and numbers lists and insert tables and photos. Various other formatting options are available.
The spreadsheet program is quite powerful, offering a number of functions that make it easy to enter data and format cells. Alignment is managed with a couple of taps. Unfortunately, charts can be created in the spreadsheet.
Office2 HD is a very good low price alternative that should satisfy many basic Office editing needs on the iPad. If past performance is any indication, the developer will continue to improve this app suite and offer updates.
Quickoffice Connect Mobile Suite
$9.99 (special launch price), app2.me/2534
The folks at Quickoffice (quickoffice.com) made some major updates to their providing you with a powerful and visually attractive Office suite. However, the app only supports Word, Excel, and text files—no current support for PowerPoint.
The file manager in the latest version of the app allows you to view and interact with local and remote file/document repositories, including MobileMe, Google Docs, Dropbox, and Box.net (more providers are on the development roadmap). Embedded folders are supported, and drag-and-drop functionality makes it easy to e-mail, delete, or move files to other folders, even between cloud and local storage. Attachments received in e-mail can be opened directly with Quickoffice and then saved in a local storage folder for editing and viewing. Creation and editing of Word and Excel documents, as well as the viewing of PDF and PowerPoint files, are all supported. The Page Layout Mode lets you view your Word document on the iPad's larger display as it will appear in printed form.
The page navigator found on the right side of the Quickword module is a joy to use. The user experience is consistent across both modules with the Multi-Edit Toolbox in the upper right of the display. The colors, visuals, and page scrolling are all a joy to experience on the iPad.
Apple's iWork is the most attractive and full-featured suite of the apps I looked at, but it supports a limited number of document formats. To get the most out of it, you really have to be using iWork on your Mac.
DataViz's Documents To Go and Quickoffice offer a range of cloud and local services for accessing documents; functionality to work with Word, Excel, and PowerPoint (DTG only) files; and years of experience developing software to work with Office documents. Quickoffice is the more user-friendly and visually-interesting of the two apps. Its recent update has made Office2 HD a good low-cost alternative to the iWork apps. Unfortunately, it still does not support Office 2007/2008 document formats. If you need to work with those, it's not an option.
The iPad: a true mobile Office solution
As you can see by this article, consumers have several choices when it comes to mobile Office apps, and the competition between developers will help ensure that these apps continue to improve. I have purchased and used all of these solutions. Documents To Go is the software to use if you need to work with PowerPoint. Office2 HD is a good choice if you want to save a few bucks and don't need support for the newest Office document formats. I use Quickoffice the most because it has great capabilities and a visually appealing user interface.
The iPad is a profoundly better mobile document tool than the iPhone because it has a larger display that shows you more of your document and lets you work in a manner similar to a laptop. In addition, the iPad supports external Bluetooth keyboards and Apple's optional Dock Connector to VGA Adapter ($29, apple.com/ipad/accessories) which lets you connect your iPad to an external monitor. Add the variety of Office-related apps described in this article, and you have the makings of a true mobile Office solution—one that will let you travel light on your next business trip.