Office for iPad: key information
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, in his first appearance since taking over the top job, has confirmed that the company will shortly release a native version of its Office suite for the iPad, as well as updating Office for Mac. Some have called the decision a gamble for Microsoft, while others have seen it as a positive step. Here’s what you need to know.
What’s the big deal?
By releasing Office for the iPad (and continuing to support OS X) Microsoft is making it easier for businesses to choose Apple hardware, rather than its own Surface or other Windows-based hardware. Evidently, Microsoft has concluded that iPad fans won’t be switching allegiance, so bringing Office to the platform allows it to make some money from this huge market – and helps Office maintain its industry-standard status.
What’s more, they’re free to download, which means anyone can view their Office documents on their iPad. Only Office 365 subscribers will have the ability to edit documents.
Another reason to care is that this suite, unlike rivals such as Quickoffice, is non-destructive: if you make an edit on the Office app and save it then you can be confident the original document will still keep all its formatting.
Don’t Office web apps already work on the iPad?
The iPad will become a viable platform for everyday document creation and editing.
Currently, it’s possible to read and download Office documents on the iPad via Office Web Apps in the Safari browser, but you can’t edit them. The Office app for iPhone (which you could install on the iPad) released last year offers basic editing capabilities, but anything using advanced functions, or saved in a legacy file format, remains read-only. A more powerful version was definitely needed.
What’s included in the new suite?
The package announced today includes native iOS editions of the most important productivity apps, namely Word, Excel and PowerPoint. OneNote is included too, though this has been available as a free standalone app since December. There’s no direct equivalent to Outlook, but iOS’ native email and calendar apps have always been able to sync your accounts (so long as your workplace permits this), and it’s possible to connect to a SharePoint server.
What are the key features?
Microsoft has stuck with the Ribbon in each of the apps. It is stripped back compared to the full-blown Office suite, but at first glance Microsoft has erred on the side of generosity when it comes to features. For instance, there’s still a Review ribbon in Word, which means that if you’re collaborating on a document then you can see comments and track changes.
Plus, it’s possible to create good-looking documents. There’s a good selection of fonts and it’s easy to add and manipulate photos.
Excel continues in this theme, with advanced features such as Sparklines; great if you’re trying to show trends with one easy glance. Excel for iPad will also suggest graphs based on the data you’ve selected.
Another nice touch is the special numeric keyboard that pops up when you tap into a cell, making it easy to sum columns or create formulae. Not something we’d wish to do on the standard iPad keyboard.
PowerPoint has stiff opposition in the form of Keynote, but our initial impression is that Microsoft has created a compelling presentation app. There are some nice transitions (such as “origami”, where the page crunches up and flies away), while pressing on the screen shows up as a laser pointer.
You can also make annotations with your finger – such as circling a number or creating a finger-drawn arrow, as shown below – which emphasises that Microsoft has designed these apps with touch in mind rather than simply trying to adapt its desktop software.
When will Office for iPad be available?
Today. That means the iPad suite is set to arrive before the touch-optimised edition of Office for Windows 8 that was also announced today. Some have seen that as a gamble or even an admission of defeat, as it means that for the time being iOS will actually be a better tablet platform for Office than Windows.
How much will Office for iPad cost?
The standalone apps can be downloaded from the App Store for free, and you can then view any documents sitting on OneDrive. However, if you want to create and edit documents then you’ll need to sign up to an Office 365 subscription plan that includes mobile devices (note that the regular Small Business plan doesn’t).
Domestic users on the Home Premium plan can simply use the iPad as one of their five personal devices; those with a Personal subscription, which lets you use Office on one PC/Mac and one tablet, can now nominate the iPad as their tablet of choice.