I know, I’ve been writing about tablets as productivity tools a lot this week and last – more than usual.
That’s due in part to a video I was scheduled to make late last week – the one about going tablet-only for a day – and it getting replaced with another tablet-centric video about Microsoft’s Office for iPad.
After months upon months of rumors of the popular Office suite for iPad, Microsoft finally made it official last Thursday. For free, you’re not going to get a lot from Microsoft on the iPad, though.
The Office Mobile app, which has been around for some time for Android smartphones and iPhones, is now free to use. This means you can download the app, login to your Microsoft Live account, and begin syncing documents, spreadsheets, and presentations through OneDrive. You can view, edit, and create spreadsheets or documents, but you can only view and edit presentations – you cannot create them from within the app. The type of edits you can make are severely limited to simple text-based edits, slight format changes, and limited font and color edits – nothing terribly extensive.
Our own Adam Lein complains about this Office Mobile version for Windows Phone here.
If you’re looking to make more serious edits from a mobile device, that’s where Office for iPad comes into play.
Office for iPad comes in the form of three, free downloads from App Store: Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. They’re available in App Store and, depending on your Internet connection, can be downloaded and installed in a matter of minutes. Personally, I had to delete two games and one app to fit Office on my iPad mini. The suite is over 700MB in total.
What you can do with those three applications, depending on your needs, may quickly justify their excessive, collective size.
I’ve been using document editors on iPads for years now. Drive, iWork, QuickOffice, SmartOffice, CloudOn, DocsToGo, Polaris, and more. I’ve tried most. They all have been relatively capable of duplicating a desktop office suite experience on mobile. But they’ve all failed in one area or another.
Layouts? You spend 30 minutes to an hour putting the finishing touches on a document and it’s usually destroyed between saving on an iPad and opening on a PC or Mac. Either the tablet-based document editor uses an unsupported font or doesn’t adhere to the formatting standards in the PC-based editor you use.
Usability? Apple’s Numbers, a spreadsheet editor, is painstakingly awful for rapid entry. Specifically, it’s tough to get used to if you’re constantly switching between text and number entry; it requires one or two taps just two switch the input type, instead of just handling the input type after the user has finished input for that cell. Drive is also particularly poor in the spreadsheet editing from mobile.
But Excel is an entirely different story.
The whole Office for iPad suite was designed from the ground up with touchscreens in mind, and it shows. After using Excel, Word, and PowerPoint for mere minutes, it was apparent Microsoft had deeply tested and developed these applications around touchscreens. Cell navigation in Excel was simple, formatting was a breeze in all three apps, and I could actually see myself using all three from the iPad, by choice. However, I don’t have a need for Office in my life.
For typical and basic users, students, professionals, and practically anyone who doesn’t need some of the deeper, more granular features of the suite, Office for iPad is a killer product. One that, after just minutes of use, I would recommend to anyone looking for a document, spreadsheet, or presentation editor from mobile.
It isn’t just because they’re unbelievably good at what they do or because Microsoft fulfilled its promise of a usable Office suite for iPad. But Microsoft managed to capture the fully-fledged Office experience in mobile applications – the UI, user experience, and most the functionality. If you’re familiar with Office on PC or Mac, you’ll feel right at home within seconds of opening Word, Excel, or PowerPoint, and that will go a long way for any.
Pricing, however, is an issue.
I’m not exactly a fan of the direction Microsoft went. The applications are free to download. And without paying, the only sort of functionality you’ll get is the ability to view your documents – no editing, no creating. To do more, you’ll need a subscription to Office 365, which starts at $9.99 per month. Or you can pay for an entire year in one, lump sum for $99.99. This will get you Office access on up to five PCs/Macs and five iPads, 27GB (total) of OneDrive storage, 60 international Skype minutes per month.
If you already have a subscription, you won’t need to pay anything additional for Office for iPad.
If you’re a full- or part-time student or staff of an accredited higher education institution, you can pay $79.99 for a four-year subscription to Office 365 University for use on a combination of two devices – a PC, Mac, or iPad.
Ideally, a one-time licensing fee would be a much better deal for end users, in the long run. $50 for the whole Office suite, or $20 per app, would be ideal. The subscription fee is a way for Microsoft to make Office viable as a long-term product, and that, in turn, hurts the end user.
But, realistically, $9.99 per month or $99.99 per year (an average of $8.33 per month) isn’t a horrible deal (especially if you split the cost with other household members or … friends). The offer should definitely come with more than 20GB of storage, even if that’s plenty of space for your average document types. But Microsoft could certainly sweeten the deal in a couple of ways.
That said, if I had a need for Office, Excel, or PowerPoint, if I were a student or needed to create documents or spreadsheets on the go more often, I wouldn’t hesitate to pony up and pay $9.99 per month. The level of fit and finish of Office for iPad is impressive, and I wouldn’t mind having Office on my Mac, as well.
What say you? Is the subscription fee too high? Should Microsoft sweeten the deal a little by offering a smaller subscription package to individual users, such as $4.99 per month for 10GB of OneDrive and access on one computer and one iPad only?
We’re not fans of subscriptions in this particular scenario, but given Microsoft’s history with services, this could certainly be worse.