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Explore Microsoft Word for iPad: Collaborate, Share, and Sync Documents with Word for PC and Mac

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In this article, Jason R. Rich takes a look at the new Microsoft Word for iPad app, compares it to Pages, and discusses how straight forward the document creation, viewing, editing, and sharing process is when using this app, which is nicely modeled after the Word software for PCs and Macs.
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For the iPad, Apple offers its own iWork for iOS apps, which includes Pages, a popular word processor. With each new version of Pages that’s been released since its inception, it has gotten closer to providing a full featured word processing experience that’s both comparable to and compatible with Microsoft Word for PCs and Macs.

Yet, if you want to import or export Pages files using the Word format, additional steps need to be taken. In the past, many business people, writers, and others in need of powerful word processing capabilities on the iPad have been hampered by the lack of a genuine Microsoft Word app. However, in late-March 2014, Microsoft finally released its Office for iPad applications, which includes a version of Word that’s fully compatible with its PC and Mac counterpart.

The free Word app is currently available from the App Store, and within days after its release, it became one of the most popular iPad apps available. This is because the app provides a full featured word processing experience that’s convenient, intuitive, and that’s familiar to current Word for PC/Mac users.

In late April, Microsoft updated the Word app with additional features, including AirPrint capabilities which allow for the printing of documents (with out without markups) from within the iPad app. This capability was missing from the original version.

Requirements for Using Word for iPad

Before you begin using the Word for iPad app, there are a few important things to understand. First, while the app is free, unless you have a paid subscription to Microsoft’s Office 365, the app only allows you to view Microsoft Word documents - not create, edit, or work with them.

Currently, the Office for iPad suite includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, and OWA (an email management app which is Outlook compatible). To unlock these iPad apps so they can be used to create, view, edit, and share documents and files, a paid Office 365 Personal subscription that costs $6.99 per month ($69.99 per year) is required. This grants access to Office on one PC/Mac and on one tablet. However, for $9.99 per month ($99.99 per year), the Office 365 Home subscription offers full and unlimited access to the PC, Mac, and iPad editions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote, as well as Outlook (PC/Mac), Publisher (PC/Mac), and Access (PC/Mac), on up to five computers and/or devices.

Several Office 365 for Business subscriptions are available, priced between $12.50 and $15.00 per month/per user, that include full access to even more PC, Mac, and iPad apps, including the Outlook compatible OWA app for iPad.

Second, while the app allows users to import and export Word documents via email, the easiest and most straight forward method for syncing and sharing documents with your PCs, Macs, other mobile devices, and/or other users, is via the Microsoft OneDrive online file sharing service. This service is similar to Apple’s iCloud, but is fully integrated into the Office for iPad and Office for PC/Mac applications.

A OneDrive account that includes 20GB of online storage space is included with all paid Office 365 subscriptions, or can be acquired on its own by visiting www.OneDrive.com. Without an Office 365 subscription, between 7GB and 10GB of online storage space is provided, depending on which options are selected.

OneDrive was formally called Microsoft SkyDive, and has recently been re-branded, as new features have been added to this online based service. However, existing SkyDrive accounts, as well as OneDrive for Business accounts, will work with the Office for iPad apps.

Thus, if you want to fully utilize Word for iPad, you will need both a paid Office 365 subscription and a OneDrive account, which is separate from the iCloud account you’re probably already using to sync app-specific data for the apps that come bundled with iOS 7 (along with the iWork for iOS apps), as well as to backup your iPad and share photos.

Finally, all of the Office for iPad apps, including Word, are designed exclusively for iPads running iOS 7 or later, and some of the features and functions built into the app require Internet access using a cellular or Wi-Fi Internet connection.

Get Started Using Word for iPad

After downloading and installing the Word for iPad app onto your tablet, you’ll be prompted to enter your OneDrive username and password. This only needs to be done once. Linking your OneDrive account to your iPad allows the app to sync and share documents as long as the tablet has Internet access.

Typically, when you launch the Word app, the document management screen (shown in Figure 1) is displayed. This allows you to see a directory of the documents currently stored on your tablet, as well as the documents stored online, within your OneDrive account. The easiest way to transfer documents between a PC or Mac running Word, and your tablet that’s running Word, is to sync the documents with a OneDrive account.

Figure 1 Word for iPad's document management screen

From the document management screen, it’s possible to create a document from scratch (if you have an Office 365 subscription) by tapping on the New icon. Otherwise, you can view recent documents you’ve worked with on your iPad by tapping on the Recent icon, or tap on the Open icon to access documents stored either on the iPad or within a OneDrive account.

Just like Word for PC/Mac, upon tapping the New icon, a selection of 15 document templates is displayed (shown in Figure 2). Select either the New Blank Document template to begin word processing on a blank page, or select one of the pre-formatted templates that will save you time when creating a specially formatted document, such as a brochure, business letter, invoice, resume, or proposal, for example.

Figure 2 Choose a template in order to save time formatting a document when using Word on the iPad

Once you tap on a document template (or the New Blank Document) option, the main word processing screen (shown in Figure 3) is displayed. If you’re already familiar with Word for PC/Mac, the features and options offered from the main Word for iPad screen will be familiar and intuitive.

Figure 3 The main word processing screen of the Word for iPad app

Displayed along the very top of the screen are a series of command icons and menu options. Tap on the circular, left-pointing arrow icon to save or discard the document you’re currently working on and return to Word’s document management screen. Tap on the File icon (to the immediate right) to turn on/off the AutoSave option, name the document, print a document (using an AirPrint-compatible printer that’s within wireless range), duplicate the document, restore the document, or adjust the document’s properties.

To the right of the File icon are the Undo and Redo command icons. Displayed in the top-right corner of the screen, is the Search icon (which looks like a magnifying glass) and the Share icon. Tap the Share icon to email the document you’re currently working on to one or more people from within the Word app, and/or to copy the link to the document that’s stored on within a OneDrive account.

Displayed in the top-center of the screen are five menu options, labeled Home, Insert, Layout, Review, and View. Based on which menu option is selected (by tapping on it), a different selection of options/features will be displayed between the menu icons and the Formatting Ruler.

For example, when the Home option is selected, the options displayed are used for formatting the text as you’re typing. From here, it’s possible to select a font, font color, font size, and typestyle, plus choose from a variety of formatting, line spacing, and indent options, as well as create numbered or bulleted lists. When applicable, upon tapping on one of these submenu options, additional menu options (typically displayed as icons) will be displayed.

Tapping on the Insert menu option allows you to add a page break, picture (shown in Figure 4), shape, text box, hyperlink or footnote into the document, for example, while tapping on Layout offers a handful of options that allow you to customize the formatting of the page you’re working with. From here, you can change the page size, margins, create multiple columns, incorporate headers and footers, or include page numbers within the document.

Figure 4 Shown here, the Pictures option has been selected. It allows for an image that's stored within the iPad to be imported into a Word document

By tapping on the Review option, you’re provided with the familiar Word tools for collaborating with others and reviewing/editing documents. When you tap on the View option, you can decide whether or not the auto-spellcheck that’s built into the app will display misspelled words, turn on/off the displayed formatting ruler, or display the document’s word count.

When turned on, the formatting ruler works just as it does when using Word on a PC/Mac. Using your finger, you can easily adjust a document’s left and right margin, for example.

As you’d expect, the main area of the Word for iPad screen is used to display a document as you’re typing. The iPad’s virtual keyboard is displayed in the bottom section of the screen. This applies when holding the tablet in either landscape or portrait mode. However, if you’re using the iPad with an external keyboard, or want to use more on-screen real estate to view you’re document as you’re reading it, simply tap on the Hide Keyboard button (displayed in the bottom-right corner of the keyboard) to make the virtual keyboard disappear.

It’s also possible to press and hold down the Hide Keyboard key to then split the keyboard or undock it so it can be moved up or down on the screen. Microsoft has done an excellent job improving the response time of the virtual keyboard, making it easy to touch-type quickly and accurately.

What’s Missing from Word for iPad

One feature that’s missing from the Word for iPad app is the grammar checker that works on a PC or Mac in conjunction with the auto spell checker. There’s also no option using the current edition of Word for iPad to export a document using the PDF or TXT file formats, although using iOS 7’s select, copy, and paste commands, text can be created using Word and manually copied into another app.

Final Thoughts

Anyone who wants or needs to do word processing on their tablet will enjoy the full featured word processing capabilities of Word and appreciate the fact that documents created are automatically stored and shared in the Word file format. Those who use Word on their PC or Mac will find the document syncing and sharing process to be hassle-free and streamlined, in much the same way syncing or sharing Pages documents with Pages running on an iPad and/or Mac works.

If all you need is a full featured word processor, and don’t really care about your documents being compatible with Office for a PC or Mac, using either Word, Pages (shown in Figure 5), or another third-party word processing app will work for you. However, if Microsoft Office file compatibility is important, the Microsoft Word app offers the best solution, even though a paid Office 365 subscription is required to utilize it.

Figure 5 Apple's Pages word processing app offers an alternative to Word. Documents created or edited using Pages can be exported in Word format

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