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Explore Office for iPad: The Microsoft Office Suite is Now Available on Your Tablet

In this article, Jason R. Rich offers an overview of the new Office for iPad apps from Microsoft, and explains the benefits of running Microsoft Office’s Word, Excel and PowerPoint on your iOS tablet. You’ll also discover how these apps utilize Microsoft’s OneDrive cloud-based file sharing service (instead of iCloud), and why you’ll need to become a paying subscriber to Microsoft Office 365 in order to fully utilize the capabilities of these much-anticipated iPad apps.
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For almost four years after Apple introduced the first iPad, rumors circulated that Microsoft was working on genuine Office apps for the tablet. During this time, however, Apple introduced its iWork for iOS apps (Pages, Numbers, and Keynote), while several third-party developers introduced iPad apps, like Documents To Go Premium - Office Suite, QuickOffice, and Documents 2, which offered Word, Excel, and PowerPoint compatibility. Meanwhile, Microsoft’s focus seemed to be on developing Office apps exclusively for Windows-compatible computers, smartphones, and tablets.

Microsoft Office Apps for iPad Offer Full-Featured Versions of their PC or Mac Counterparts

In late March 2014, Microsoft caved in and finally released official versions of Word, Excel (shown in Figure 1), and PowerPoint for the iPad. From the App Store, these three apps are free downloads. However, there’s a catch if you want to utilize them to do more than just view Word documents, Excel spreadsheet files, or PowerPoint digital slide presentations, respectively.

Figure 1 A genuine version of Excel for the iPad is now available. It's fully compatible with its PC and Mac counterpart

First, you’ll need to become a paid subscriber of Microsoft Office 365. For a flat monthly fee, Microsoft offers unlimited access to Microsoft Office applications on PCs, Macs, and/or mobile devices. The subscription fee also includes 20 GB of OneDrive online storage space. Without an active Office 365 subscription, the Office for iPad apps serve exclusively as file or document viewers. Thus, it is not possible to create or edit Office files or documents from the tablet.

However, as an Office 365 subscriber, the Word, Excel, and PowerPoint apps (which are separate downloads from the App Store) transform into full-featured and almost 100 percent compatible versions of their PC or Mac counterparts. As an Office 365 subscriber, it becomes very easy to import and export Office documents and files between computers and compatible mobile devices that are also running a version Office. It also becomes possible to compose documents or files from scratch, and/or edit, print, and share documents and files with ease using the tools built into the apps.

The Monthly Cost of an Office 365 Subscription

Depending on your needs, a subscription to Office 365 is available at several affordable price points. For example, the monthly fee for Office 365 Personal is $6.99. It includes access to Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Publisher, and Access on just one (1) PC or Mac, or Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote on just the iPad.

The monthly fee for Office 365 Home is $9.99. It includes access to Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Publisher, and Access on up to six (6) PCs or Macs, as well as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote for the iPad. The OneNote note taking app, shown in Figure 2, is available to everyone for free and does not require an Office 365 subscription, although it too benefits if you have a OneDrive account.)

Figure 2 OneNote for iPad does not require an Office 365 subscription, but benefits from having access to a OneDrive account for document sharing and syncing

The Office 365 University subscription ($79.99 for four years), includes the same access to Office for the PC, Mac, and/or iPad, on up to two computers or devices. A handful of business-oriented subscriptions to Office 365 are also available, starting at $12.50 per month, per user. These packages include PC and Mac versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneNote, Access, Publisher, and Lync, as well as full access to the iPad editions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, plus Microsoft’s OWA app (an email account management app for iPad which is Outlook compatible).

Office for iPad Apps Support Microsoft OneDrive, Not iCloud

While Apple’s own iWork for iOS apps, as well as many of the apps that come bundled with iOS 7 (including Contacts, Calendar, Reminders, Mail, Safari, and Notes), all integrate with Apple’s iCloud online-based service for sharing and syncing files, data, documents, and photos between all Macs, PCs, iPhones, and iPads linked to the same iCloud account, the Office for iPad apps all support Microsoft OneDrive integration exclusively.

The easiest way to share and sync documents between PCs, Macs, or other iPads, for example, is via a OneDrive account. Formally called, Microsoft SkyDrive, OneDrive is Microsoft’s alternative to Apple’s iCloud service, especially when it comes to file or document sharing via Word, Excel, or PowerPoint.

Built into all Office for iPad apps is the ability to import or share Office documents and files via email, but seamless file syncing and sharing is more efficient using a OneDrive account, which is offered to anyone.

While an Office 365 subscription comes with 20GB of online storage space, a free OneDrive account that’s not linked to an Office 365 subscription comes with between 7GB and 10GB of online storage space for files, documents, and photos, depending on the options you select. OneDrive integration is now built into many of Microsoft’s PC and Mac software applications (including Word, Excel, and PowerPoint), however, separate and free OneDrive apps are available for each computing platform (including the iPad) for managing a OneDrive account and its contents.

If you want to run the genuine Office for iPad apps, you’ll need to utilize OneDrive, but to sync and share your other tablet data, photos, documents, files, and content, iCloud must continue to be used.

With Office 365 and OneDrive, the Power of Office is it Your Fingertips

Once the Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, and/or OWA apps are installed (separately) on your iPad, and you’ve linked each app with your Office 365 account (which only needs to be done once, from one of the Office for iPad apps), all of the Office for iPad features and functions immediately get unlocked.

Thus, you can import, and then view, edit, print, and/or share Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and/or OneNote documents, spreadsheets, and files that were created using Office applications on a PC or Mac, or you can just as easily create Office-compatible documents, spreadsheets, or files on your iPad from scratch.

What’s nice about the Office for iPad apps is that most of the Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote features and functions you’re used to utilizing on the PC and Mac versions of these applications are readily available on the iPad. In fact, you’ll easily be able to find and utilize popular commands and features using the tablet’s touch screen to access command icons, pull-down menus, and formatting toolbars, for example, that are continuously displayed.

In addition, the user interface and menu structure of the Office for iPad apps is simple and familiar, so the learning curve to use the mobile editions of these apps is minimal. For example, Word (shown in Figure 3) utilizes five menus (labeled Home, Insert, Layout, Review, and View), from which many of the app’s features and functions are quickly accessible. As a result, the most challenging aspect of using the Office for iPad apps is getting used to syncing and sharing documents and files via OneDrive.

Figure 3 The Word for iPad app uses a familiar and easy-to-use user interface that Word for PC or Mac users will easily be able to adapt to

In the past, one of the biggest problems using iWork for iOS or other Office-compatible apps for word processing, spreadsheet management, or for creating and presenting digital slide presentations was minor incompatibilities with fonts, which led to formatting issues when documents, spreadsheets, or files were transferred between computing platforms, without first being converted into a PDF file.

While this issue has not entirely been eliminated with the Office for iPad apps, because all work is being done within the Office computing environment, font, and formatting compatibility is much greater as documents, spreadsheets, or presentation files are transferred between PCs, Macs, and iPads, as well as other mobile devices running Office applications. Figure 4 shows PowerPoint running on a Mac, while Figure 5 shows the same digital slide presentation displayed on the iPad’s screen.

Figure 4 A PowerPoint presentation created using PowerPoint for the Mac

Figure 5 After being transferred to an iPad, the same presentation can be viewed, edited, shared, or presented on an iPad with little or no editing

You’ll also discover that the Office for iPad apps work nicely with any of the optional external keyboards available for the tablet. However, the responsiveness of the virtual keyboard is impressive, making fast and accurate touch-typing possible.

Final Thoughts

If you rely on your iPad as a powerful communications, organizational, and productivity tool while on the job, but on your desktop or notebook computer, you use Microsoft Office applications, the introduction of genuine Office apps for the iPad will be a welcome improvement to what your tablet is capable of. In fact, within the first week these apps were available, more than 14 million iPad users downloaded and began using them.

In addition, many business people who wanted an iPad, but instead acquired a Windows-compatible tablet, simply because they wanted access to genuine Office applications while on the go, can now easily switch to an iPad without forgoing document, data, or file compatibility.

In a nutshell, the Office for iPad apps transform the iPad into a powerful business productivity tool that allows users to do word processing, spreadsheet management, work with digital slide presentations, and/or handle note taking from virtually anywhere, plus collaborate with other Office users. These apps are powerful, feature-packed, and provide a true Office computing experience that users will appreciate and benefit from.

Thus, the monthly fee associated with a Office 365 subscription becomes a worthwhile investment. Initially, Microsoft’s conversion from SkyDrive to OneDrive resulted in issues relating to syncing and sharing Office files between computers and mobile devices. These glitches are intermittent and being addressed, however.

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