Thoughts on Office for iPad and iWork

It’s important to recognize that Microsoft did a pretty good job in designing Office for iPad. It’s certainly better than what they did for the Surface. Having said that, I don’t find that I’m very excited by Office on the iPad.

Two of the biggest reasons people are excited about a product is that it solves a problem or that it’s entertaining. Office (and iWork for that matter) is a productivity suite, so it’s not very entertaining by its very nature. I’d argue that at this point, Office doesn’t really solve a problem either.

Microsoft is about four years late in solving a problem for users. The suite of apps should have been released near the introduction of the original iPad in order for it to have a full impact. Unfortunately, the delay gave—or forced—users to find an alternative. And they did—iWork.

Apple updated iWork on the Mac and for iOS devices giving users the ability to create, edit and share documents at their desks and on-the-go. Recently they made the suite of apps available for free, so, of course, most iOS and Mac users jumped at that opportunity and have been happily using iWork ever since.

I’ve been using iWork for years now and I don’t even think about Office any more. This isn’t because one feature set is better than the other, but rather availability—iWork was there for me, so that’s what I used. I also think the features of the iWork suite of apps is great for most users, including small and medium size businesses.

There will be some users that need a more robust spreadsheet app and they will be very happy to see Office for iPad. For most users, Office isn’t going to matter that much. When you add in the $99 subscription fee Microsoft is charging to use Office, it matters that much less.

Office for iPad will sell to large businesses, there is no doubt in my mind about that. There is also no doubt that Microsoft missed a massive opportunity in the mobile space by holding off on Office for iPad.

In my mind, Apple was pushed into making iWork better to make sure its users had a productivity suite that could handle the most common tasks. For that, we should thank Microsoft.

I don’t see the current market as “Office vs. iWork,” that battle is over for most of us. I see this as large businesses using Office because they already have subscriptions or they want conformity among their apps for employees. There is nothing wrong with that, but Microsoft missed out on a much larger market.

I launched the Office for iPad apps a few times—although I wasn’t able to do anything without a subscription—and I wasn’t all that impressed. Certainly not enough to pay $99 a year to unlock the apps, especially when I have Pages, Numbers and Keynote sitting there ready to use for free.

With its ability to import and export Microsoft documents, a better interface, and the ability to access your documents from any device for free, iWork has become the standard for most iOS users.

The challenge for Apple, if it wants to attract more large business users, is to make iWork more robust. Honestly, I think the company can do that fairly easily if it puts the engineering teams to work on it, but I don’t think it’s a big priority for them.

The challenge for Microsoft is to make Office for iPad accessible to more users. That would mean cutting out the $99 subscription price, or at least making it more attractive. I can’t see Microsoft doing that.

I have no plans to buy a subscription to use Office for iPad, simply because I don’t have to. iWork suits my needs perfectly and I’ve been running my business successfully for years using the apps. I have no reason to change.

Solve a problem or be entertaining. Office for iPad does neither for me.

  • Stephen Middlehurst

    About that whole “iPad Office will sell to businesses” thing… Not with the requirement to have Office 365 it won’t. My company, for example, is on a bulk license deal and 365 is pretty much useless as every computer including laptops has the software installed anyway. We’ve got a ton of users with their own iPad that have been asking for Office for years now but none of them are going to sign up to a $99 a year subscription.

    I suspect it will be an immensely popular app but mostly just for reading files and presenting PowerPoint on the go. Actually using it for creating or editing is going to be limited to a very small section of the audience.

    • Joe_HTH

      “Not with the requirement to have Office 365 it won’t”

      They already do use Office 365.

      “My company, for example, is on a bulk license deal and 365 is pretty much useless as every computer including laptops has the software installed anyway.”

      That’s not Microsoft’s fault or Microsoft’s issue. That’s the fault of your poorly run company. If you had a clue, you would realize that in the long run Office 365 is far cheaper than buying the Office package.

      “We’ve got a ton of users with their own iPad that have been asking for Office for years now but none of them are going to sign up to a $99 a year subscription.”

      If your company was worth working at, assuming I even believe you, your company would buy it for it’s employees. That’s what usually happens.

      • Stephen Middlehurst

        Wow… congratulations, everything I hate about the Internet in one post. If you disagree fine, no problem at all, discussion and debate are wonderful things. Personal insults, on t’other hand, don’t exactly strengthen any valid arguments you may make… Then again this seems to be your standard MO looking at your profile so maybe I shouldn’t be surprised.

        Anyway allow me to respond to the points you raised. Office 365 is horrific value for us, and many others. Why? Because we don’t need to be running the latest version of Office and almost all of what we do has to happen on-site. We don’t upgrade lightly, primarily because our fleet is somewhere in the region of 5,000 units servicing 18,000 users. Just testing compatibility with a software library ranging over a period of a decade or more is non-trivial (and I’m not even going to get in to training requirements).

        Even when you look at pure financial calculations our existing licence agreement is much better value for money considering the way that we operate. Now I’m almost sure that Microsoft will be revising the licence deals they offer in the next 12 to 24 months but right now, no, we’re far better off financially on our existing model.

        BTW, trying to pitch ‘hey, we’re buying Office for you all to use at home’ as a benefit would likely bring out the pitchforks as the bulk of our employees actually value a work/life balance.

        We run into other problems with Office 365, not the least of which is One Drive. Yes, this is incredibly useful and a great bit of functionality but a LOT of the data that our users are working on is available under very strict licences. You may be surprised just how many data sources flat out ban the use of cloud services to store the data, especially for services that host data outside of the UK. Hell, just Microsoft’s T&C’s that let them monitor what you’re uploading would instantly rule out a big chunk of what we do.

        None of this is to say that Office 365 is a bad deal. For some businesses, especially small to medium size companies, it can be a no-brainer. It’s good value, the software is solid and of course Office is still the default standard when working with documents to or from external sources. But when you get into large organisations with a complex support and infrastructure environment the more traditional models are often preferable. In practical terms 365 pushes the annual cost of licensing for those organisations up in return for features that often aren’t required and won’t be deployed.

    • Jurassic

      Stephen, I agree with you 100%!

      It’s easy for iPad users to download the “free” Office apps (and millions of people have done that)… but not so easy to convince people to spend $100 a year to use those “free” apps.

      I’m like other people. I’ll download a free app just to check it out. But if it costs to much to actually use the app, I’ll delete it eventually from my iOS device.

      At least Apple will be making $30 from each of the subscriptions that are bought.

  • jwoodgett

    Although I have used Keynote since it debuted, it was the lack of MS Office on the iPad that coerced me to spend more time with Numbers and Pages. That learning curve is behind me and I’ve no intention of side-grading into Office 365.

    • Joe_HTH

      LOL! Office would be a huge upgrade over iWork, which is simplified for simple people. If that’s what you like, fine, but don’t give me this garbage about side-grading.

      • Jurassic

        Joe, you are right. It is not a side-grade to MS Office… it’s a down-grade.

        For example: Take a look at Microsoft’s own promotional video ( Starting at the 35-second mark look at the terrible word spacing in the text that flows around the image… and this is just a plain square image that is being used to demonstrate text flow.

        Then take a look at the how correct word spacing SHOULD look when flowed around images in Pages for iOS:

        Even with odd shaped images (using transparent backgrounds) the word spacing in the flowed text looks right. Not the abomination that you see in Word for iOS.

        Microsoft has never been concerned about typography in its Office apps. Word spacing, kerning, and leading have too often been completely disregarded.

        • Moeskido

          So for people who can’t tell the difference, it’ll be just like the desktop. 😉

      • jwoodgett

        “Simplified for simple people”. Hey Joe_HTH, some of us simpletons no longer want to pay for 95% of the features we don’t use. Some of us simpletons want to get on with our work without worrying about connectivity. Some of us simpletons have realized, in our simple way, that life is too short for dealing with Microsoft Office bugs that haven’t been fixed over 3 releases.


        Dr. Simpleton

  • richardint

    Jim, great take all in all. I’m not sure that pushing the subscription model is a great ideal. It’s a revenue maximizing play rather than a market-share play, that’s for sure.

    The implications for iWork will be interesting. On the Mac, iWork is streets ahead of Office in one key metric, usability. It’s easier and more pleasant to get things done in iWork than Office. The only reason I’m subjected to using Office is that most of my co-workers use it.

    When we look at iWork on iOS, what concerns me is that the usability is not as strong as it could be. I wonder if Office is not actually leading in that area. I don’t know as I won’t buy a subscription either just to test (why didn’t they give 30 days free to try as part of their go to market strategy)?

    So will the availability of Office push apple to take more interest in iWork and ensure it’s as usable as it can be? I think there is a gap today and I’d like to see it closed.

    • John

      upvoted for Community reference

    • Joe_HTH

      “On the Mac, iWork is streets ahead of Office in one key metric, usability. It’s easier and more pleasant to get things done in iWork than Office.”

      That’s only because iWork is simplified garbage, lacking in a ton of features, formatting, and file fidelity. It was made for people who don’t have a clue.

      • jwoodgett

        A hint, Joe_HTH, denigrating people because their opinions don’t agree with yours (which seems to be your modus operandi), is not the most compelling way to make your own point.

        Microsoft continues to dominate the software for word processing and spreadsheets. Excel is powerful and has no peers for sophisticated formulas. But what keeps Microsoft Office at #1 is largely it is the interactivity standard. Microsoft has leaned heavily on that fact for too long.

        The switch to subscription-based software is not an innovation, it is milking a Microsoft standard tax. Fortunately, iWork exports to Office formats and can read Office formats (including tracked changes). I’m glad Microsoft finally brought Office to iOS. I just don’t need it anymore.

  • swedish chef

    I agree that Office for iPad looks pretty pointless for a lot of users, and I’ve also been happy using iWork instead. Can you just explain what you mean by the word “robust” in this context? I’m not sure whether you mean more reliable, more features, more user friendly, or something else.

    • Joe_HTH

      Office is a far more powerful, robust, feature rich office suite than iWork. That doesn’t mean iWork isn’t fine for consumers who only need lite productivity work.

  • GTWilson

    For a lot of us, it fills a need we had three plus years ago. We didn’t have the time to wait around for it so we migrated to other solutions. Where’s the incentive to change course and go through that process all over again? Not seeing it at all.

  • Lê Hùng Thiện

    I have used KeyNote (Mac) and PowerPoint (2003-2013) on Windows and I think KeyNote is far better (at least for me).

  • Very well written article. Good read.

  • Sam

    From the MS Office Blog:

    Q: Can I try Office for iPad?

    A: Yes, you can read, view and present documents, spreadsheets and presentations for free. To get the full editing and creation experience, you can sign up for a free 30 day Office 365 trial at Then download the Office for iPad apps in the App Store. During your trial period, you can use Office across your PC, Mac and iPad.

    I understand the iOS and Apple centric folks take on this and agree for the most part. However, the normals are going to be pretty jacked by this development. At my institution we are a Google Apps shop but we do have a site license for MS Office. Students will have access to this but faculty and staff do not. I can guarantee that we have have university funds paying for individual subscriptions just so folks can use this on their iOS or Android tablets. Essentially we will be paying twice for MS services. Shame they decided to use this as a tool to promote Office 365 rather than provide what looks like well developed software tools to their user base at a more reasonable fee structure. Don’t want to give it away, fine, let me pay an in app fee to use it how I want to then. MS could have done this better from the start but I would not be surprised if we see just such a in-app option in the near future.

    • Bob DeGrande

      Agreed, this might be something I would buy, but certainly not something I would rent at $99/year.

  • Prof. Peabody

    I am surprised that they don’t even allow local storage of documents or the ability to look at more than one document at a time.

    I tested it out by opening all the Office documents in my email, but each time, you just get the one document and as soon as you leave it disappears. The tedious cycle of going back to the mail program, finding a document, opening it with Word, seeing it’s the wrong one, then going back to the email app, then opening the attachment in Word … (over and over again), was agony. Also, even when you are using it with an account, if you forget to explicitly save the document to the cloud, then it’s unavailable to every other device you have, whereas with Apple’s model, “viewed is saved,” and it’s automatically saved in the cloud and also locally on every device you own.

    IMO Office for iOS is kind of sub-par even as a viewer and has some serious flaws that everyone is overlooking in the hype.

    • sethfromsd

      and even for folks who do pay the $99 subscription, we still cannot access content we own in better clouds like dropbox. the ms cloud, sky or one, or whatever they call it these days is amateur hour.

  • Antonio

    Here in Mexico, paying for the Office 365 Home subscription via the App Store on the iPad costs $80 US dollars (exactly $1,049 mexican pesos show up on the pop-up).

    Compare that to gasoline prices here in Mexico. My car needs $690 pesos ($53 USD) every third weekend. So the price for MSFT Office 365 is 152% more expensive than one gas tank, however, in annual terms the price of Office 365 equals 9% of what I pay for my gas annually.

    Am I comparing apples to oranges? Yes, when we think in terms of concepts (service vs. gasoline). No when you think of terms of price elasticity (for some of us, both are inelastic). Also no, when you think in terms of minor professional investments (I find them both to be so). Also no when you think in terms of convenience (both certainly are at least to me).

    Being ready, able and competent to receive and process iWorks and Office files on a same device (iPad) might be worth the subscription. Don’t you think?

  • makeittalk

    Agreed. I note that Office has the top download spots in iTunes. I’m sorry, I was one of the ones who downloaded it, tried it and DELETED it. I gave it a good shot and compared to Pages and Keynote, it was a disappointment. Next to useless without the $99 annual user fee. I agree Apple was pushed to make iWork better. I expect that Office on IOS will continue to push Apple, but I can’t see most iPad users outside large enterprises actually keeping it with the annual fee. Unless one needs to collaborate in a rigid corporate environment, Pages, Numbers and Keynote do everything that most people need with reasonable compatibility. Not perfect, but absolutely workable and good enough. Think I will save the $100 a year.

  • jwest38765

    It’s a new multi-platform app ecosystems developing, and Microsoft is smart to embrace that aspect. Apple will never make iWork for Windows or Android, and where a native app is desired (and not site) for other platforms — Office365 will be the go-to product. Users who want to share & collaborate on docs / spreadsheets will prefer to do so in native apps — so MS is smart to un-tether Office from the Windows platform. I love iWork but Numbers doesn’t come close to what I do with Excel everyday, and Apple clearly doesn’t plan to attempt to make their office productivity a world standard (, and no native app venue for Windows users). I hate the subscription model but it becomes a no-brainer if I have to collab with Windows or Android tablet users on docs in the future. I see nothing but upside here for Microsoft AND Apple — Apple can continue focusing on what’s important and let Microsoft carry the productivity software water. It’s very profitable water.

    • Sam

      “Apple will never make iWork for Windows or Android, and where a native app is desired (and not site) for other platforms — Office365 will be the go-to product.” Good point. Can’t forget Google Docs either as a cross platform solution.

      • Why is google docs a cross platform solution, but being a liability a “good point”?

        • Sam

          It is not that is a liability, but rather that Apple is unlikely to produce versions for Windows or Android. The web is great but people, at least on mobile, tend to want apps so if you run Windows phone or Android, you are left out. That said, there is a rumor that Apple might produce iTunes for Android so perhaps Apple will give Android/Windows users a cold glass of water after all.

  • Todd

    The compelling feature for me is it may eliminate friction. Clients can send Word docs back and forth, without the need for me to convert from Pages to Word or Word to Pages – a time saver.

  • Larry Davis

    I am excited for this at work…but only as a free viewer. It certainly has the best compatibility (no surprise). Our desktops are all PCs and everything is Office (Word, PowerPoint, Excel). I rarely need to edit anything on my iPad, but I could definitely use it to present a PowerPoint or read a sales sheet in Excel.

    I think that’s a big use case but not sure how that translates into revenue for MS if others think the same way.

  • Mike N.

    I have had iWork for a long time, and I just got the free Office365 subscription this morning by showing at a Microsoft Store with my iPad in tow.

    I have a large number of (mostly) Word documents that I work on.

    Neither is a complete solution, because both are tied to their particular cloud service (iCloud and OneDrive, respectively). My documents are mostly on Dropbox, which has been seamless, and I also collaborate with others using Google Drive. Neither iWork or Office for iPad work with Dropbox.

    With respect to iWork, even though I have it on both my iDevices and Macs, I hardly use it because the iCloud lock-in makes it not worth getting used to the applications (coming from a MS Office background).

    With respect to Office, it’s so tantalizingly “almost there but not quite” that it makes me more than a little annoyed.

    The net result is that I use GoodReader or Docs to Go if I need to see something on my iPad but I still use a “real” computer for work. Having played with Office for iPad, I could definitely use it, if only it could reach my files on Dropbox.

  • Joseph Blake

    This is meant to keep volume customers from trying something else. It’s not meant for individuals to pay $99 a year (though obviously they have that option). This isn’t for people who have iWork as an option. It’s meant for people at companies and large organizations who have a Windows PC on their desk that doesn’t run iWork.

    It really should’ve been a race against Apple releasing iWork on Windows, but that was probably never in the cards. A browser based suite of apps just is no substitute, and if browser based spreadsheets and presentations are good enough, then you’re not the target market for this.

    • It’s meant for people at companies and large organizations who have a Windows PC on their desk that doesn’t run iWork

      But the windows PC does run iWork. Being cloud based doesn’t disqualify it since connectivity is required to do business now…and MS’s own cloud is required for their offerings on ipad. The UI experience of iWork is akin to a desktop, much better than google docs was last I used it.

      • Joseph Blake

        You do not have to use OneDrive on Office for iPad. You can connect to an on-premise SharePoint server instead or documents local to the iPad. For many companies, cloud is simply not an option, and web based iWork is no substitute for a full, native client. iWork in a browser on a Windows PC does not count.

  • Isolder

    I have wanted this for years, but I simply will not subscribe to software as a service. I’ll continue living without.

  • Wally Grotophorst

    I love Keynote…have for years…but I’m really wary of it now for a “career-on-the-line” presentation. Since the rewrite/dumb-down, I’ve had images just disappear…not lost…gone. Makes you afraid to make that last minute edit…what if you lost everything. Apple needs to get this tool right if it wants it used by people in business.

  • JSintheStates

    The subscription is the deal breaker. If I wanted all my documents scattered across the web, i’d call someone at Ft. Meade and tell them to dump my files!

    Yes, I’m old school, but when I purchase a program, application, app., whatever, that’s my property, not a license! When I buy a hardback book (that’s a hardcopy doc that’s in a special sown binder), it is my copy of the book! No, I can’t make a copy for profit, but I’m not the one pirating books or software or videos! Nor am I a terrorist who needs to be surveilled!

    My stuff on Google, Yahoo, and big MS is not secure! Stuff to hide? Yes, my medical records, my SSN, my bank and chekcing accounts! $100 odd dollars a year? Microsoft obviously doesn’t want me as a client! They can kiss my grits!

    Meantime, I’ll use my Office2 [squared] app on my iPad2, and keep my Word.doc and Excel.xls files to myself, thank you very much!

  • Jsuber

    For $150 more I can get a surface tablet with office on it. Subscription software is like charging me for an upgrade that fixes all the mistakes you made in the first version of the software…..oh wait….Microsoft does that.

  • Jake

    No ability to print even after paying $100 licence for the year. ARE YOU SERIOUS? Why are people praising this? Here’s the toilet. Toilet paper will be forthcoming.

  • Moeskido

    I will be very interested to see the corporate adoption numbers for this, especially in companies which already license Office for multiple desktops.

  • Joe_HTH

    LOL! It does nothing for you because you’re an Apple shill. Nobody is surprised by that.

    As for iWork, it is complete garbage compared to Office. There is a reason Office is the gold standard in IT, and there is a very good reason why iWork is completely irrelevant in IT.

    • Moeskido

      “…iWork is completely irrelevant in IT.” “…iWork is simplified garbage… made for people who don’t have a clue.” “…iWork … is simplified for simple people.”

      Strong words coming from anyone who calls someone else a “shill.”

      And it’s no surprise a Microsoft-trained IT partisan would feel this way. Apple products require fewer of you on duty to administrate and maintain them. Which means there’d be fewer of you belittling your users as often as possible. You must hate that a lot.

      Office on the desktop is a big, hot mess of ancient, temperamental code and art-by-committee. It represents the work of a company that rarely, if ever, intelligently considered the needs of the people who’d actually be using it.

      Instead, it’s a trophy room of several decades of division managers’ victories, hidden inside a mansion that has a maze for a floor plan. The only reason it’s the “gold standard” is leverage, not quality.

      But perhaps the new iOS release can inform the rest of the company’s work in the value of better UI.

      • jwoodgett

        Microsoft trained IT professionals need not worry. The corporate lock-in force is strong. It is the standard but it’s no longer a gold standard due to the various compromises to the Microsoft business model that neglected various aspects of the needs of customers. Microsoft could afford to be arrogant after a while but now is competing with free software from companies with even deeper pockets. They know that licensing is both Microsofts golden goose and its vulnerability. Microsoft still makes oodles of money and has huge marketshare. As long as it doesn’t take that for granted, it’ll do just fine. I just don’t need it anymore (I pay my taxes to Apple/Google, etc. instead….).

        • Moeskido

          Whatever goes on in the server room is of little importance to me, until, say, a low-tier tech bro informs me that my design group doesn’t really need more email capacity to attach review proofs of our work, or that our Macs don’t have nightly network backups of the company’s core production assets because they’re somehow incompatible with something. Corporate lock-in is indeed great job security.

          On the other hand, I’ve seen remarkably different work philosophies between types of businesses. The stuff I described above was primarily experienced in publishing, typically not a high-revenue sector. I found its opposite in advertising (at more prosperous companies), where IT was mostly terrific at understanding what the company’s users needed. Our work got done far more efficiently.

    • dsacgt

      I’ve used MS Office since version 1.0 and other office software before that (Harvard Graphics was the main presentation software before Powerpoint). I am a power user of Office (Access, Powerpoint, Word, Excel, One Note, VBA programming, complex formulas, creation of databases with millions of records, custom interfaces etc). I’ve also used iWork on Mac for the past 6 years. It is vastly superior to MS Office!

      Those who say Numbers does not match Excel do not understand how to use Numbers. It can create complex formulas, summarise data far better than pivot tables and is programmable (Applescript). It’s layout-style of working leads to much more interpretable understanding of the flow and summarising of your data. Pages and Keynote are far superior to Word and Powerpoint in pagination, vector graphic creation and typography and export for professional printing to publishers. iWork apps simply do not have less capability the Office and are far nicer to use and the workflow is faster.

  • Some way of life.

    I think this was a smart move for Microsoft, because it addresses a problem seen in many companies and organizations: the company is a full Microsoft Office and Windows shop, but the CEO, followed by countless other executives and staff, want to use their iPads to view and edit Office files. They have probably already been running their own Exchange servers… and a lightly used Sharepoint server. Microsoft is offering Office 365 for all employees at a price that is attractive when compared to the cost of running on-premise Exchange, SharePoint, and site-licensed MS Office. They also offer more file and email storage than these businesses can afford to give staff on premise. Executives who have been shy about moving their company to Office 365 now have a sexier reason to do so.

    I don’t know how successful Microsoft will be at selling Office 365 to consumers, but again these apps will help. Some people have used MS office for so long that they think they need it… even though lower cost, and free, alternatives exist. Microsoft Office site licensing for businesses has long been a cash cow for Microsoft, and Microsoft wants to keep that going with Office 365.

  • Bruno Deserto

    Hi there. I liked this post very much as it sums up exactly what has happened to me. I have an office 265 subscription for a year or so. I bought the iPad Air recently and I absolutely love it. I bad been using pages for a while before MS released office for iPad. I downloaded the first day it hit the App Store and haven’t used since day two. I tried it, it is good but pages does it all for me already, skin why even bother? At work most computers have older versions of office anyway and sometimes we have to retouch some documents so I also send them as a PDF file. For those who deal with texts and exams like me I don’t think office is that essential at all. I love pages and I am about to uninstall office as I don’t use it all all.