Office on iPad — But With a Catch


Office on iPad is available on Apple’s tablet at last. Everyone struggling to use Pages or worried about getting an iPad because of lacking apps like Word, Excel or PowerPoint breathed a sigh of relief when Microsoft made the announcement.

So, what are you getting with these welcome Windows ports to your beloved iPad? First, they are not simply ports — Microsoft has worked hard to fit its software into the iPad world. The programs have a minimalistic format and basic controls that diverge from traditional Word (and family) interfaces but feel right at home on the iPad — and includes familiar tool icons from Word, Excel and PowerPoint, making much familiar for those acquainted with these business standbys.

However, one of the most important qualifiers to Office for iPad is its tiers. There are actually two different versions available. One is a free download, and one requires a monthly payment. Knowing the difference between these versions is necessary before jumping in.

Office on iPad: Free Version

The free version of the apps is easy to find and download, but ties your hands when it comes to any sort of creation or editing. You can open and read Word documents to your heart’s content, check out Excel sheets for important data, and open and present completed PowerPoint slideshows directly from the iPad. However, you cannot directly edit any of the documents you open. Find a mistake in an essay? You’ll have to move over to a desktop or laptop to fix it. PowerPoint slide not working? You’re out of luck unless you can hop over to another computer and re-download it after changing the slide.

Naturally, this limits how the free app can be used. College students, finance-juggling families, and mobile business workers will probably be disappointed in the free version, since it removes many of the benefits of using Office on iPad in the first place. On the other hand, a more casual business/student user who only needs to relay PowerPoint presentations or check up on data may find the free app suitable. PowerPoint slides can be wirelessly streamed through AirPlay, as well.

Paying for Office 365

The second tier comes with Office 365, Microsoft’s cloud service program. Join Office 365, and you gain the welcome ability to create, edit, and save documents on your iPad, as often as you want. Essentially, this is the real Office on iPad, while the free version is more of a demo.

The price, however, is high. Buying Office 365 for Home costs $10 per month, more than you would pay for a Netflix subscription, although, you can use up to five tablets under this package. The Office Personal version, more ideal for individual students or business users, still costs about $7 per month, a steep price for the functionality of only several programs. Small business prices for Office 365, meanwhile, vary from $5 to $15 depending on how many users and features companies want.

If your company uses Office 365, then you can probably receive the fully functional Office for iPad for free, an ideal arrangement for the modern worker. If you have to pay yourself as a family member or student, the deal is much more difficult to accept.

Final Thoughts

A couple notes to keep in mind: No matter which version you get, these downloads will work best if you have plenty of room on your iPad. Each app takes up quite a bit of room. Word, for example, can take as much as 500 megabytes of space when being used, and every additional file will need hard drive space, too.

Also keep in mind that the Office apps do not support AirPrint, so printing wirelessly to a nearby printer may be impossible or at least very difficult (switching formats to a PDF, for example, could help). Finally, if you love building complex, towering masterpieces on Excel, the iPad version does remove some of the intense customization features that Excel traditionally offers, making it difficult to create some of the more intense work. You can still use formula tools and a certain amount of filtering, but macros and other, more in-depth tools are simply not available.

If you already use Office 365 and an iPad, this is a brilliant addition to your portfolio of apps, especially if you depend on Office documents. However, if you do not subscribe to 365, you may find this offering too limited — unless you are willing to pay the monthly price.

Photo Credit: Vincent Brown