After years of holding back, MicrosoftMSFT -1.08% on Thursday finally brought its ubiquitous Office suite to the iPad. I took a first look at its three apps – Word, Excel and PowerPoint — on two iPads with high-resolution retina displays. Several smart features, and one big draw-back, stood out right away.
Designed for fingers
Using Office on Microsoft’s own Surface tablet, I’m often left clamoring for a mouse because the app doesn’t feel optimized for touch. (It’s just easier to use a mouse to place an image or highlight text.) But in my time with the iPad version, it already felt more touch-friendly. On the iPad, icons are larger and the app is less likely to misinterpret fat-fingered commands like selecting or resizing an image.
However, there is a learning curve to some of the iPad functions. For example, the three apps had different input logic: In Word and PowerPoint, I only had to tap once to place my cursor and begin typing. In Excel, I had to tap twice — the first tap simply selected text.
Microsoft also built into the apps some features that streamline creating and presenting on the iPad.
The Excel app foregrounds recommendations on how best to visualize data. For example, a budget brings up a suggestion for a pie chart, while numbers and dates suggest a bar graph. This made creating visuals in Excel quick and easy, which is what you want on a tablet.
Another smart feature: When you’re viewing a PowerPoint presentation, you can hold down your finger and a red dot will appear on-screen to mimic a laser pointer. This will be really helpful when mirroring a presentation on to a TV or projector.
Getting down to business
Like many iPad apps, Word, Excel and PowerPoint feature auto-saving, and allow you to sync documents across devices when files are saved in the cloud via Microsoft’s OneDrive storage service.
But to access any of this, you have to be willing to pay. Microsoft requires an Office 365 subscription to actually edit and create in any of the apps – without it, you can only use the free apps to view documents.
A one year subscription – which includes access to Office on five PCs or Macs plus five tablets — is $99.99, and Microsoft also offers a monthly option for $9.99. (If you’re a student, you can pay $79.99 for four years of Office 365.) For those who’d rather try before they buy, Microsoft does offer a 30 day trial for those new to Office 365.