Working with Microsoft Office Documents on the iPad

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OnLive Desktop iPad app

For many people, any conversation about productivity on the iPad has to touch on Microsoft Office documents and the ability to work with them on Apple’s tablet. There have been persistent rumors that Microsoft will be bringing Office to the iPad, perhaps as soon as this year, but so far nothing official has been announced.

In the meantime, there are a number of good options for working with MS Office documents on the iPad. In addition to a number of good remote access apps that allow you to connect to a company Office setup, there are a number of good iPad apps for working with Office docs. Here are some of the best apps for this purpose:

Quickoffice Pro HD        Documents To Go Premium

Quick Office Pro HD, Documents To Go Premium

Both of these apps have been leaders in this area for many years on just about every major mobile platform. Both offer support for managing and syncing your files via leading cloud services Dropbox, Google Docs, Box.net and more.

Documents To Go Premium also has a free desktop companion app for Windows and Mac. Quickoffice Pro also offers support for opening, editing, and saving SharePoint files.

Each of these apps has a strong feature set and you’ll want to look at these to see which may be the best match for your needs.

Quickoffice Pro HD is priced at $19.99.

Documents To Go is priced at $16,99 and is a universal app designed for both iPad and iPhone.

Office2HD

Office2 HD

Office2HD has not been around for as long as the two apps mentioned above, but it’s another solid app for working with MS Office documents. It supports Google Docs, Dropbox, and Microsoft Skydrive for file management / storage.

Like Quickoffice and Documents To Go it allows you to create, open, edit, and save Word, Excel, and Powerpoint files.

Again, this app has a long and impressive feature list and you’ll want to review it to see how it well it matches your requirements.

Office2 HD is priced at $7.99.

OnLive Desktop

OnLive Desktop

OnLive Desktop offers access to a shared virtual Windows 7 environment online. It gives you a full desktop view and access to Microsoft Word, Excel and Powerpoint to view, edit, and create documents.  It does not support Dropbox or other popular file sync / storage services. Instead it uses its own cloud storage to automatically sync your Documents folder on OnLive Desktop – so you can access you’re the files you work on in a web browser at files.onlive.com. At the onlive.com site you can upload and download your onlive files – there’s no web app interface for working with them.

On the OnLive desktop you also get a folder of sample files from Word, Excel and Powerpoint.

Touch gestures work very well in OnLive Desktop and apps load up quickly, though initially connecting to the service can sometimes be a bit slow. It’s a very self-contained environment – with support only for its own cloud storage and no ability to email documents from within the app.

OnLive Desktop is a free app.

Cloudon

Cloudon

Cloudon is another app that connects you to a shared Windows environment online, but has a notably different approach to OnLive Desktop in a few areas. It doesn’t offer you a Windows desktop; instead it gives you direct access to Microsoft Word, Excel, and Powerpoint apps – and the same ability to create, review and edit documents in each of them.

If offers support for Dropbox, Google Docs, and Box.net for opening and syncing files. You can also email documents directly from within the app.

Another very nice recently added feature is support for voice dictation – something OnLive Desktop does not yet offer.

Cloudon is a free app.

Pages

Keynote, Numbers, and Pages

These are the three apps that make up Apple’s iWork suite for the iPad. Keynote is the Powerpoint equivalent, Numbers is the spreadsheet app, and Pages is a word processor app.

Generally speaking these three are not as closely compatible as solutions like Quickoffice and Documents To Go, when it comes to finer details like formatting and similar. You can import Office documents in and export out in Office formats in each of them – but you will some formatting issues along the way. For me, these are usually fairly minor things – but your mileage may vary depending on the sort of work you’re doing with the apps.

All three apps are very capable and extremely easy to work with. Keynote in particular is just a spectacularly good app – I’m continually amazed at how easy it is to create superb presentations with it. 

If you run the latest Mountain Lion OS on a Mac then you can setup automatic iCloud sync of your iWork documents between the iPad and the desktop companion apps (which you need to purchase for Mac as well). Otherwise, storage and sync and sharing options are much weaker than the 3rd party apps mentioned above.

Each of these apps is priced at $9.99 and all are universal apps designed for both iPad and iPhone – here are App Store links for them:

Keynote

Numbers

Pages

Saving, Syncing, and Managing Office Documents on the iPad

Apple’s tight control over access to the iPad and iOS file system makes this an area that takes some getting used to. As you can see from the apps rundown above, there are a number of different approaches used. OnLive Desktop, for instance, provides its own self-contained storage and sync, but has no other connections. All the other 3rd party apps provide access to several of the popular online file sync and storage services. Apple’s apps rely on iCloud, which is still a little clumsy in places to work with, and File Sharing – which requires you to connect the iPad to a PC to share files stored on the PC to compatible iPad apps.

In general, it’s going to be useful to have an account with one of the popular file services – as it will increase your options when it comes to choosing a good app to use with Microsoft Office documents.

I hope this is helpful for those of you seeking the best ways to work with Office files on the iPad. Let me know in the comments if you have other app recommendations in this area.

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Patrick Jordan

Founder and Editor in Chief of iPad Insight. Husband, father to a lovely daughter, Commander of the Armies of the North, dog lover (especially Labs), Austinite, former Londoner, IT consultant, huge sports nut, iPad and mobile tech blogger, mobile apps junkie.

12 thoughts on “Working with Microsoft Office Documents on the iPad

  1. Glad to see you got CloudOn in that list! :-)

    I’ve also toyed around with “Smart Office 2″ but its awkward gestures got in the way of enjoying its capabilities (at least on iPhone)

  2. Wait until Microsoft releases its Office-App. That will be in March 2013.
    I kicked off all the apps from developers who promised compatibility.
    Just ‘Cloud On’ is acceptable and its free.
    By the way:
    Apple’s export from iWork (Keynote, Numbers, Pages) to Microsoft Office Formats is emberassing. If you check the export you will see that there are more than only formatting problems.
    So … Use iWork, if you don’t work on complex tasks.

  3. I bought the Quickoffice pro HD witht the intention to use it to review and edit some technical papers for publication. It is dissapointing as quickoffice cannot retain the formats made with Word 2010; the subscript/superscript is gone; the greeks characters are changed; the equations are gone; when the articles contains hyperlinks ( eg references from EndNote), sometimes chinese characters will appear. Or did I do something wrong? Is there a better app to do this task?

  4. I’m using Documents To Go(R) Premium Version 4.0.12 on my iPad. I have a problem that it doesn’t support Chinese character. I wonder if there could be upgrade version that I could type Chinese?
    Thank you

  5. I am also looking for an iPad word processing app that supports Chinese characters. Please let me know if there is one out there! Thank you

  6. I think the IPad Mini is a total pain. Using my friend’s unit, we could not open Quick Office to start a new document without calling up his XXXXX’s IPad. Then we found the new document icon. We could not drag and drop documents from the PC to the IPad Mini. We could not create folders on the home screen for documents we created with Office.

    Drag and drop, creating folders is a breeze with PC and my Samsung Galaxy S3. I was under the impression that Apple was “elite”.