#iPadOnly book » Section 3 - There's an app for that! » Chapter 15 - Office type of applications

Chapter 15 - Office type of applications

As mentioned previously, an iPad is an office… with an office suite of apps.

Let’s talk about the king of the jungle, the Microsoft Office productivity suite. Word, Excel and PowerPoint are three of the most used applications for the majority of the computers users. There was a time when people would buy a computer only to be able to use Microsoft’s productivity suite. In the 90’s and the first decade of the 2000’s this was a standard… and to some extent it still is.

However, things started to change just a few short years ago. On the PC platform OpenOffice (aka ‘LibreOffice’) became the new alternative. Google began making waves with their Docs & Spreadsheets package (now known as Google Drive) and Apple launched their own suite called iWork. Now, let’s examine how (and if) you can do real ‘office work’ on the iPad and which apps have been helping us get this job done.

Apple iWork

To prove that you can ‘do office work’ on the iPad, Apple ported their productivity suite ‘iWork’ to the iOS with its three flagship apps: Pages, Numbers and Keynote. They did a very good job with these apps, focusing on taking advantage of the touch screen and making creating documents on the iPad a breeze. When they introduced iCloud support, working with these apps became easy and seamless as our documents synced with our other devices (like the iPhone or the Mac) automatically.


Keynote is the Apple’s counterpart to Microsoft’s PowerPoint. However, the only thing these apps have in common is the fact that they both create presentations. Other than that, they are completely different. The late Steve Jobs was one of the masters of public speaking and he always gave stunning presentations introducing Apple’s newest products. They say that the Keynote app was designed closely with Steve.

Here’s what Michael thinks about Keynote:

“As a new public speaker I fell in love with the original Keynote app on the Mac. All of the presentations I did in the past 5 years were done in Keynote. I know some friends who moved to Mac just because of this app. It helps create stunning presentations. It’s very intuitive and extremely easy to use. And its iPad counterpart is even better. Apple took the essence of Keynote and put it on the iPad.

Now, thanks to VGA-to-iPad and HDMI-to-iPad adapters I can plug the iPad directly to a projector screen and give the presentation entirely on the iPad. Just a few months ago I gave a speech to a full auditorium at the Apple Store Ginza in Japan, entirely from my iPad Air. It worked perfectly.

But there is more. Thanks to the iCloud, I have moved all of my past presentations there and can access and edit them directly on the iPad. Clean. Fast. Efficient. I recently had to give a speech about a subject I already assembled into a presentation. I quickly duplicated it on my iPad. With a few taps I reorganized and updated the slides, and I was on my way. And changing the slides by swiping totally rocks.”

Here’s Augusto’s take on Keynote:

“I made my living years ago doing presentations. As a Sales Manager, when you are not presenting to clients, you are training people. I use to spend hours on PowerPoint and later on Keynote for Mac. Keynote for the iPad may not be the most powerful tool available but it is good enough for most people’s needs. The reality is that unless you are trying to give a very complex presentation (and in my opinion you should avoid that), Keynote on the iPad does the job.

I am a true believer that the simpler the presentation the more power it conveys. There is nothing worse than presentations that are overloaded with text and animations. They quickly distract you from the point of the speech. This is where Keynote on the iPad shines. You get enough power to build a complete, sleek-looking presentation, but not so much to over-complicate the message.”


Pages is Apple’s version of Word. Pages on the iPad works great for official documents, letters and the like. In our past Mac-oriented life we had several well formatted Pages documents. We put them all in the iCloud and we can now access them easily on the iPad. Most people’s needs are really covered here as Pages also allows you to print directly from the iPad (if you have a compatible printer), open a document in another application, as well as share it in a Pages, PDF or Word format. Finally, you can set Pages to check spelling, word count and to display center, edge and spacing guides for when you are inserting Media, Tables, Charts or Shapes. Apple recently brought back the feature to ‘track changes’, making this app complete.

As we mentioned, Pages is a very powerful app, and for most people it’ll be the go-to app for rich-formatted text document creation. However, from our experience you don’t really need a word processor like Pages to create nice looking formatted text. You can simply open Evernote and write a note. The basic options of fonts, bold, italics and the like are there. Or you can open Editorial and write a pure text file with Markdown formatting and export or print the formatted document. Believe it or not, there are many ways to create a rich-formatted document on the iPad.


Numbers is Apple’s version of Excel and we’d say it’s the ‘sexy’ Excel. It’s easier to use, the spreadsheets look great and there are several trendy designs to choose from.

Michael on Numbers:

“I keep my company’s critical statistical data in Numbers. Again, as with the other iWork apps, I imported all my past Numbers documents to the iCloud so I could access and edit them on the iPad easily.”

Augusto on Numbers:

“I am an advanced user of Excel on a PC, but my current work doesn’t require that I use macros, or anything more complicated than formulas and graphs. My spreadsheets are not as complex as they were in the past. This allows me to use and enjoy them on the iPhone and the iPad. Unless you have a need for advanced Excel features (for example Macros and Pivot Tables), the iPad’s Numbers app has adequate horse power. I have a long history of using it as my main software to access, create and edit Excel sheets without any issue.”

Google Drive - formerly known as Docs and Spreadsheets.

Google is offering fantastic apps for free in exchange for all the information we can give them. This is spooky on one hand… and dangerous on the other. Historically, Google is known for ‘just trying’ some services and then shutting them down if they didn’t get enough traction or are simply not aligned with the current corporate policy of Google. This is what recently happened to one of our favorite web apps - Google Reader.

During our quest of going #iPadOnly we’ve been trying to avoid Google’s services as much as possible, but there are two we simply couldn’t dodge completely. Google Drive and Gmail. Most importantly, the ‘Docs and Spreadsheets’ features within Google Drive.

When you’re collaborating with others, the Google Drive app is the only way to do real-time collaboration. When you open a document, you can see if someone else is browsing the document, editing it… you can actually see where their cursor is at that very moment.

It all sounds really great… until it isn’t

We tried to use Google Drive to co-write this book. Unfortunately, we failed. Initially we thought of putting everything on Google Drive directly - to write the chapters in Google Drive.

However, we both prefer to write in plain text - it’s fast, has a great full screen mode and you can change the background to black and text to white… and it’s really fast to work with. So, we’d type the chapter in Editorial app and later copy and paste it to Google Drive. After we wrote the first chapter and started writing the second one, we realized this method was inefficient. During phase one of writing the book it was an overkill to use Google Drive. We switched back to Dropbox - shared a folder together and focused on writing in Byword. Later in the process, we decided to work with Google Drive once we’d start editing entire chapters together in real-time.

Then the editing part of the process arrived and we realized we still didn’t like how Google Drive operated. It was slow when writing and editing; it was even slower when opening the files. It just wasn’t efficient to use. We decided to keep working in Editorial with Dropbox on the backend. We solved the ‘real time collaboration’ problem by putting tasks in Nozbe. When someone would edit Chapter 1, they’d put it as a task and the other one knew they were not to touch it until the other one finished. It worked great for us.

In the end, we still recommend Google Drive for ad-hoc document collaboration and sharing, but not for serious book writing or editing. It’s too slow and too clumsy for projects of this extent.

Google Drive is now Docs, Sheets… and stuff…

Just to add insult to injury, Google decided to make the process even more painful for Google Drive users and decided to split the apps into several “focused” apps. Now you can still access your files in Google Drive app… but to edit them you have to get these additional apps: Docs for documents, Sheets for spreadsheets… and more. And it’s not optional, to be able to edit and of these documents, you need to have these apps installed. Google is not asking, it’s telling you to get them. Not really an ideal experience now is it?

Microsoft Office… on the iPad!

Yes, after many years of ignoring the iPad, soon after the CEOs of Microsoft changed, they finally shipped their Word, Excel and Powerpoint apps for the iPad. And they are free… or kind of.

Microsoft finally embraced the iOS platform. Now you can get all of their apps free for the iPad and view your documents in these apps free of charge. However, if you want to edit them, you have to pay $99 yearly fee for the Office360 subscription. We think it’s a brilliant move from Microsoft. They’re enabling millions of people who wanted to work seamlessly on their Office documents with their iPads but couldn’t… and now they only have to pay the fee and can get down to business. And reading the reviews, the apps are pretty great and very compatible with their desktop counterparts.

As to us, our jobs don’t require us using Microsoft Office files all that much so we’re not even paying subscribers. We do have the apps installed to be able to view our Office documents stored in our Dropbox folders easily, but we still prefer to use iWork suite and plain text files (more on that later). Nope, we didn’t write this book in Word.

Working with Microsoft Office files - alternatives

You can also work on DOC (docx), XLS (xlsx) or PPT (pptx) files directly on the iPad, without using the official apps. There are several alternatives:

Augusto uses Citrix QuickEdit (formerly Office2HD):

“This is my choice when I work with Word documents. It is an application that allows me to do everything that I need so I come back to this application often. In my experience, this application can do everything that Pages can, but it adds two important features - the ability to ‘track changes’ and to access the Cloud.

I rely heavily on ‘track changes’. Between other writers and editors it is very important to be able to see their work. For a long time, this was something that constantly drove me back to the MacBook and it was frustrating. I can now work directly on the iPad and see the changes (and easily accept or reject them).

The second reason I prefer this app over Pages is the integration with the Cloud. I rely on Dropbox for many things and on Google Drive for those projects that I am working on with other people or simply that I am collaborating. Since this application allows me to directly connect to Dropbox, GoogleDrive, SkyDrive, Box.net and more, it makes my job easy. No need to email documents.”

Michael also uses this app every now and then:

“I save all of the past DOC and XLS files in Dropbox. I then access them directly through Dropbox with this app. When I need to update an Excel sheet or a Word document, I can do it right there.

For example, I have an Excel file I need to update weekly. This app serves this purpose well.”

You can do office work on the iPad

The iPad is now a mature platform with many apps that effectively assist with ‘office work’. You can use Apple’s iWork suite, you can work on Microsoft’s Office files and so much more. You simply can be an #iPadOnly office kind of person if you want to, although we believe that Microsoft’s productivity suite will be losing relevance in the #iPadOnly world.

Next Chapter: Chapter 16 - Email

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