When it comes to document editing and creation on the iPad, two solutions really stand out: Apple's iWork Suite (Pages, Numbers, and Keynote) and DataViz's Documents to Go app. Which is better? Well, I wish the decision was that easy.
Both apps (or set of apps in iWork's case -- you can buy each separately) allow you to edit and create documents, spreadsheets and presentations. iWork also has the advantage of using Apple's iWork format and Office format as well and is beautifully designed. Documents to Go does a stellar job of rendering and editing Microsoft's Office format. Let's begin by looking at each app a little more in-depth. I will focus primarily on the differences of how each application handles their word processing since this is the number one reason people would use these apps and, you probably don't want a mini-novel to read. There is an incredible amount to discuss with both iWork and Documents to Go, I cannot conceivably cover it all here. My goal is to give you a detailed enough overview to help you decided which app will work best for you.
Apple sells the iWork Suite of applications for $9.99 each. The individual apps are Pages (word processor), Numbers (spreadsheet) and Keynote (presentations). Pages looks amazing. Just the aesthetic alone let's you know this isn't "baby software", but the real deal. When you start off by creating a new document, you are presented with several beautiful templates to get you started. For our purposes, we will look at a standard blank document. You have a standard document toolbar at the top of the screen. The Body button gives you a good set of default styles. To the right you have the traditional Bold, Italics and Underline buttons. Finally you have a tab-like icon that gives you the ability to enter a tab, line break, column or page break. Wow, that is some serious stuff there.
On the top of the screen you have an "i" button. This allows you to define a style, lists and indents, text alignment and line spacing. To the right is the picture icon that inserts pictures, tables, charts and shapes. Finally you have the wrench icon that essentially has your settings for Pages; Find, margins, watermarks and more can be found here.
Once you begin typing, you have a very familiar experience, it's just like a desktop whether you have been using a Mac or a PC. Use the tab button to quickly indent. Use the ruler to adjust alignments or place tab stops. Regardless, the interface is simple yet powerful. Do you have a multiple page document? A new innovative feature uses the ability to tap and hold in the right margin. This will bring up a magnifying glass that shows you a thumbnail preview of your page. Drag your finger down and it will preview the other pages in your document. Release on the desired page and Pages will instantly open the previewed page for you; no clumsy flicking or endless scrolling needed.
When your document is done, you can email it, share via iWork.com, send it to iTunes, copy it to iDisk or copy it to WebDav. The most popular method is to email. It is important to note that Pages creates your document in the .pages format which is not compatible with any other word processing application other than iWork for Mac. So, when you email your document, you are given three choices: send it as a Pages, PDF or .Doc format. The .doc option is compatible with PCs and PDF is comparable with just about any computer platform, but is not natively editable. If you send in Pages and PDF formats you will be quite pleased with the results. If you create a complex document with graphics, columns, , etc. and send via .doc format, your results may differ. I typically only create boring APA (American Psychological Association) formatted documents, and when sent via .doc format, they render beautifully. The same goes with importing a document, from say, from email. Though Pages does a really good job of opening and editing .doc documents, it is not flawless and some formatting loss can happen. Apple has improved this process with each update, but it is still not perfect. However, this is one of Pages strong points, it actually supports more than one format. You can also easily upload and download documents from the "cloud" via the iDisk and WebDav options.
At the end of the day, iWork gives you a beautiful robust set of tools for not only word processing but for spreadsheet calculations and creating presentations as well. Many of the same features carry over such as sending in Microsoft-friendly formats and access your files from the cloud. Though these apps are not perfect, they offer advanced features, many of which have only been available on desktop applications, until now.
[Pages - $9.99 - iTunes link]
[Numbers - $9.99 - iTunes link]
[Keynote - $9.99 - iTunes link]
Documents to Go
I have used Documents to Go (Docs to Go) for years, ever since the Palm V days of old. These guys have been at it for a while and I was expecting big things from them on the iPad and for the most part, Docs to Go doesn't disappoint. Docs to Go is a single app that supports a wide array of files for viewing and Office files for editing and sells for $16.99 or $9.99 in the App Store. The launch screen is divided into several sections; Local files, Desktop files, Online files, Recents, Search and Settings. Yes, Docs to Go has a very robust means to access your files and search them.
Once you open a file in the Word app, one feature I noticed immediately that I really liked is the ability to pinch and zoom the text to the appropritea size. The text wraps around in real-time which is cool. After deciding on the fone size you like, It's off to write your text. You have the typical fanfare as iWork does with text formats, colors, paragraph alingments, etc. Docs to Go does not support more advanced features in it's word processing app like real-time image arrangement as iWork does, but it gets the besics done well and cleanly. Two quibbles that I have is that Docs to Go was not developed with the iPad in mind, it is basically a big iPhone app, which is such a shame. Menus are designed for the iPhone, not the iPad. What do I mean? A good example is the placement of the formating buttons; they are along the bottom of the app. At first that may not sound like a bad idea, however, when you are typing, the keyboard appears and hides the buttons so you can't format while you time. Is it a deal breaker? No, but annoying none-the-less.
For me, where Docs to Go really shines over the competition is its "Intact" technology. At work, I use Microsoft Word to create my documents. Admittedly, I sometimes use fancy formats, tables, images, etc. As I mentioned earlier, these may not render very well in Pages. With Docs to Go however, if the app doesn't know what the object is on the document, it doesn't even try to render it, instead it gives you a "?" placeholder that tells you "if you delete me, you will lose this feature when you sync back your document". What a life saver! You can edit a document and not have to worry about loosing formating any more.
Other benefits of Docs to Go include the fact that it is a universal binary, so buy it once and you can use on the iPhone and iPad, not a bad deal at al. You can also sync via iTunes Sharing and Docs to Go's own Wi-Fi sharing app for PC and Mac.
[Documents to Go Premium - $16.99 - iTunes link]
[Documents to Go - $9.99 - iTunes link
So what is the take away from all of this? Well, it's that no office app on iOS does it all well. iWork behaves and has advanced features of a desktop application, but Docs to Go allows for flawless syncing of Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents. For me, I use both as they offer different ways to plug holes in my workflow. For example, when I am writing a school paper, I write it exclusively in iWork then save it has a .doc file and send it off for grading. When I am dealing with editing a Word file from work, I have to use Docs to Go so I don't loose any precious formatting. Could I get by with one and not the other? Probably, but that is the beauty of the iOS ecosystem, there's an App for that (and it's probably under $9.99 too).
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