Why Microsoft Office for iPad is still important: 'Almost' isn't good enough

On their surface Apple's iWork apps — now included with the purchase of new Macs or iOS devices — provide customers with Microsoft Office-like capabilities. Are they a substitute for Office? Maybe for some, but Office's absence on iPad is still a glaring void that needs to be filled. For many of Apple's customers, there's simply no adequate substitute for Microsoft's productivity software.

The gold standard

Office is, and long has been, the gold standard for compatibility and interoperability in both enterprise and academic environments. Very rarely is anyone going to be asked to resubmit a document they've sent in .doc or .docx format (or .xlsx or .pptx formats, for that matter).

While Office document formats are hardly a lingua franca, they do represent a baseline of compatibility that most users are comfortable with and that most IT departments can support. And while Apple product users can be reluctant to admit it, Microsoft remains the de facto standard just about everywhere.


Many other apps are capable of importing and exporting Microsoft Office documents. In fact, it can be argued that the kiss of death for any productivity software is not to include some sort of Office file format interoperability. All non-Office apps do so with varying degrees of success. Problems become more likely to arise as layouts and calculations get more complicated.

I'll readily admit that even between Microsoft Offices, things aren't perfect. Exchanging documents between Office for Mac and Windows can sometimes lead to problems with formatting and more. But generally Office-to-Office exchange is a less painful process than converting between different productivity suites.

What's more, it represents fewer steps, too — you don't have to export instead of just save a document. You don't have to import, either.


For many of us, Office may be the first or only productivity suite we've ever learned to use. We're accustomed to the shortcuts we've memorized, along with the placement of menus, the location of tools, palettes and other interface elements.

You can argue that iWork and other productivity software offer interface improvements, more intuitive elements and better shortcuts, but the fact is that many of us are hard-wired to remember what we first learned, and simply aren't comfortable learning a new way, even if it is better.

And to my mind, we shouldn't have to. I think most people have a very reasonable expectation to assume that software — especially software that performs a function they're accustomed to — should work the way they want it to work.

Witness the revamping of iWork apps for OS X and see what I mean. Long-time users of Pages and Numbers, especially, were really upset by the changes made to Apple's newest versions precisely because they were such a change in both interface and functionality.

Because brand matters

There certainly are substitutes for Microsoft Office available for iPad, and I'm not just talking about iWork apps. QuickOffice comes to mind, along with Documents to Go, OfficeReader and others.

But none of them are Microsoft Office. It's a brand people recognize and, as I've stated before, it's a product people are comfortable with. Giving them something like Office isn't the same as giving them Office.

Still waiting

Four years after the debut of the iPad, we're still waiting for a version of Office that runs on the iPad. And despite rumors to the contrary, I think we still might be waiting a while — Office is one of the few things that really make Surface a compelling choice for business users looking for a tablet. It seems crazy to think that Microsoft would want to kill that just for a chance to garner some revenue from iOS users.

Having said that, Office is available for iOS, at least in some way. Office Mobile (opens in new tab) has been available for download from the App Store for a while — it provides iPhone users specifically with access to cloud-connected documents. The limiting factor is that you have to have an Office 365 subscription. I have very little doubt that if and when Office connectivity comes to the iPad, we'll face the same sort of limitations.

My weekend job is to sell Macs and iPads at a local Apple retailer. The availability of Office is one of the first question out of the mouths of many of our iPad-buying customers. While we can often assuage them by letting them know they get similar functionality out of Pages, Numbers and Keynote, I have to admit that it's very hit-or-miss when I talk to them post-sale.

Many of these same people with no find Apple's iWork apps to be confusing or more trouble than they're worth to get working in their workflow specifically, and they lack the time and patience to figure out how to make it work.

For them and many other customers like them, a native Office experience on the iPad would be a good thing and would be the path of least resistance.

How about you? Do you pine for Microsoft Office on your iPad, or have you made do with alternatives? Sound off in the comments, I want to hear from you.

  • According to that iTunes link, you can use Office Mobile for the iPad, it's just optimized for the iPhone.
  • Sure, you can use any iPhone app on the iPad - but it pixel-doubles, which markedly reduces the effectiveness of the iPad display.
  • It seems to look fine in the screenshot above. Either way, I'm not sure saying Office doesn't run on the iPad is a correct statement.
  • It seems to look fine in the screenshot above.
    That's a mockup.
  • Lol that's just for illustration- it's what we would imagine it would look like if it were available for iPad.
  • I have an Office 365 subscription and, trust me, the iPad "version" is not a good experience. Sent from the iMore App
  • I'm not a heavy document creator, myself (I'm a programmer/analyst). But I find the iWork apps to be a joy to use on my iPad. I've been using a Numbers spreadsheet to manage my personal budget for over a year now. Recently, I even convinced my girlfriend (who was an avid Excel user in her previous job) to download Numbers, and she's loving it! Work rarely requires heavily document creation that would require strict Office compatibility. I do use SkyDrive (OneDrive) as my cloud storage, though. So, on the rare occasions that I do have to mess with a work document, I just load it in SkyDrive from a PC and open it from the SkyDrive web site in mobile Safari. I also rely heavily on OneNote for meetings/conferences! Love the syncing and organization capabilities!
  • "on the rare occasions that I do have to mess with a work document, I just load it in SkyDrive from a PC and open it from the SkyDrive web site in mobile Safari"
    Do you think that's a reasonable process for the average user (and I emphasize average here), or do you think that's bound to cause confusion?
  • I wouldn't try to explain that process to my poor mother, No :) But having said that, I have shown SkyDrive.com to family members and just bypassed the whole "magic syncing folder" bit. As long as they have it bookmarked and only deal with the files online, it's not too bad for them to use. And it's not much worse than explaining how to get an "Word" document exported from Pages, e-mailed to them, and opening it on their Windows desktop (or explaining how to log onto iCloud.com to retrieve it). My guess is that when/if MS ever coughs Office up on iPads, that it'll be tied to SkyDrive anyway (either free version or Office 365 version). Might as well get used to it... unless you never use a Desktop PC. In that case, iWork all the way!!!
  • I used to want office, but after retirement, and just working part time for the same company, I can use a third party app to work with files. For all Apple users, Citrix was their answer. It works with our version or MS office, but is slower, and not a big problem. If I need to edit a file sent to me, I use documents to go on the iPad with a keyboard. I am not a big fan of doc to go, but it works. More of a Readdle fan.
  • I agree with you - I think Citrix is a good option for some environments. But it requires an IT staff and an IT infrastructure to support it. For businesses of a certain size, Citrix makes sense. Everyone else, though, is left out in the cold.
  • I love iWorks. In fact I use it for documents I don´t have to share, such as lectures (I use Keynote) I give etc. But being in academia, Office is almost indispensable, as documents shared usually have to be in an editable form. It´s a sad reality, but Office is still a necessary evil on many fronts. I only wish they would hurry and update Office for Mac 2011, since this version horrendous, at least aesthetically speaking.
  • Not to be crude, but I'm of the opinion that "real work" simply doesn't get done on a tablet or touchscreen device. I find mobile office suites perfectly acceptable for quick edits like updating spreadsheet data on the go or reviewing, annotating, or correcting draft documents. For this level of common mobile productivity, compatibility is more important than a complete desktop feature set.
  • What changes would need to happen for, as you put it, "real work" to get done?
  • I want the ability to add equations into documents on my ipad without going through 10 extra steps, having to switch between multiple apps, or learning LaTex.
  • As part of my job (I'm an English teacher), I am forced to use Microsoft Office - including Office 365 and SkyDrive/SkyDrive Pro - on an everyday basis. And I hate it. Ever since Google introduced Google Docs/Drive, I have wanted to ditch Microsoft once and for all. While Apple and Google get compatibility, Microsoft does not. Case in point: not one of my iOS document apps works with SkyDrive Pro, the Office 365 version of SkyDrive. I want to be able to grade essays on my iPad and then store them in SkyDrive Pro, but I can't because it doesn't work with ANYTHING. I finally gave up on it and am now using Quickoffice for document editing and Google Drive for storage. I also have begun using Pages and Keynote more, simply because I like their features. That said, because of my workplace's Microsoft-centric atmosphere, I have found a few apps (CloudOn, Quickoffice, etc.) that give me Office-like capability, but Peter is right: like it or not, most industries are chained to the real deal. None of the aforementioned apps offer a true Office experience, and as much as I love using iWork and applaud Apple for finally allowing cloud-based editing, it still doesn't hold a candle to Word in terms of the number of users. People don't want to spend time converting document types to Word/Powerpoint/Excel files - they want those files right off the bat. Creating, saving, and uploading an Apple or Google doc is pretty easy, but as noted by Peter, most users don't want to go from pillar to post just to open, save, or edit a Word document - but that's what Microsoft forces people to do. Sadly, Microsoft is THE brand for creating documents, and we've come to accept it (reluctantly). That said, and as Peter notes, we're certainly not going to get Office for free and may not get anything much better than Quickoffice or other competitors. My hope is that Microsoft doesn't give us some half-assed version of Office/SkyDrive Pro (soon to be OneDrive) with a high price tag, but instead provides a scaled-down yet functional version of the desktop version at a reasonable cost. If they do the latter, people will pay for it; if not, Office finally may have its death knell or be closer to it. Whew. :-)
  • People used WordPerfect before Office and had no problems switching. Unless Microsoft breaks with it's usual way of doing things and offers a 100% full version of Office for iPad, there will still be features missing from the full version. If it's not 100% the same, you might as well use a compatible word processor instead and simply export/import in Word format when you need to.
  • Yeah, the same goes for Excel. I have a couple of major business docs that need Excel - for index matching and some other specific functions - because I need to be certain my clients can open the files intact. For everything else, I'm using Google Apps for Business, and my team can work collaboratively using almost any device. iWork in the cloud is nice, but I need cross-platform compatibility at work. Sent from the iMore App
  • I think that now more than ever Microsoft need to release Office for iOS. As the new CEO pushes the software and services angle it needs to start bringing back folk who have made do with alternatives. If they can get it right they stand a chance of establishing a meaningful presence outside the enterprise which in turn will drive demand for their products inside it.
  • I've taught Office classes for years especially Excel. When I say Office, I mean windows Office. There's no other version in our eyes (cpa firm). It's unacceptable to use third party programs to edit them, Office for Mac, Apple's iworks, etc. The reason why is incompatibilities, formulas breaking, etc. So, even if Office for ipad gets introduced, it's not Office. It's far better to remote in from an ipad and use a PC. Should Office be offered on iOS as a native version? I'm not sure how it CAN be called Office with the limitations of iOS (vs a desktop OS). It'd be something I couldn't really use. This isn't a slam on Apple. I also have low expectations that a Metro version would (or could) be any better. And as Peter alludes to, should MS even fool with making so many different versions of Office? This is part of MS not being sure of what it wants to be IMO. I think it'd hurt them. You'll have so many different versions of Office that each will have different features, create confusion, and what not. Make one great product.
  • As I recently wrote on another thread about this, I just want a full-featured iOS version of Outlook. It would have to have full Exchange support as well. My company uses organizational forms libraries, shared calendars and folders, journals, you name it. If I could do this on my iPad I would pay whatever the price
  • I would like Office on the iPad, but not if it's a subscription based app.
    I agree that Microsoft office is the standard when it comes to office apps, but Microsoft know this, and this is why they continue to charge high prices for their office package and are now also using a subscription based pricing model. Apple users need to force ourselves to start using iWorks as our default Office package and stop supporting Microsoft.
    When they see there is some real competition in that space, they might change their pricing model. Sent from the iMore App
  • "Very rarely is anyone going to be asked to resubmit a document they've send in .doc or .docx format..." Never have I been asked to resubmit a Pages document that I've sent in .doc or .docx format. "You can argue that iWork and other productivity software offer interface improvements, more intuitive elements and better shortcuts, but the fact is that many of us are hard-wired to remember what we first learned, and simply aren't comfortable learning a new way, even if it is better." I never learned Office, so I have nothing to un-learn. Lucky me.
  • I haven't missed Microsoft office on the iPad. So it's not that important to me. Sometime we think we need something until we actually get it. When we get it, then we don't need it. Sent from the iMore App
  • I've found iWork to be the absolute best solution on an iPad and I don't think that will ever change. I personally don't think compatibility has been an issue for years, because I can export to any format I'd like, including MS office formats. (old and new) Not to mention I don't trust Microsoft to EVER offer continued support for a product not on their own native platform. Office for Mac is a great example of this. How often is it updated compared to the Windows counterparts? No thanks, I'd rather use iWork which I know Apple will support. The ONLY time I've ever run into issues with compatibility is if someone sends me a spreadsheet that has a ton of advanced formulas in it that was built in Excel and I open it in Numbers. Obviously that's asking for punishment as syntax is never the same, on any platform or piece of software. For the most part though, I've had zero issue sending and receiving any kind of iWork document from MS Office users. And vice versa. Years ago? Yes. Nowadays, not at all.
  • Office on iPad will be good for simple docx or xslx, but there are already several low cost or free options that handle those very well. iWork is pretty darn good here. People who need more are going to need things like object embedding, inter-app communication, and macros - all of which are expressly forbidden by Apple on iOS. MS is in a tough spot here - what they can make won't matter, and what matters to their core customers they can't make. Sent from the iMore App
  • I have moved on from Office. Using Google Docs it works for me. Sent from the iMore App
  • Is there a word processor for iPad Sent from the iMore App
  • Plenty! Pages, for example...
  • Why wait? Onlive has been giving users Microsoft Office on the iPad for free for years! http://youtu.be/BEYf8lGdVn8
  • Gotta say pinpoint article by Peter, especially the part w about familiarity. People won't change until they have to change which may come with the death of the PC and maybe ms. Bestication came up with what I wanted to say, ha ha.
  • If I could just have Office on my iPad I'd be happy. Not the phone version - the real version. I've tried Pages, Drive, and several other solutions and it is almost inevitable that something gets messed up in translation when it goes back in to or out of Office proper. As Peter alluded to it can sometimes be a hassle for Office products to talk to each other, let alone other programs. Most of the world runs on Office, for a lot of good reasons, and most of te solutions we want to work aren't there yet. Sent from the iMore App
  • Like Neal, if the requirement for Office is a subscription, I will easily forgo it. And, if Word's excellent comments features are not fully integrated, even for a reasonable fee, I will not hesitate to say, "No!" I am confused why iMore writers do not discuss the intelligent options for iPad users who have computers back in their offices. There are a host of programs that allow one to use Office on their desktop remotely. All of my customized menus, all my files, where I have them, all the features, at no additional profit to Microsoft. It works perfectly but for some store them, this solution is ignored, especially on a device with 3G (or LTE) so I can have access anywhere. IOW, there is no reason to wait for a fully functional Office on an iPad now. I don't get it.
  • That's a good question. Often we see apps like Editorial and similar talked about on here. I would say that these are next to useless unless you're a blogger. And the results? There's constant misspellings, bad grammar, and typos littered all over iMore. It would be good to see some writers (or guests) from other professions on iMore. Looking at current iMore writers' "what's on my ipad or Mac" is telling.
  • "a native Office experience on the iPad would be a good thing and would be the path of least resistance."
    Basically, people that are resisting to change believe it is the path of least resistance.
    People fool themselves in a lot of ways don't they. :)
  • As a small biz contractor, everything I need in an Office type suite has worked flawlessly with iWorks. Admittedly, I rarely need anything with any measurable degree of complexity so that may help a lot. I can send anything from iWorks as PDF, iWork, or MS docs and no troubles. The one thing I would consider from MS would be a full features Version of Outlook for ios.
  • Microsoft Office is important...it's just not "that" important in the overall scheme. It'll help Apple within business environments but the lion's share of iPad sales go to rank and file consumers. This is Microsoft's fault for letting products become successful without their products. Look ow many MSFT Execs have been fired over their strategic blunder (Sinofsky, Balmer and likely more)
  • I have been a business user of Mac since the mid 2000's and after a year of using Parallels to run Windows and Office (as a bunny rug) I have since done everything possible to avoid using MS Office. Mostly this has worked without issue, as the prepared iWork documents are usually in PDF before sending to clients. However collaboration with non-iWork Users has always been tricky due to the formatting issues when exporting to the MS Office. If Apple could perfect importing and exporting Office docs, then even collaborating would be a non-issue. iWork on the web is a good start. iWork is such a pleasure to use (well, when they finally give us back the functionality that was taken away). I am preparing documents everyday; the way iWork intuitively handles tasks, the gorgeous templates, formatting capabilities and iCloud, make my job more creative and less like work. Sent from the iMore App
  • "Office"? Wasn't that what people used back in the 90's to write letters and emails in gratuitously incompatible formats? Or to make mind-numbing, sleep-inducing, read-text-off-a-slide presentations? Now I remember- that was the one where if you deleted a line of text, sometimes it would change the font of the entire previous paragraph. Yeah - haha - glad _those_ days are gone!
  • LOL yep, Office hasn't been the world standard for document creation for over 20 years. Let's just overlook facts because you don't know how to use it! Easily the stupidest comment on here lolol.
  • Docs to Go works for me. Sent from the iMore App
  • I've despised Office, its gallimaufry of nested menus, modal dialog boxes, and crappy UI since version 6 on the Mac. I'd like to hope that, since there are a sufficiently noticeable number of computer users out there who've recovered from Stockholm Syndrome to seek relief from the mediocrity of Microsoft's desktop OS, there might also be enough people out there to put a dent in the influence of products like Word and Powerpoint. I could very easily standardize on rtf format for text documents (generated by anything other than Word), but I have yet to have many corporate design clients who'd feel the same way. Despite the fact that only a few of them have actually used Word's formatting capabilities for anything beyond rtf's. Sorry for the rant. I'm very happy with Writeroom on my iPad, but I don't compose very much on the device, anyway.
  • The key is compatibility. If MS manages to come up with an app that is 100% compatible with docx files of their PC/Mac version, then it will be a winner. And of course the functionality needs to be comparable, at least with a full annotation/correction mode. I am involved in several national (German) and international research projects and the Word format is THE exchange and work format. PDF is just for finished documents. As long as documents are drafts, you have to use Word. But I think there is still another issue preventing the iPad to become an office productivity platform: The nonexistent file management of iOS. Apple really needs to fix this. Either iCloud needs to be again like iDisk with drive sync for Mac AND Windows or there should be at least a central directory like Rene once described in iMore.
  • Numbers beats Excel for spreadsheets because it is not cluttered up by it being a digital version of a physical page, it is created cell-by-cell not having an unrealistic page setup conversion. Pages works for me and other people now because it now does both portrait/landscape views.
    On a side-note: in RV Robin Williams is using his BlackBerry to type a long document. Now I know it was being used as a joke-plot but people have done and do this on their Smartphones and Tablets. That is why they also have Bluetooth Keyboards for when the situation arises.
    I also have preferred WordPerfect over Word.
  • I would love to migrate away from Office and rely on iWork but taking the time to learn iWork has been an issue. My wife and I run a small business in which we contract from the state. I switched to Mac almost three years ago but unfortunately have to run Parallels/Windows just to use one state run website that only works with IE. We have always used Office for our internal documents and could easily replace them with iWork. Its a little easier for me to learn new tricks but even on her new Mac my wife still does almost everything through Windows because she is afraid of Safari and Chrome. She would kill me if I tried to go strictly iWork.
  • To each his own, and nothing personal, but I don't find any of Peter's arguments convincing at all. "Brand" means nothing in terms of software, and the "Gold Standard" term is incorrectly applied here. The ubiquity of Microsoft Office does not equate to it being "Gold Standard." Something has to actually be the best in and of itself. The huge sales of Office also don't necessarily mean it's "the best" just that it's the most prevalent (for a variety of reasons not necessarily having anything to do with quality). I would agree with the main thrust of the argument ("Almost" isn't good enough), but apply it in reverse. Office is the product that's "almost" the right tool for the job for most folks, not Pages, Numbers, et al.
  • I hear this argument often, and it doesn't wash for me. What, precisely, would MS Office on iPad do for users, other than to remove one layer of import/export? The layout of the applications and the interaction models would HAVE to be different from the old desktop versions, removing the oft-cited "familiarity" argument. They would HAVE to be visually simplified to be the least bit workable. The file management would HAVE to conform to iOS. Just how different from Pages and Numbers could it really be while still being useful? Many people cite corner cases, such as entering equations or doing lengthy footnotes. While I realize that this is very important to some users, it represents a tiny sliver of the user base. And what guarantee is there that Office for iOS would include those particular bits? None. I believe that much of the focus upon this topic is really about a few key things: 1. Product familiarity that will die out as the population ages away from '90s computing
    2. The concept of opening "Office" files (docx, xlsx, etc.) that is rooted in language and not use
    3. Adaptation of workflow around a handful of highly specific features that represent minority use cases for Microsoft. These all assume that an iOS version will address all of these needs at once - somehow, it will look and work like the desktop version, somehow, it will open familiar files in familiar folders, and somehow, it will contain the COMPLETE feature set of the desktop version for the corner cases. Given these constraints, it is difficult to see how an iOS version could do anything but disappoint. I wait to be surprised.
  • Now that Apple made iWorks free, I've started to migrate some of my often used documents to iCloud. I'm not a Word/Excel power user, so this has worked great for me, and it's pretty cool seamlessly being able to edit and view documents on any of my devices. My one request would be a "trash" for the iOS version of iWorks.