When Microsoft quietly released its own editor for Office documents on the iPhone last week, it left something out: a version for the iPad. If the iPhone screen is too small for you to consider viewing and editing important documents, no worries, you still have ways to do so on the larger screen of the iPad.
Here are the currently available options that will allow you to view and edit your Office documents on Apple’s tablet.
Mobile Office for iPhone, scaled up
While it is true that the existing Office app does not have a custom user interface for the iPad, the iPhone version of Microsoft’s Mobile App can be installed and run on the iPad with 2x video scaling. This may seem a little awkward at first, but you can gain access to all of the features offered on the iPhone version of the app.
While the Word document editor does not scale well by pinching and zooming using the iPad’s 2x video scaling, the Excel and PowerPoint editors do a much better job. You can zoom in an out of both Excel and PowerPoint documents to gain a better view of the document on the iPad.
If you are an Office 365 subscriber, the main advantage in using this versus the web versions of Office apps is that you can store and access your files for offline editing. Unfortunately the features available in the native iPhone app are a bit lacking when compared to their Web App versions.
Office Web Apps for mobile browsers
Microsoft’s free Office Web Apps work just fine within Safari on the iPad. Better, in fact, since they have many features the official iPhone app lacks. For instance, the editor for Word in the web version has more features than the iOS native version. Features like being able to change the font, adjust the document’s margins, insert tables, and even change the selected text’s style.
The major problem using Microsoft’s web apps for Office is that you cannot access the apps, or any of the files for that matter, without an internet connection. So you either have a more fully featured web app that requires internet access, or a lightweight native iPhone app that can work with your documents offline.
A minor annoyance is that when you run Office on the web from within Safari, you still have Safari’s toolbar as well as its tab bar present at the top of the screen. This is true even when adding a shortcut link to any one of Microsoft’s web apps on the home screen. Someone needs to inform Microsoft how to set the Apple-specific meta tag keys to enable full-screen mode in online Office. Until then, there are browser alternatives like Atomic ($1.99 Universal), Mercury ($0.99, Universal) and Dolphin (Free, iPad) that will allow you to enter into full- screen browsing mode with a single tap. It works very much like the iPhone version of Safari that does support full-screen browsing, in landscape mode only.
SkyDrive app for sharing links
Microsoft only supports SkyDrive as a storage option for iOS users that access either the mobile or web app versions of Office. If you are using SkyDrive as your document repository, the dedicated SkyDrive (free, Universal) app for iOS supports viewing Office documents. You can even download the documents for viewing when you are not connected to the internet.
The one unique thing you can do from within the SkyDrive app is create links for sharing SkyDrive documents with others. Sharing links to documents can be a more effective means of sending documents as the URL can be passed along via private Twitter message, a Facebook message, or even an SMS text message. The Office Mobile for iPhone app can only email the document as an attachment.
If you are only interested in viewing your Office documents on your iPad, there are alternatives that support more than just one SkyDrive account. GoodReader ($4.99, iPad) will allow you to connect to multiple SkyDrive accounts as well as Dropbox, SugarSync, Google Drive, Box, and any other WebDAV, AFP, SMB, FTP or SFTP server. While it may appear that an app like GoodReader is all you could ask for, keep in mind that the one thing it does not do is create a link to the document on SkyDrive to share with others.
Office² HD for tracking changes
What I believe is the best Office document solution available on the iPad today is Byte²’s Office² ($7.99, iPad). Like GoodReader, it offers online access to a wide variety of storage solutions. And like the web version of Microsoft’s Office apps, it supports a full set of editing features for all Office documents. If you are either a DataViz DocsToGo Premium or a QuickOffice Pro HD user, you owe it to yourself to take a look at what Office² has to offer — it has many of the advanced features you are likely looking for.
One such feature is the ability to track changes when editing your Word documents. Being a native app, you can also download your documents and edit them offline. Office² also looks great on the iPad and gives you maximum screen real estate for editing. While you can email a document as an attachment like you can in the Office for iPhone app, you cannot share a link to your SkyDrive documents as you can in the native SkyDrive app for iOS.
You don’t need an Office 365 subscription to use Office² as a documents editor on your iPad. This is similar to how things work with the documents you store on SkyDrive and edit while online with the free Web Apps for Office. You only need a subscription if you want to use Microsoft’s Office Mobile for iPhone app to edit your documents offline.
Apple costs for Office
For Apple users, when you do sign up for an Office 365 account, you only get access to the previously available Office 2011 for Mac. Chances are you already have this version installed on your Mac. What you do not get is access to the Office on Demand feature that allows you to download full versions of the office suite onto any Mac you may be using; this feature is for Windows only. Since you can still pick up a 3- install, 3-user, never-expiring license of Microsoft Office 2011 for Mac on Amazon for $125, it hardly seems worth it to start spending the current annual subscription rate of $99 per year for exactly the same product.
For now at least, the best solution for viewing and editing your Microsoft Office documents on your iPad is to use GoodReader if you just want to view your files, and Office² if you want to edit them. The only Microsoft app that you may need to install on your iPad is the native SkyDrive app, as it is the only way to share links to documents that you have stored on your SkyDrive account. In a nutshell, Microsoft’s Office 365 just is not quite ready for the Apple platform. Not yet at least.