Microsoft has removed perhaps the biggest obstacle to full iPad integration into the business world's workflow—full Office support.
For several years, Apple has offered its own iWork suite of applications - Pages, Numbers and Keynote - for the iPad, just last Fall CEO Tim Cook decided to make iWork, both for iOS and the Mac, free for new device purchasers. Apple's productivity suite works very well, but interoperability with Office was always an issue.
Sure, simple text documents and spreadsheets transferred over just fine, but for users with more complicated forms, special document layouts and templates, or anything even remotely complicated in Excel, iWork simply wouldn't cut it. There were third-party solutions for the iPad like Documents To Go, but it always seemed like there should have been something better.
With Office for iPad, now there is.
Bridging the Office/iPad divide
Word, Excel and PowerPoint for iPad are well-built iOS applications, surprisingly (or not), significantly better than the Office applications Microsoft built for its Surface tablets. They seamlessly integrate with Microsoft's OneDrive cloud storage system, allowing individuals and businesses easy backup and sharing of files, including collaboration (sort of) and the ability to save a file and open it on nearly any platform: Mac, PC, tablet or smartphone.
Where Office really shines is for power users and business users who use Office on the desktop or frequently exchange Office documents with others. I have heard from a number of friends who have struggled to integrate the iPad into their workflow, that using iWork was somewhat like trying to be a Mac user in the late 1990's. For many, it just wasn't worth the trouble.
Check out our gallery - Microsoft Office for iPad: Screenshots of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint
Now, however, they can quickly and easily move files from the PC or Mac versions of Office to the iPad, whether through email or through Microsoft's OneDrive.
In my limited testing, I haven't seen any major issues when opening or editing files from the PC version of Office on the iPad. There have been a couple of font-related problems, but for the most part it's smooth sailing, something that was often not the case in iWork. Power users with extremely long documents - think book-length or 20k-row spreadsheets — may see mixed results, but it's much better than what users will see in competing iPad applications, or perhaps apps on any tablet.
Microsoft's engineers have included a few unique features for tablet users. During PowerPoint presentations, for example, the presenter can draw on the screen or use a "laser pointer" to quickly illustrate certain points.
Office 365 subscription required to create/edit docs
There is no charge to download Office for iPad. Viewing documents and giving presentations is also totally free. An Office 365 subscription is however, required to create and edit files.
Microsoft offers a $10/month or $100/year Office 365 Home Premium subscription that includes licenses for five PCs or Macs plus five mobile devices including the iPad (the iPhone edition of Office is free for all users). There are also a multitude of small, midsize and enterprise subscription offerings for Office 365. The company will be launching a new Office 365 Personal subscription for $7/month or $70/year that includes one desktop PC or Mac license plus one tablet license, perfect for a sole-proprietor who doesn't have a house or office of devices to cover.
Though Microsoft's pricing is reasonable, those without a strong connection to Office may be inclined to stick with Apple's free iWork apps. For those who want to try-before-they-buy, Microsoft does offer a one-month free trial of Office 365 Home Premium.
Getting the best of both worlds
When it was first released, many people, including then-CEO of Microsoft Steve Ballmer, dismissed the iPad as a content-consumption tool. These days, that's far from true. The iPad is the tablet of choice for many businesses. And finally, choosing the iPad doesn't mean giving up on Office.
Microsoft Office for iPad is available for download via the App Store.
Jordan Golson is an Apple Columnist for TechRepublic. He also writes about technology and automobiles for WIRED and MacRumors. He has worked for Apple Retail twice and has been writing about technology since 2007.