iOS Office Productivity Apps

by on October 22, 2012 at 12:03 pm

While our campus has just recently adopted the Google Apps for Education suite of tools, Microsoft Office (i.e., MS Word, MS Excel and MS PowerPoint) has long been standard used by faculty, staff and students for producing documents, spreadsheets and presentations. And while I believe we’ll eventually see a decline in the use of MS Office as Google Drive use gains acceptance on campus, I don’t foresee the use of MS Office ever going away completely.

Because Microsoft has chosen not to develop a version of Office for iOS, there are a myriad of third party iOS apps available attempting to address this void. Some of the more popular options available include Apple’s iOS versions of Pages, Numbers and Keynote, as well as office suite applications such as Documents To Go (a universal app), and QuickOffice Pro HD for iPad.

The primary issue I found with all of these iOS apps was that they possess scaled down functionality of their desktop counterparts. As an example, I frequently collaborate on authoring documents and therefore rely heavily on MS Word’s Track Changes functionality. For the longest time there were no iOS word processing apps that supported this functionality — which made editing and/or providing feedback on documents on an iPad impractical for me. This summer Office2 HD was the first iOS word processor to provide Track Changes functionality. And this past week, QuickOffice Pro HD released an update which included Track Changes and Comments functionality.

Given I already have a copy of QuickOffice Pro HD installed on my iPad, I plan on using this app more extensively now that it has Track Changes functionality. I will be sure to report back on my experience using feature in a future post. 

I should mention that I have adopted use of Byword as my tool of choice for writing. Byword is a simple text editor available for the Mac and iOS which supports nearly instataneous syncing of documents via iCloud. My workflow is to use Byword for creating my initial drafts of documents. Because of the iCloud syncing I can easily move between my iPad and Mac without worrying about having to manually copy/sync any files. I move the documents into MS Word format once they in a state to be formatted and/or shared with others for editing.

With regards to speadsheets, I am on a quest to find an iOS speadsheet application that can handle some of the Excel spreadsheets I have created on my Mac. While I do not consider my spreadsheets to be very complex, iOS apps just do not seem to be able to handle the formulas embedded in my Excel spreadsheet documents. I also attempted to see whether Google Docs could accommodate them, but it also was not able to handle the formulas.

There is an additional class of Office productivity apps, which utilize MS Windows virtualization, that has had greater success with regards to being be able to handle the formulas in my spreasheet documents. I gave both CloudOn and Onlive Desktop a try when they first hit the market. Both of these apps are available for free. Their basic serivce is offered for free; with additional features/functionailties available for a fee. While CloudOn was unable to handle my spreadsheet Onlive Desktop, which presents users with a virtualized Windows 7 environment along with the MS Office suite, was able to handle my spreadsheet without issues. Or so I thought…

Unfortunately, I did find an issue with apps that rely on virutalization. One downside is that they require sufficient bandwidth in order for them to work properly — given all of the work is being down remotely on a virtualized server. Using the apps on campus works fine because bandwidth is plentiful. I did find that Onlive Desktop to be unusable when I attempted to use it over a hotel Internet connection or a 3G connection, so you really should only rely on these virtualized solutions if you know that you will have an Internet connection with sufficient bandwidth.

I am hopeful that some of the recent rumors about Microsoft developing a version of Office for iOS will turn out to be true, so that I will finally have a solid solution for working on my spreadsheets using my iPad. Until then, my search will continue…

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