Many business users still pack both a Windows laptop and an iPad when it’s time to hit the road.
The long-awaited debut of Microsoft's Office suite on Apple’s popular tablet could change that, provided you don’t dive too deeply into the ‘power user’ zone.
Office for iPad consists of the suite’s three cornerstone apps – Word, Excel and PowerPoint – which at once look ‘totally iPad’ but also immediately and refreshingly familiar.
There’s absolutely zero learning curve and seamless 100 per cent support for desktop-crafted Office documents, with documents stored on the iPad or Microsoft's OneDrive cloud service.
Like its fellow Office for iPad apps, Word focuses on the 20 per cent of features tapped by 80 per cent of its users.
Yet this extends to conveniences like section and page breaks, footnotes and smooth text alignment around images, which are easily resized thanks to large finger-friendly anchor points.
Hooking up a Kensington KeyFolio keyboard case showed that all the standard formatting shortcuts are supported so you can get some serious work done.
Sadly, Word hits a wall if you want to print anything: none of the Office for iPad apps work with Apple’s AirPrint wireless printing technology. This is a crippling Achilles heel to an otherwise towering app.
On the desktop Excel has long since evolved from a basic spreadsheet to a data slice-and-dice powerhouse.
On the iPad, however, Excel takes a few long strides back towards its roots.
It’s certainly up to the task for whipping up new spreadsheets and graphs, or tweaking cloud-based sheets on the fly.
Building and editing formulae is a snap, with an option-packed formula tab plus a second keyboard layout with large numeric keys, arrows and commonly-used symbols.
But advanced sheetwork still needs to be done at the desktop. Pivot tables and charts are view-only (if you must have pivot tables on the go, grab the third-party iPivot app).
There’s limited filtering, and you can’t run macros embedded into an imported sheet or tap into external links to use your iPad as a real-time data dashboard.
Those few forewarnings aside, Excel will do most of what you need doing on the go.
This presentation app showcases how finger-friendly the Office apps are on a touchscreen tablet for adding and positioning text and images onto slides.
It’s perhaps the best fit of the trio for the iPad, which has already won over the sales and marketing brigade.
And it streams to larger screens via Apple TV’s Airplay mode, if you want to add the Apple TV box to your mobile preso kit.
But PowerPoint also reveals a shortcoming shared with its siblings. You can only insert images saved on the iPad’s Camera Roll or stored in iTunes rather than other locations such as a OneDrive folder.
Office for iPad marks a slickly impressive debut, albeit one with room for improvement in the inevitable 2.0 update.
The more you use Office on your desktop or laptop, and the closer your ties to Microsoft's ecosystem, the more you’ll love Office on your iPad. Just remember: it’s a companion to the full-blown Office apps, not a replacement for them.
Word, Excel, PowerPoint for iPad are free to download - Microsoft says it's been downloaded more than 12 million times - but requires an Office 365 subscription (starting from $89/year) to edit, create and save documents.