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Office for iPad vs. iWork: The battle for tablet productivity

Tony Bradley | April 1, 2014
Once Office for iPad was announced, I couldn't wait to stage a bare-knuckled battle with iWork, the productivity suite that's held down the fort on iPad for four years. I pitted Apple's Pages, Numbers, and Keynote against Microsoft's Word, Excel, and PowerPoint apps, respectively, to determine which better provided all the tools one would need in at typical work environment.

I made some additional revisions to the file and added a comment. I also added a new photo (rotated at an odd angle) and a table, and I changed the font in one section to Calibri. I saved it and opened it again in Pages.

For the most part, everything looked OK. However, I received a pop-up alert notifying me that Pages can't render Calibri, so it substituted an equivalent font. Also, change tracking for Pages works only in body text, so any other changes made in Word for iPad were automatically accepted as final.

The skewed image showed up exactly as I placed it. I could move or resize it, but Pages doesn't provide a method for rotating an image, so I couldn't change the angle.

As an experiment, I also tried opening in Pages the "Northwind Business Plan" document that Microsoft created to demo Word for iPad. It contained a variety of elements and more advanced formatting features, and I wanted to see how Pages worked with a Word doc like that.

As I scrolled through the document, I encountered a fidelity issue on page 4. There was a pie chart with a caption that appeared above a bar chart in Word for iPad and in Word 2013 on the desktop. However, Pages garbled the formatting and the pie chart, and the caption ended up somehow intertwined with the text that should be next to it.

Verdict: Both apps are more than capable of basic document creation and editing. Microsoft wins overall, because many of the formatting options are easier to access, and Word for iPad has a number of features that make it easier to select text and work with images on a touchscreen display. Pages offers more diverse template options, but there are a variety of fidelity issues when working with Microsoft Word files.

Excel vs. Numbers

Like Pages, Numbers offers a variety of formatted templates. You can create schedules, recipes, travel or party plans, and many other spreadsheets with just a tap. Again, I chose to start with blank table.

The conventions in Numbers are more or less identical to those in Pages. More advanced options, like formatting the colors and style of the table or changing the cell formatting, are accessed through the paintbrush icon at the upper right. The plus sign icon lets you insert images, tables, charts and graphs, text boxes, or shapes, and the wrench icon lets you search, print, or configure the general settings.

Double-tapping a cell opens the virtual keyboard. It defaults to a calculator-style number pad, including buttons to change the cell formatting to currency or a percentage. Next to the text bar are buttons to change to alternate keyboards for date and time, pure text, or more advanced formulas.


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