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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 typed the days of the week across the top as headers and then entered about five days' worth of data in the columns underneath. To find the total for each day, I double-tapped the cell at the bottom of each column, then tapped the formula button, followed by functions, and selected SUM from the list of options. I then selected the column of data for the given day. Easy!

Excel for iPad also provides a number of template options when starting a new spreadsheet. It makes better use of the screen real estate than Numbers, filling the display with a grid when you create a new spreadsheet. Like Word for iPad, Excel for iPad makes it much easier to enter text or formulas and access various features and functions. There's a text-entry field at the top of the spreadsheet, and above that is the familiar ribbon bar that gives you instant access to common features.

When you first tap the text-entry field, a basic QWERTY keyboard appears. At the upper right, though, is a button labeled "123" that triggers a keyboard Microsoft developed specifically for Excel for iPad. The = button — which is the key to entering Excel formulas and functions — is prominently featured, and tapping it brings up the list of available functions. Microsoft also included a tab button to move between cells, and arrow keys that let you navigate around the spreadsheet.

I sent a simple spreadsheet between Numbers and Excel for iPad with no issues. I inserted a pie chart in Numbers, and then added another in Excel for iPad, and everything worked as expected.

Things didn't work so well, however, when I used the "Northwind" file from Microsoft to find out how Numbers manages more advanced capabilities and file fidelity.

Immediately upon opening the Northwind Expenses file in Numbers, I received a pop-up alert warning me that sparklines are not supported in Numbers and would not be displayed.

That was really just the beginning of the issues with Numbers, though. In addition to removing the sparklines, Numbers also took out all the vibrant colors that highlight specific cells or make it easier to differentiate one line of data from the next, leaving the whole spreadsheet monochrome. There were also some annoying formatting issues that result in images overlapping text.

By contrast, the "Northwind" file retained all its formatting and features in Excel for iPad.

Verdict : If you need to create, edit, or even just view an Excel spreadsheet on an iPad, Excel for iPad is the easy winner. There are simply too many issues with formatting and file fidelity with Numbers, and Microsoft has done a superb job at creating a touch-friendly Excel experience.


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