Microsoft's Office for iPad wins praise from productivity software users, but is it right for you? We compare the free alternatives from Apple and Google.
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If you're a work-minded iPad user, Microsoft Office, Google Sheets, Google Docs, and Apple iWork are the most widely used productivity software options. But which one is the best fit for you?
More than a year before Microsoft released Office for iPad, many critics had already dismissed the apps, then still purely theoretical, as late to the party. Fast forward to today. Microsoft's iPad suite has earned better reviews than almost anyone expected, especially after the company's rudimentary Office Mobile app for smartphones. Users downloaded Office for iPad 12 million times in its first week, and more than 27 million in its first month and a half.
The numbers are impressive, but it's unclear how much they've helped Microsoft's bottom line. Office iPad apps are free, but to create and edit documents users need an Office 365 subscription. Are those downloads actually translating into paying customers? Microsoft hasn't said, partly because it offers a 30-day trial to new Office for iPad users, which muddies download-to-subscriber conversion rates.
Still, it's safe to say Office for iPad hasn't hurt Office 365's momentum. Office 365 Home Premium subscriptions totaled 3.5 million earlier this year but have since jumped to more than 4.4 million. Microsoft has not disclosed figures for either Office 365 Personal, perceived by many as its most iPad-centric plan, nor various student-oriented options -- but with Home Premium evidently rolling along since Office for iPad debuted, it's likely the others have seen a boost too.
Does all that mean Office is your best bet for iPad productivity? Not necessarily. It's important to remember why critics were skeptical of Office for iPad before it had even been announced. At the time, analysts pointed out that iPad users had spent several years becoming acquainted with Office alternatives -- and with the idea that they needn't pay for Office when free products could do the job. Given this context, it seemed Microsoft's window to capitalize on the iPad's success had largely closed.
These concerns no longer seem so urgent -- but for individual users, the logic is still valid. Apple's iWork suite is free with every new iOS device, and Google's productivity apps are free, period. Office deserves its praise -- but does it deserve your money? That depends.
Office is ubiquitous among PC users, which gives the iPad version certain advantages -- namely, a familiar UI that requires little retraining, and the assurance that document formatting will look the way it's supposed to. But if you don't need to collaborate with Office users, or if your collaborations involve simply formatted documents, you might find iWork or Google Drive more attractive.
There are other considerations. Do you spend more time creating presentations or working with spreadsheets? Is word processing your priority? Do you want to use templates to keep things simple? Do you want to use your iPad to edit and review content, or to create it?
If that sounds overwhelming, don't worry. We've broken down the options. Explore our slideshow to learn the details. If you already have a favorite, or want to share advice, please join the discussion in the comments field.
Michael Endler joined InformationWeek as an associate editor in 2012. He previously worked in talent representation in the entertainment industry, as a freelance copywriter and photojournalist, and as a teacher. Michael earned a BA in English from Stanford University in 2005 ... View Full Bio
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