Image: smallbiztrends.com

Image: smallbiztrends.com

The iPad edition of Microsoft Office has been a long-time coming. This was, it now seems clear, no accident: Microsoft wanted to attempt to boost sales of its ill-fated Surface tablet by pointing to the lack of Office software on the iPad.

Now that the company has accepted the inevitable, that most people would rather have Office on their iPad than buy a Surface, the question is: was it worth the wait … ? 

TechCrunch says that the apps are surprisingly polished, but the subscription pricing model is unfortunate.

Everything from button and menu item touch points, to the icons, to the size and design of the cursor when editing documents seems carefully and thoughtfully created [...]

Office for iPad on both the new iPad Air and iPad mini with Retina Display runs like a dream, without any noticeable lag or hangups [...]

My main complaint with Office on the iPad is no easy access to an AirPlay button for beaming it to a Wi-Fi connected screen. You can do it via the iPad’s native AirPlay menu, but it’s not nearly as convenient as it could be [...]

What Microsoft has managed here is nothing short of transforming working with Office files on iPads from a necessary evil to a pleasant experience, and that’s no small feat. It’s unfortunate that they’ve opted to go with the recurring subscription, instead of a flat one-time fee to unlock full editing and document creation.

PCpro decided the apps weren’t powerful enough to justify the cost, and recommended sticking with Apple’s apps.

Office for iPad marks an impressive iOS debut for Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Although some compromises are evident, we’re impressed at the apps’ ability to import and display desktop Office documents without ruining the formatting, and to edit those documents non-destructively. It’s a big step up from the workarounds we’ve previously had to put up with.

The big disappointment is that the apps aren’t available standalone, as other iOS-based office suites are. For those who already pay for Office 365, downloading and installing Office for iPad is a no-brainer, but ultimately the suite isn’t powerful enough to justify stumping up for a subscription on its own.

ArsTechnica said only those forced to use Microsoft Office would use it, for others it’s too little too late.

Most people are going to have one of two reactions to Office for iPad. Some people need Microsoft Office specifically—maybe their publishers only accept .doc files, or maybe they spend lots of time in big group-edited Excel spreadsheets, or maybe they have lots of Word and PowerPoint files that need to look exactly the same no matter what device they’re being viewed on. This describes a huge chunk of the businesses that are tied to Microsoft because of Windows and Active Directory, which find it easier and cheaper to follow along with Microsoft’s vision than it is to seriously explore alternatives. Those people are going to love Office for iPad, as well they should.

Others, like my colleague Sam Machkovech, don’t need a specific tool so much as they need something that does what it needs to and stays out of the way. At the height of Microsoft’s power in the desktop PC era, that tool may well have been Office. Now, those people with no particular allegiance to Microsoft have moved on, whether that’s to Google Drive or Pages or one of the many lightweight note-taking applications that populate the App Store.

Microsoft Office for iPad is a great suite of applications that suffers from few Version-One-Point-Oh deficiencies, printing support aside. But by coming to market so late, Microsoft has missed the chance to appeal to people outside its (admittedly large) core audience.

TIME holds a similar view, saying that it offers plenty of features, though printing is a bizarre omission, but that the suite is geared to those who use Office for everything.

Just about everything that’s good about Office for the iPad — the familiarity of its interface, the support for collaborative editing, the speed with which you can get files in and out of Office on various devices, with their formatting intact – has one overarching thing in common: It’s all about Office for the iPad being part of the greater Office ecosystem, not an island unto itself. The more editions of Office you use, and the more people you work with who also use Office, the more you’ll like the iPad version [...]

Paying that kind of money solely to get access to Office on the iPad would be excessive; spending it for Office on all the devices in your household is not.

CNET said that Microsoft got the feature-set right for the device, again viewing it as aimed at those already embedded in the Microsoft Office world.

Rather than just a place to view documents and make small edits, Office for iPad actually lets you get real work done on your tablet. That’s a big, and welcome, improvement from Office Mobile for iPhone. While it’s still not as powerful as the desktop version (obviously), it sits right where it should be, which is comfortably between Office on a computer and a smartphone.

What I’m now realizing is with the iPad app, the limited Office Mobile for iPhone makes a lot more sense. Here’s why: Microsoft reasonably assumes that you’ll start your work on your desktop, then gives you the tools to make substantial tweaks on your iPad with many of the most used features. Then, with Office Mobile for iPhone you can make last-minute edits and fix typos while on your way to the big meeting. Without this piece of the puzzle, the gap between the desktop and smartphone versions was too big. But with the iPad version, it starts to feel like the modern Microsoft Office is a set of tools that truly works together.

With the last piece of the puzzle, Microsoft appears to have finally met the challenge posed by iWork and Google Docs. Both of those competing solutions have their advantages (for one, Google Docs doesn’t require a subscription), but they bring disadvantages as well (such as fewer easily accessible templates).

CITEworld was impressed by Word, unimpressed by PowerPoint and describes the pricing as less than ideal.

The one thing that’s clear about Office for iPad is that Microsoft really focused on thinking out the best ways to deliver an experience that is both quintessentially Office and adheres to the best touch-first experiences possible on an iPad.

Word is clearly the standout star of the suite and the most well executed. Excel is also well executed but not as powerful as it is on a PC or Mac. PowerPoint is simply not up to par with either the other Office apps or its primary competition.

Overall, however, I was much more impressed than I expected. There is room for improvement and Office isn’t going to be the ideal option for everyone, particularly since it requires an Office 365 subscription while Apple’s iWork comes free with new devices (and each app only costs $9.99 for existing devices). That said, for business users and others with an existing Office 365 subscription, it is a welcome option.

Technet says the iPad edition offers only 10-15 percent of the features of the desktop, but that these cover the things you need most.

My overall impression is that the Office iPad apps are a solid effort. Defiantly much better than the editions released for the Windows / iOS / Android Phones. [...]

The feature set is comparable to the Office Web Apps. Because the Office Web Apps have more real estate to work with, the Fluent UI is more graphic, but fundamentally the same features are found in the same locations. The biggest exceptions are in PowerPoint where the Office Web Apps have access to design templates and animations which the Office iPad App doesn’t appear to support yet. But in the bigger picture the PC and Mac editions are way more capable. I would classify the Office iPad Apps has 10-15% of the capabilities of the PC / Mac editions. But the features included are the features used 80% of the time.

As for user reviews on iTunes? The biggest complaint by far is the pricing, followed by lack of Dropbox support. It’s no surprise that Microsoft is pushing its one OneDrive cloud storage service, but Dropbox is integral to the way that many us use our iPads, so the omission is a pretty big deal.

Other complaints were the lack of support for printing, no ability to save documents to PDF and sluggishness at opening large files.

The bottom-line, then, appears to be that if you’re a big Office user already, the iPad edition probably makes sense. If you’re not, it’s simply not worth the cost of the annual subscription. Personally, Pages and Numbers give me all the features I need on my iPad. If I do need Office on the move, I’ll pick up my MacBook Air rather than fork out $99 (or even $67) a year for Word, Excel and PowerPoint for iPad.

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44 Responses to “Review roundup: Is Office for iPad worth ninety-nine bucks a year?”

  1. smigit says:

    Perhaps they need a ‘mobile’ subscription tier at 20 – 50% off the current price. It might encourage some new subscribers. Should they then wish to upgrade a desktop copy as well, the price gap to do so won’t be so daunting if they already have a current subscription. I think $99 is ok but not great for the desktop clients and that the inclusion of an iPad version has made that deal better, but at the same time I wouldn’t pay $99 for the iPad version alone.

  2. Joel Henson says:

    When Apple is offering their suite of applications for free, is there a right price for people to consider Office?

  3. people seem to forget that you can access word, excel and powerpoint on office.com online from safari on the ipad.. when I really need to work with office on the go I just use safari – and that’s free.
    overall, I’m quite fine with Pages and exporting to word if my client uses that..

  4. I think they should allow local editing and storage of documents on iOS for free. it would make the suite actually useful as a viewer of Office documents, (currently it is not), and after a few dozen documents built up in a users mobile device, they would be much more inclined to then purchase the suite. Right now the process of even viewing a few documents on the iPad is frustrating and basically turns the customer off. Why produce a product that makes people angry and frustrated?

  5. Drew Hall says:

    What bothers me the most, is that Microsoft hasn’t taken into consideration those of us that have already gone out and shelled out a good deal of money for Office I for one, have already bought an Office disc with 5 licenses. To this point, I have only used two of those licenses for the two computers in my home. It would be great if Microsoft would allow me to use one of those remaining three licenses for my iPad. At this point I’m not interested in paying an additional $90 for Office for iPad.

  6. bboysupaman says:

    I just can’t imagine a world where I would pay $99 per year for a suite of applications that I could have BOUGHT (meaning FULL ownership) for just over $100 before this ridiculous “Office 365″ crap. Most schools have discounts to make it even cheaper! And with the large gap in between upgrades (especially for Mac users, 3 – 4 year between each upgrade), I would have to pay nearly 4 times the amount for the student edition (over 4 years) or twice the amount for the full version with Outlook!

    It would be ridiculous for any average consumer to purchase Office 365 at ALL, much less just to get their hands on the iPad version. iWork or Google Docs are just fine for 99% of consumers. Hopefully they will catch up to Office for the business world within the next few years so that everyone can drop Office and get away from that ludicrous subscription model.

  7. I personally think they have come to the party too late, again! There are plenty of apps, free, web based and cheaper that can do pretty much everything the mobile office apps can.

  8. kpom1 says:

    Microsoft will be promoting Office 365 heavily in the future. Even the Surface Pro does not come with Office built in (only the Windows RT Surface does). For such users, $67-$100 makes a lot of sense. It gives access to Office on 5 Windows PCs or Macs, and 5 tablets. But ZDNet pointed out another weakness in the model. The current license sold through in-app or at office.com is a home license that can’t technically be used for commercial purposes. That could be an issue for people at large organizations whose IT departments strictly enforce compliance policies (and many do, because the legal ramifications of noncompliance can be significant). Not everyone has access to Office 365 Enterprise logins, and a big draw of BYOD from the employer perspective is that it shifts part of the cost back to the employee. Given that, Microsoft would do well to modify their licensing to make it explicit that it’s OK to use Office apps on the iPad for work with their Home licenses provided that they have a valid business license on a work PC, Mac, or other device.

    As for the apps themselves, they are decent. I was lucky enough to get a complimentary Home subscription last Friday as part of Microsoft’s launch promotion, and decided to buy one of the $67 cards, so it works out to just under $34/year for me for the first 2 years, while also giving me access to Office 2014 when it comes out for the Mac (I already have a perpetual Office 2011 license).

  9. If you can’t afford $99 then you shouldn’t get it…

  10. dksmidtx says:

    Well, let’s see what this adds up to – there are over 1,000,000,000 Microsoft Office users in the world, and if only 1% were to add it to their iPads – hmmmmm – that sure is a lot of zeros. Seriously, when reviewers come to the idiotic conclusion that “only MS Office users need apply” that really doesn’t shrink the pool of applicants, now does it? I don’t know many people who like the idea of subscription software (could be worse, this could be Adobe charging per month fees at Microsoft’s annual price), but how can you sneer at five LEGAL licenses of the desktop versions (any flavor) and five LEGAL licenses for tablets for $99 per year. That’s less than one mocha frappe lappa chappa crappa designer coffee at your favorite hangout per week.

    • Exactly. I’m not going to pay for it, but then again, I’m not an Office user. This is clearly something Microsoft should have done three years ago. Though, on the flip side, they have had three years to polish it, maybe it was a good thing after all.

      • re: ” … on the flip side, they have had three years to polish it, maybe it was a good thing after all.”

        I am surprised this factor isn’t getting more coverage. As far as I can recall this might be the first time Microsoft has shipped a 1.0 product that doesn’t have serious and significant flaws, bugs and glitches. Probably this is because Apple actually did all the work in the background with the excellent APIs or iOS to begin with and because Office for iPad is almost a one-to-one copy of iWork, but still … those bozos finally wrote some good software.

  11. I pay £79 a year for my office 365 subscription and you get Office Installs on up to 5 PCs/Macs as well as the iPads etc. So you are not paying just for office for the iPad but also for any other PC/Laptop you may own as well and it enables you to have all the updates free of charge.. etc

    • pecospeet says:

      True. Unless you already own a standalone version of Office in which case the Office 365 cost really only covers your iPad.

  12. No, it’s not worth it. Office for Windows has been updated, but the Mac version is still 2011. And I’m including these in on the list because you do get copies of them included with your subscription. Why in the world would I pay modern cash for 3 year-old software?

    Yes, there are a few things that Word can do that Pages doesn’t, though off hand the only thing that comes to mind really is 3D text and whatnot. Though you only need a 3rd party piece of software to create it, and said software is better than Word could ever do. But most importantly are the security risks associated with Microsoft’s software. There are just too many problems with security breaches because of them.

    There are plenty of alternatives out there still such as LibreOffice and Open Office that can work just as well in cases where you need to have documents that are MS Office compatible, assuming that you don’t want to start with iWork and then export accordingly.

    Further, compare this subscription plan Microsoft has to what Adobe is doing with Create Suite. It’s a cash cow for Adobe, because now you can finally have legitimate copies of the software such as Photoshop that you never did before at a low price. Plus Adobe finally gets a cash-flow from all of those people who previously never paid. The most logical part however is the price. Adobe CS costs hundreds of dollars as everyone knows. Give the monthly subscription rates coupled with Adobe’s release time tables for CS, it’s a sensible Return On Investment for the subscriber who either pays the exact same price for the software via subscription that they would have for a one-time purchase, if not less depending upon when the subscription was started in relation to the released of that generation of software. With Microsoft’s pricing scheme you end up overpaying by hundreds of dollars over the course of years between software releases. Ie. If Office for Mac sells @ $200 for 5 licenses (the approximate former price), you would have paid by this time $360+ instead for the monthly subscription (remember, $99 is for an upfront yearly subscription, otherwise it’s $9.99 month to month). The only way that Microsoft can justify this is by pork barreling Outlook as a business license-only option that suddenly gets included, but it’s not that most sought-after let alone used piece of software out there. Not when Outlook suddenly runs on OS X & iOS Mail and does as good of a job, or even better when you consider the lack of security risks involved.

    Skype is already available as a separate App in both OS X & iOS, people already either use iCloud or Google drive (and especially Google Docs) so Sky Drive has an uphill battle that will rely upon enterprise subscriptions to get any traction whatsoever…

    It’s just a bad deal all around. And if subscriptions and tiers are the shape of things to come with Microsoft, well, let’s just say I look forward to the bankruptcy liquidation in a few years when their patents and licenses go up for auction.

    • bboysupaman says:

      EXACTLY! I am a full time web developer (for a marketing firm and also have my own private business). For the full Adobe CSS6 Design and Web (I use every program in the collection)… It’s $1,899! I now pay $50 per month! Their typical release cycle was every 2 years. So, $50/month over 2 years saves me over $600! Even if they don’t update for 3 years… I still break even! Not to mention… They throw in SO MANY extras and I have access to other Applications that I wouldn’t even consider experimenting with if I had to purchase them separately. But this Office 365… The upgrade cycles don’t justify a subscription model. Customer pays MORE for LESS.

  13. dksmidtx says:

    @Mr. Rooney – there is one thing Word (and Excel) can do that NONE of your mentioned alternatives, including the impressive Pages program – not screw up your document formatting like round tripping between Word and WordPerfect. I have never seen any document, other than those with a few simple standard paragraphs and uniform pagination, that survives the conversion into and back out of Pages, Docs to Go, QuickOffice, Open Office, you name it. And if you do collaborative work with your own group, or sharing documents with third parties, heaven help you tracking changes. Document file fidelity alone justifies the cost.

    • Well, that’s mostly true. Open Office has been great. But the Document Formatting issue is becoming worse and worse as time goes on. Not just as user (be it standalone or collaboration), but for Microsoft. It’s like NTFS. It’s the standard that Windows uses, but it’s also proprietary. Like oh so many things Microsoft.

      With the rise of globalization where people don’t simply collaborate across an office but collaborate across the globe, proprietary is not a good thing. And to put it bluntly, people are just tired of Microsoft’s BS in this regard. There will come a day, such as what has already happened where I work with a mixed computer/mobile environment, that staff gets tired of the constant compatibility issues and the organization gets tired of the license costs. Google Docs works on any OS, had killed off the compatibility issues, and just keeps everyone happy. You’re right that other apps always have problems with Word/Excel formatting, and that is quickly becoming less of a plus and more of a minus when it comes to keeping Office as a solution…

      Office services from email to document collaboration is just so much easier with Gmail and Google Docs. Pages is nice, though I have absolutely always maintained that it’s more for a novice to intermediate user. The issues too that I’ve seen with formatting seem to be more with legacy documents that are themselves very old, but just keep getting updated over the years rather than created fresh from scratch. Modern Microsoft Office documents do not seem to have this issue quite as often. But still, this does not bode well for Microsoft. As IT people retire and fresh blood comes into power, organizations are looking for new solutions to things. Especially those where IT doesn’t have to constantly battle with Microsoft Activations, and new Ghost or JAMF images for deployment, and most of all the constant headache with Microsoft’s never ending security issues.

      No, I don’t think that Pages & iWork let alone the open source productivity software suites out there are yet in a position dethrone Microsoft’s Office. But collectively it will eventually happen. Especially once Google Docs introduces new features and becomes more widely adopted by various organizations. Which absolutely will happen on all counts.

      When it comes to productivity software, Office is absolutely the “Gold Standard”. But that’s right now and not down the road.

    • There is a longer, better reply above, but the short answer to the screwing up of the documents you are referring to is that it’s basically Microsoft’s fault, not Apple’s or anyone else’s.

      Office document formats are an atrocious mess of kludges and proprietary garbage, and are a result of shortsightedness, stupidity, and paranoia on Microsofts part. The documents describing these formats for programmers are literally as thick as several phone books stacked together, and even then, the experts say they fail to completely describe what’s going on. Despite the fact that Microsoft “opened” the formats a few years ago, there are many things about them that are still unknown.

      To imply that other players in the market are failing, simply because they have trouble reading f-ed up old Office documents is to look at things precisely backwards.

  14. telecastle says:

    I want to know if it works with WebEx for iOS. Can I share MS Office for iPad documents from MS Office for iPad by choosing WebEx in the “Open In” dialog?

    Trying to do this from iWork for iPad apps requires the documents to be converted to the Word, Excel, or PowerPoint format. Such a conversion makes the document lose its formatting. Conversion to PDF also works when sharing via WebEx, but Excel spreadsheets open in iWorks and then converted to PDF lose all the formatting and are unreadable. Excel spreadsheets open in Numbers for IOS and then converted to the Excel format are barely readable when shared via WebEx.

    If someone has tried sharing Word or Excel documents from MS Office for iPad via WebEx for iOS, please post your experiences.

    Thanks.

  15. Since enterprise already have Office 365 accounts, What MS has done is make the iPad the goto tablet for enterprise over all competitive devices — including their own Surface tablets … If you need to use a tablet and you need to use Office, it’s a no-cost, no-brainer to use an iPad running these apps.

  16. There is no reason for an app to have an annual fee. This subscription model of $90 a year is outrageous! I don’t care how well the app is designed or works it is not worth that money. I haven’t used it up to now and I have no need for it at this cost. If Microsoft changes the model to just $90 ONCE, I might consider it. There are too many other quality apps out there that do not rape the consumer.

  17. The title of this article should be “Is Office Worth ninety-nine bucks per year?” In my opinion, it is totally worth it considering you can install the Office suite on multiple PCs and tablets, receive future upgrades at no additional cost, and easily share documents between computers using whatever cloud storage you want.

    Every company I’ve worked for/with has had Microsoft Office installed on their enterprise systems, and for the average person work inevitably spills over into the home. I tried using Open Office and other programs available for free on my home computers, but none of it offered me a seamless experience. I wanted to be able to do stuff at home just like I did at work, without any compromises.

    I bought a copy of Office 2007 Professional when it came out for around $299, and I was using it at home until last year. I decided to upgrade because my company uses Office 2010 at work, and it seemed like Office 2007 was getting long in the tooth. Since I have multiple PCs and tablets at home, it seemed like a no brainer to subscribe to Office 365. Now all of my computers have the latest version of Office installed, and they will continue to have the latest version as long as I subscribe. Having the ability to install Office on the iPad is just an added bonus. Only time will tell if I actually use the iPad for work. So far I haven’t.

    The bottom line is I think both Apple and Microsoft make good products. Why not pay them for those products, so they can continue to create jobs for people and make more?

  18. b9bot says:

    Subscription based software is to expensive period. I won’t pay that for Office and I won’t pay that for any Adobe products either. They don’t let you print from Office? Really? Now is that worth $99 a year for something that basic that isn’t even available? I really think Microsoft has lost it completely! iWork can print and its free! Oh and you can save your documents as a .doc with iWork and that goes for Numbers as an excel document and Keynote as a Powerpoint document. So again for free. I don’t see the logic to pay here at all.

    • For JUST the iPad apps, it’s not worth it, but if you use Office on Windows and the Mac it’s a much more attractive deal. You can install it on up to 5 PC’s/Macs (5 in total of course), you get 20GB extra storage in OneDrive and some Skype credit, which if you use it a lot is pretty handy. It’s aimed more at business and education than the home user really, and in those cases it’s a reasonable price.

  19. Yeah I don’t understand why this auther is writing that it’s $99 for only the iPad. Now everybody is complaining. The iPad is just an extra features/device. You get it for 5 PC/Mac, and 5 tablets, and 30 GB OneDrive per person (max 5), and Skype minutes to phones, and one Office you can STREAM on any PC that doesnt have Office, nothing is installed, when you leave that computer, not a sign you’ve been there. So the argument – “Ill just use it on my Mac” is veeery misleading. Cuz if you have Office 365 you have it everywhere, even on a PC (yes not Mac) that doesnt have Office.

    • Ben Lovejoy says:

      Which is excellent value if you want it for multiple devices. I suspect most consumers, however, will have a Home & Student edition bought outright for $99 some years ago, so for them the question is: is $99/year worth it to get it on the iPad too?

  20. I’d say ‘no’ since I’ve had an iPad since the day they came out and not once have I not been able to do what I needed to do because of a lack of Office. I’d say they’re a little late to the party. We’ve survived without it for this long haven’t we?

  21. I got an Office 365 subscription for free through my college, so it’s great. Otherwise, I don’t think I would have paid for it.

  22. I’m not sure it is worth the $99/year, but here is a review I put together of PowerPoint for iPad: https://flowboard.com/s/bb2

  23. vkd108 says:

    “Personally, Pages and Numbers give me all the features I need”

    Ditto.

  24. $80 for four years with an *.edu email address is worth it. Anything else…no!

  25. Anthony Dodd says:

    So Apple —

    1. Offers their iWorks suite all freebie like to users.
    2. Offers terribly expensive Cloud storage, but that could/will change.
    3. Offers iTunes Match, a product PC users can buy for $25 a year to backup music and have ad free iTunes Radio

    Right? And so —

    4. — Apple could offer a ton of storage on iCloud for $25 a year to Mac and PC and Android users, offering —
    5. #1 for free within

    MEANING

    6. — one way to dance around formatting issues is to offer iWorks free with affordable storage to non-Apple customers.

  26. Ezhik says:

    You should’ve mentioned that that $99 also gets you Office on your Mac or PC.

  27. Don Wise says:

    There’s no love from MS for current subscription holders. I have 365 ProPlus subscription already, so why would I shell out $99 more per year for mobile ability on my iPad? Their price point is not encouraging me.

  28. You can’t save a document to PDF?! That’s madness. Even Pages does that and you have the ability to open that PDF in other apps.

    Seems like Word is popular only because of history and notoriety but certainly not from a feature perspective. No PDF creation, no “Open In…”, no printing, no thank you. I’ll stick with the iWork Suite.

  29. I can only think of one scenario in which this is cost effective: if you are a student, with a real NEED for Office, and you get the University subscription. But even then, unless you split the cost with a friend, its still an extortion.

    The aggressive move to make iWork free, despite its new shortcomings, effectively reduces the argument for an expensive Office.