When out of the office, we want our computing devices small and light — which explains the phenomenal number of business travelers taking an iPad along for the ride. There’s just one problem: there’s still no Microsoft Office for the iPad.
There are solutions to this not-inconsequential problem, but they’re far from perfect. Here are two of the best.
iOS office suites: Accepting just good enough
If you consider yourself a Word, Excel, or PowerPoint power user — the sort of person who digs down deep into an application to find all the useful features that most people never try — you’re going to be disappointed with any iPad (or iPhone) iOS-based alternative. You’ll soon hit the bedrock of limitations.
For instance, you’ll find nothing approaching the automating power of Office’s Visual Basics for Applications. Your document-formatting options will be significantly curtailed. And if you’re addicted to Word’s brilliant outline view (as I am), you’re going to feel lost without it.
Still, with the right apps, you can leave the heavy laptop at home and still get a lot of work done on the iPad. You’ll be able to create new files and edit existing ones, sync them with your Windows computer, and send them to friends and co-workers.
This is strictly iPad territory (or territory for other tablets that will eventually challenge the iPad for business use). The small screen of an iPhone or an iPod Touch makes no sense for this type of work. What’s more, you’ll want to invest in a Bluetooth keyboard. Typing on the screen is okay for minor edits and quick e-mails but doesn’t cut it when you’re writing a report or building a presentation.
Just working with files can be a challenge in iOS devices. As I detailed in the June 6 Top Story, “How to transfer files from Windows to the iPad,” the iOS operating system doesn’t really do file management: every app must work that out on its own. So in addition to deciding whether an iOS app is sufficiently easy to use and has the features you need, you also have to make sure it can import and export your business documents.