The Right Office Apps For the iPad at Work

Users and business managers alike are loving the iPad as a potential laptop replacement, for at least part of the time. And more and more companies are providing employees iPads or letting employees use their own. So, just as companies typically install a suite of desktop productivity apps (nearly always Microsoft Office), what should the iPad equivalent be?

The answer can't be Office, because Microsoft has no iPad-compatible suite. Microsoft's Office Web Apps cloud-based suite doesn't work on an iPad either. Google Docs is also not usable on an iPad.

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InfoWorld.com investigated the available programs and put together a recommended business apps suite that should be the standard install on corporate iPads. I was surprised to find that none of the iPad productivity suites is ideal, though one comes close. (I've added U.S. iTunes links for each app covered.)

Of course, beyond the productivity apps that nearly everyone uses, iPadders have further needs, so I've also put together a collection of additional business apps that you might make available to employees or point them to for more specialized work.

The office suite candidates are Apple's iWork suite -- Pages ($10), Numbers ($10), and Keynote ($10) -- plus Quickoffice's Quickoffice Mobile Connect Suite ($20, but its price changes frequently) and DavaViz's Documents to Go Premium ($17). Quickoffice has a word processor and spreadsheet editor; DocsToGo (as it's labeled on the iPad) has a word processor, a spreadsheet editor, and a tool to edit text and add notes to a presentation. All the programs read and write to the Microsoft Office file formats.

I first pick out the best individual productivity apps, then pull together a recommended suite that includes utilities that should be in your standard installation as well.

The best word processor for the iPad Choosing the word processor was the toughest call. Note that none of the options support revision tracking; if that's essential to your workflow, you're out of luck.

Pages. Apple's Pages is by far the most capable word processor for the iPad, with real layout controls such as the ability to designate page margins, set tabs, and add footers, headers, and images. It also has the most extensive text-formatting capabilities available, such as fonts, text size, lists, text color, line spacing, and paragraph alignment. It even spell-checks your document, highlighting potentially misspelled words; you can then have it suggest corrections by selecting the word and tapping Dictionary from the contextual menu. The search-and-replace feature even lets you constrain your actions to whole words or text with matching case, as you'd expect on the desktop. One note: If you open the Find capability from the Tools menu and don't see a field for replacement text, tap the Settings button (the gear icon) to change the mode to Find and Replace.

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You can create rich, stunning documents on the iPad with Pages -- not with all the bells and whistles available on a Mac or PC in Microsoft Word, but much more than in any other mobile word processor. It's also easy to use. But Pages has two major flaws that could kill it as an option for many companies and a third flaw you should know of in order to avoid it.

The first flaw is that it doesn't retain style sheets in the documents it saves. That's significant damage to the original file and will cause major issues if the document goes through any publishing workflow, such as for eventual HTML conversion or use in Adobe InDesign. The styles' text formatting is retained, but as local formatting only. Pages does have a styles capability that applies predefined formatting to text, but it does not apply a style sheet that is editable by Pages or Word; the Pages "styles" are just local formatting groups.

The second flaw is not so fatal: It doesn't work with cloud storage services such as Google Docs, Dropbox, and Box.net. If you want to share files with others, your options are limited to email, syncing to your computer via iTunes and sharing from there, or Apple's MobileMe service.

The third flaw is a design foible: Any changes you make to a document are saved immediately in the original. You can't save the changed file later and retain the original file as is. The work-around is to make a duplicate of the file within Pages before you open it.

Next page: More word processors, plus spreadsheets, PDF tools, and more

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