Microsoft Word for iPad Gets Touch Word Processing (Mostly) Right

Through the decades, we've never known anything else but Microsoft Word for Windows and Mac. In late March, however, Microsoft brought its monolithic word processing software to the iPad, a totally new paradigm from its PC legacy. Right away we see the familiar workings of Word, including cross-platform file compatibility. But it's also developed with many of the key technologies and User Interface concepts so well appreciated on the iPad. It's a sight to behold.


There is something very important to know about this suite of apps developed for the iPad. Microsoft claims that the software was designed from the ground up to be office, but at the same time, to be designed for the iPadThat is not just an empty marketing claim.

In this reviewer's opinion, that's exactly what Microsoft achieved. In reality, the company had little choice because it had to comply with all the iOS developer rules and implement the software within the iOS frameworks.

Against that, Microsoft then had to instantiate enough of Word's functionality so that imported files from a PC or Mac can maintain file compatibility and document change tracking can be achieved cross-platform. In my mind, is a distinct achievement, and it's so important for collaborative work.

Review Philosophy

This will be an unconventional review of just the Word app because of all the above. Word is a complex product, so the real question is, how well did Microsoft implement Word on an iPad? (And, as an aside, why iPad first and not Android? Daniel Eran Dilger explains.) Plus, there are some basics to know when it comes to get up and running. These are important, so I'll try to address the key considerations.

Much of this discussion also applies to the other apps in the suite: Excel and PowerPoint.

A section of one of my test documents.

Next:  Part 2


Part 2

1. Full vs. Limited Version

The first thing to know is that Word is a free download from the Apple App Store. This version can open and view existing documents but not edit documents.

Features with and without a subscription.

With an Office 365 Home Premium subscription (US$99/yr or $9.99/mo), new documents can be created and all documents can be edited. I view that as a very sensible compromise in a world where customers have come to expect low cost apps in the App Store, but serious users are also willing to pay serious money.

If the subscription, according to Microsoft "you will still be able to view Office documents with Office for iPad. You will no longer be able to create and edit documents until you renew your subscription. You can reactivate Office for iPad by renewing your subscription, tapping Activate in the app, and signing in with a valid Microsoft account. Your data is only removed from the iPad when you uninstall Office, so you can still see your documents on the iPad after your subscription expires. Your Office content will remain accessible via OneDrive."

Also, if the subscriptuin lapses, Microosft notes: "You can still access your documents via OneDrive and access them from any PC or Mac. Documents that were saved on the iPad can be copied to a Mac or PC using iTunes." And editing can continue there.

If you have an Office 365 subscription, just log in at first launch and access all the features. If not, the app defaults to view only mode. [UPDATE: On April 15, Microsoft announced the renaming of Office 365 Home Premium to Office 365 Home, added Office 365 Personal and added new pricing.]

2. File Compatibility and Formatting

I imported several rather complex Word documents from my Mac to the iPad Air, and they all looked terrific. The customary blemishes and irregularities that one might expect from a less than stellar import were just not there. By the way, one way to do that is the customary IOS email method: 1) Email the document to the iPad, 2) tap and hold the icon in the email and 3) Select Word as the target. Another is the standard iTunes file transfer method which works as expected.

Importing a .docx document to the iPad

I was impressed by the implementation because in the process of importing some rather complex documents, Word never crashed, and it rendered perfectly. That's pretty good for a version 1.0 — but truth be told, Microsoft had plenty of debug time to get this right.

A complex PR document with lots of different fonts, styles, URLs, bullet lists and image
placements came across perfectly.

Next: Part 3

Part 3

3. File Management

Even though iOS doesn't provide visibility into the file system on the iPad, that doesn't mean that the user must be subject to obliqueness when it comes to identifying, naming and deleting documents. It has always seemed to me that the opacity of the iOS file system has always led developers, at least on the apps I've used, to do a less than superb job when it comes to naming, seeing and managing lots of different named documents. Word has no such problems.

There is a very nice hierarchical system of popovers that handle the sharing, deleting or just removing from the Recents list.

File Manager is very good.

I tried to import a small Apple .mov file from the camera roll as well as my own movie created from the iPad's camera, but the Insert > Pictures function wouldn't recognize them. Looks like we're stuck with photos in version 1.0.

4. Sharing

Documents are shared via email or Microsoft's OneDrive. There is no Dropbox support. That's the one area where Microsoft let us down in this app. Dropbox support is just about de rigueur with this kind of iOS app, and just because Microsoft has a competing product, there's no reason to punish customers by coercing them into its own OneDrive. Different users need different services. This is one remnant of Microsoft's old-style thinking, and the rating was reduced a half point because of this.

Sharing options. Cloud is OneDrive, not iCloud.

One nice technical feature, however, is that if, say, you load a document from OneDrive before a flight, it remains cached and you can still edit it. When you have connectivity again, the edited document is synced to the OneDrive version.

Next: Part 4

Part 4

5. Editing

The ironic thing about this app is that it's so capable, it virtually invites and demands a Bluetooth keyboard to get the most out of it. Prior to the launch of this app, many expert iPad observers saw the Microsoft Surface tablet as, essentially, an oddball notebook computer, dependent on a keyboard for the Office environment. iPad owners had come to depend, in different ways, with lesser apps, on the virtual keyboard. In other words, the quintessential tablet—the iPad—should seldom need a physical keyboard.

The ribbon is excellent.

I think that, now, a lot of business-oriented iPad owners will be thinking about one of those Brydge or Logitech Bluetooth clamshell keyboards. That wouldn't happen if the implementation of Word on the iPad were ugly, buggy, or dysfunctional. But Microsoft did it right, and that means a keyboard is just a convenient iPad tool, devoid of any larger implications. Pulling this off gracefully, in my mind, is a case for high praise to Microsoft.

I especially liked the crisp and predictable handling of imported images. I never really cared for image manipulation in Word on the Mac. I surmise iOS APIs force things to be done The Right Way.

The conventional ribbon layout is familiar, but clean and balanced. The most common commands are in the Home tab and all commands are context sensitive. For example, with an imported photo, the "Picture" tab only appears when you tap-select the photo.

Microsoft notes that one can dictate using the built-in iOS speech recognition, but I have found the accuracy still too unreliable to be able to dictate a major portion of one of my articles.

The Find and Find and Replace operations are easy to use, intuitive and can be reversed with the undo icon—which has multiple levels of undo. (I asked Microsoft how deep it goes, and I'll update when I get the answer.[UPDATE: approximately 100 undo levels.]) Unfortunately, there is no way to create a new document template, although 15 nice ones are built in.  I don't view this as a major problem in the iPad environment. Also, Word macros are not supported.

Most assuredly, the iPad size constraints and the empowering frameworks have forced the developers to think rightly about how to implement Word in iOS. At this point, going deeper would be basically a feature by feature repetition, and that's not the theme of this review. However, I can affirm that all the features tested worked well.

6. Printing

In this version version, 1.0 (140227), there is no built-in facility to print, using whatever mechanism the user may prefer: AirPrint or, perhaps, Printopia. I asked Microsoft how soon a direct facility to print is coming, but the company doesn't have anything to share at this time. For now, one approach is to email the document that's been created or edited to a PC or Mac that can print the document. Another is to use the EuroSmartz Print n Share app that can print directly from OneDrive.

Given the modern thinking that today's tablet's display is, so to speak, already the "printed" page, I don't see this as a major problem. If Microsoft's philosophy was to focus on the essentials, deferring the nice-to-haves until after version 1.0 was released, then Microsoft chose well.

Next: Part 5

Part 5

7. Look and Feel

In the past, Steve Jobs accused Microsoft of not having good taste. That may apply to some areas, but it certainly does't apply to Word on the iPad. The first thing to notice is that the overall look and feel, the layout, the tabs, the selected fonts, the various shades of blue and gray, all make for a very pleasing look. A tasteful look. This is not just a powerful word processor; it's a handsome iOS app, better looking than many competitors. That's what comes from having the design talent of a major corporation at work behind the scenes and letting them bring their expertise to bear.

The design, layout, fonts and operation are tasteful.

The other thing that I noticed, starting with the feedback option and the app Settings (Settings > Word) is that the developers seem to think like iOS developers. Many shades of the Microsoft of old are gone, and the superb implementation on the iPad has brought forth a fresh and modern perspective about how to implement a word processor on an iPad. It's an great thing to witness. It makes one wonder if this app so outshone Word on the Surface that it was held back for just that reason.

OMG: Choice and disclosure.

Finally, the wording of the "Help us Improve" section is clear and affirming that Microsoft won't be prying, consistent with Microsoft's renewed, highly visible campaign to protect user privacy. Feedback is sent only via Wi-Fi (not cellular data), and you can opt out at any time.

8. Manual

Right now, there is no full, written manual. The closest thing to a manual today is a Microsoft for Office Product Guide for reviewers. (There is also a demo video.) Considering how long we've heard rumors about the existence of this product—that it was supposedly kept under wraps—there really isn't any excuse for not having a full PDF manual ready at launch. The rating was reduced a half point because of that.

As a partical offset to that there is built-in help in Document Icon > Help and Support.  It's fairly basic, but it's well done, especially the Touch Guide.

Built-in Help

Finale: The Write Stuff

Word for iPad 1.0 is notable because it looks good, feels good, produces identical documents to its Mac and PC counterparts, and was bug free in my testing. Most of all, it's an app that's in the spirit of the iPad (except for the lack of Dropbox support), and it's clearly written by developers who have mastered the iOS development process. With Dropobox support and a great, full-length PDF manual, the rating would have a whole point higher, that is 4.5/5. Subtracting a half point for each, however, left me with a final rating of 3.5/5, "Solid+."

Also, it's important to remember that this is Word. The goal is to generate, edit and view Word documents. Missing features in version 1.0, compared to other iOS apps, can be put in that perspective. Also, I am sure bugs will be found. And fixed. It wasn't my goal to find and report them all. There is a much larger issue at stake here, namely...

Microsoft has had its share of problems and detractors, but if this app is a sign of the new Microsoft under the leadership of Satya Nadella, (even though it was developed during Mr. Ballmer's time in office) then we have much to be thankful for. The app is well balanced which means that it has the essentials of Word but is a very good iPad app. Building a very good, balanced initial version of Word for the iPad that can impress this reviewer deserves kudos.

Product: Microsoft Word for iPad

Company: Microsoft

List Price: See explanation in review



Beautiful implementation on the iPad. File compatibility with PC and Mac counterparts resulting in identical looking documents. Very good file manager. iTunes file transfer. Great handling of imported images. Document change tracking. Supports emailing of documents and MS OneDrive. Offline, cached editing and later resync. Buit-in Help page and Touch Guide.


No direct print capability. Cannot import movie files. No support for Dropbox. No separate PDF manual. Macros not supported.