Microsoft’s recent foray into Apple territory with the simultaneous release of Word, Excel and PowerPoint for iPad set the stage for an inevitable showdown with iWork, the de facto iOS productivity suite.
Some have argued that Microsoft’s arrival is too late to pull off a significant victory or win any converts. But there are others who say its superior range of functionality could serve to shove iWork aside into second-fiddle category.
We decided to let the two platforms — Office and iWork — battle it out in a three round, side-by-side comparison slugfest. Here’s the blow-by-blow.
Round One: Pages versus Word
In the style category, Pages is like the Apollo Creed to Word’s Rocky Balboa. Even before the opening bell has rung, Pages’ flashy selection of pre-existing templates for everything from reports to resumes to posters delivers one of the first “wow” factors of the faceoff. Compared to Word’s paltry template selection (Word has 14, Pages 60), there appears to be no contest in the looks department.
It’s only when you dig deeper and actually get into the creation of documents that the functional superiority of Word makes itself known. Both programs are perfectly capable of doing the same thing ? it’s just that Word makes it easier by offering a wide variety of options right in the command ribbon.
Pages, on the other hand, suffers from some unlikely and counterintuitive commands. For example, in Word the Undo and Redo buttons are visible at all times, appearing as two curved arrows that sit permanently in the ribbon. In Pages, only the Undo function is visible. To perform Redo, the user has to long-tap Undo until the option to select between the two appears. This extra step may not be enough to cause the average user to split and head for Microsoft land, but it is indicative of Office holding a slight advantage over Pages in the all-critical simplicity category.
Lack of variety in font type is another area where Pages suffers in comparison. Word comes with a far more ample supply of typefaces in its virtual toolbox, and accessing those fonts is a lot simpler. In Pages, the user is required to tap a toolbar paintbrush icon to access style, list, and layout options. In Word, fonts and font sizes — as well as text color options, highlighting, document alignment, line spacing, bullets and numbering — are all plainly visible in the top ribbon and can be adjusted with a single tap.
Yet another limitation of Pages is the lack of support for rotating images to odd angles, which Word supports ably. The selection of shape sizes is also far more varied in Word than in Pages, and although Pages enables the use of some pre-defined 3D images, their selection is limited.
Round one ends with a win for Word. Plenty of traded shots, no knockdowns, but a higher percentage of hits landed by Microsoft.
Round Two: Numbers versus Excel
Apple claims Numbers is “the most innovative spreadsheet app ever designed for a mobile device,” and that’s quite the bold statement, but it actually manages to hold up well when compared against the stripped down version of Excel for iPad. Although Numbers comes with a longer list of pre-existing templates than Excel, here the ratio isn’t quite as skewed as the previous comparison (Numbers offers 31 templates, Excel offers 16).
The Excel and Numbers user interfaces are laid out in similar fashion to their previously-mentioned sister programs, Word and Pages. Excel’s toolbar ribbon offers simpler, more straightforward access to a variety of functions than that of Numbers, which keeps its primary commands buried (albeit conveniently) behind three key icons: the paintbrush, the plus symbol, and the wrench.
Both Excel and Numbers contain workable drop-down keyboards with all the necessary command keys available. Excel takes this a step further, though, by introducing a secondary keyboard that can be accessed by tapping an option labeled “123.” This keyboard is strictly for keying in numbers and symbols when creating formulas. Compared side by side, the Numbers and Excel keyboards have their own unique cosmetic strengths and weaknesses, but nothing that would necessarily render one superior to the other.
Probably the greatest edge for Numbers in this competition is the fact that it leans more favorably toward ease of use in the creation of spreadsheets. Owing to its higher number of pre-formatted templates, it offers users (especially non-advanced users) a more straightforward approach to the creation of reports and spreadsheets — something that Excel, by nature, has always struggled with. In practical application, Excel can be downright difficult to master. This isn’t as much the case with Numbers, which has a more user-friendly vibe.
That said, Numbers isn’t for everyone, and the likelihood of someone choosing one over the other is greatly dependent on both familiarity factor and established level of proficiency. Since there are certain things that Excel for iPad can do that Numbers can’t, users who open Excel spreadsheets in Numbers may occasionally encounter incompatibilities (like formatting issues, or the inability for Numbers to render sparklines).
Still, comparing each with the average user in mind, Apple’s Numbers edges out Microsoft Excel to take the round.
Round Three: Keynote versus PowerPoint
In terms of pure presentation and sleekness of appearance, iWork enters the final round in stunning style with Keynote — quite possibly its strongest offering yet. Nothing like saving the best for last.
Just a glance at the (again) far greater number of template themes in Keynote doesn’t just reveal more options, but they’re also far more impressive and overall dynamic in appearance. In comparison, PowerPoint’s templates look dull and boring, and appear to require a lot more work and creativity to pull something impressive off.
Commands for either are housed — you guessed it — in the aforementioned ribbon toolbar (for PowerPoint) and behind the paintbrush/plus symbol/toolbar trifecta for Keynote. Anyone who’s already got the hang of how commands are accessed on either platform should have no difficulty finding their way around either one.
Keynote lands a few solid punches by way of its impressive portfolio of transition effects, but PowerPoint is no slouch in that area either, and in this respect both contenders find themselves in a dead heat.
It’s not until the final 30-second stretch that PowerPoint really lets it all hang out and edges Keynote out. Once the presentations have been created and the moment of truth arrives, PowerPoint for iPad reaches into its little mobile bag of tricks and pulls out some real dazzlers, like the customizable laser pointer/pen tool that a user can employ to circle, underline, or otherwise highlight specific areas of the screen as the presentation is running. This added ability adds another dimension to PowerPoint for iPad — not only making it the obvious program of choice for the viewing, editing, and creation of presentations, but also as an optimal platform for displaying those presentations.
Round three, almost a stalemate from the word go, ends with PowerPoint gaining a small advantage to take the win.
To the Scorecards
On paper and in actual comparison, it’s Office that barely edges out iWork and snatches the unanimous win. Not exactly a lopsided victory, but enough to crown it winner of this particular showdown.
But Who Really Wins?
There’s one factor we haven’t discussed yet that could be the deciding point in the entire Office vs. iWork showdown: user familiarity. New iPad converts with a long history of working with Microsoft Office (many to the point of having become bona fide experts) will no doubt have just cause to resist transitioning to iWork. On the flipside of that argument, devout iPad users who have learned to live without Office (or may never have had cause to use it in the first place) will not be convinced to suddenly stop using iWork in favor of Office just because it’s there.
Add in the yearly Office 365 subscription cost required to make use of its suites, and you’ve got what’s called a deal killer. iWork is free to anyone who has bought an iPad since last fall, while Office 365 is $7 a month for individuals, or $70 a year.
Point-by-point, Microsoft Office for iPad edges out iWork with respect to providing a wider range of functionality and a greater level of compatibility with existing Office-dependent infrastructures. But where cost is concerned, iWork’s zero-budget requirement comes from behind to render this showdown a draw.