Conventional wisdom says that the average user uses only 10 percent of a software product, however each user tends to use a different 10 percent. To accommodate many different types of users, software packages incorporate a zillion features that require insane amounts of memory. On the PC with hundreds of GB of storage this is acceptable, but can it carry over to mobile devices like the iPad?

Kicking the Word for iPad Tires

With this in mind, I was curious to see if Microsoft could include enough functionality in its latest iteration of Word for iPad to be a replacement for the desktop version. The real motivation was determining whether I could leave my laptop at home and get by with an iPad (and tactile keyboard) on business trips. Leaving my laptop behind would free up a few pounds for some additional trade show swag (that my wife eventually gives away anyhow). So for the last few weeks, I have been giving Word for iPad a whirl. Here’s what I learned:

  • Documents render faithfully to what you would expect to see on a PC, including tables and charts.
  • With a good keyboard (I use the Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover for iPad), the user experience is pretty good. Popular key shortcuts, like CMD-X for "cut" and CMD-V for "paste" work (note: use the CMD key instead of the CTRL key). It does takes a bit of practice getting use to poking the screen instead of using the mouse to move the cursor, but it’s easy to get the hang of this.
  • Basic text editing was pretty good, but I found that a number of key features are still missing from Word for iPad. The missing features that are part of the 10 percent that I absolutely need, include the following:
    • Styles -- the ability to apply styles was the biggest drawback. Without it, I was able to use Word as a text editor, but I later had to edit the document on a PC and retrofit the styles, which was very annoying and time consuming.
    • Thesaurus -- there was no access to the Word thesaurus. Also, spelling and grammar checking works a bit different than the desktop application, but it was easy to manipulate.
    • Line styles -- there is no way to define line styles in the iPad version. When I opened a document that I originally edited on the desktop version, I was unable to remove or edit the original line styles, which was highly annoying.
    • Hyperlinks -- while it is possible to add hyperlinks to text in Word for iPad, it is very klunky copying URLs from other applications. Specifically, you need to close Word, open a browser (or other app), copy the link, close the app, re-open Word and paste the link. While this is more of a limitation of iOS than Word, the inability to work on two apps at once limits the usefulness of Word (and any document editor for that matter) quite a bit. When you need to cut and paste between several apps to work on your document, this gets even more annoying.
  • To really work for any length of time, you need a good Internet connection since a document is periodically saved to the cloud -- beware of trying this if you are traveling through areas with spotty coverage.
  • Office for iPad applications are meant to work seamlessly with OneDrive, OneDrive for Business (and now DropBox). File sync with OneDrive generally worked okay, but I did have a few app crashes where the most recent changes got lost; each time a few minutes of work had to be re-keyed in. I assume that Microsoft is working these kinks out -- the beauty of the ‘iOS updates’ is that at some point a new version of the app will just appear, and it will just work.

Overall, I experienced a few small glitches, like when saving the file to OneDrive, I received several messages that said "New version of SkyDrive" is available. Looks like there are still a few bugs left in the system.

Still a Ways to Go

Bottom line -- while you can do basic editing with Word for iPad, it still lacks some basic features. On the other hand, it is the same editor that I already use on my laptop, so not having to learn something new is a huge advantage. I will continue to use it. But in the meantime, I will keep packing my laptop for business trips. I may bring home less swag, but at least I will be able to keep up with work on the road.