Office for iPad…a closer look

I’ve had more time to take a closer look at Office for iPad. I’ve also read several articles and reviews. The response is generally very positive. There are a few shortcomings that have been noted in the press, most notably the absence of a print feature. However, according to this PC World article, printing will be available soon.

What I have yet to read about or see in Office in iPad is support for the the Open In… feature for outgoing documents. The Open In… feature is supported to allow other applications to open an Office document in Word, Excel or PowerPoint but not the other way around. In my opinion, this is an important missing feature. Here’s why…

Office for iPad is essentially a collection of three (more or less) applications. Within each you are able to add a new “place” to retrieve documents from and save documents to places such as SharePoint libraries. The shortcoming of this approach is that it makes the workflow application centric, not task centric. When using SharePoint via the web users typically navigate to a document library where they have stored a number of different documents related to some task or project. These documents most likely include all three types of Office documents; Word, Excel and PowerPoint. The user then works through the things they need to do opening the documents as needed with the corresponding application opening accordingly. This is the approach Microsoft has advocated for years. Without the Open In… feature to move a document out of Office to another application the approach I’ve outlined above isn’t possible. 

It is possible to edit a document using Web Office apps when opened from Safari. It is also possible to open an Office document using any number of iOS apps that understand any of the three major types of Office documents. The one I am most familiar with is SharePlus by Infragistics. This app is essentially a SharePoint client and allows an iOS user to work with any number and type of Office documents from a SharePoint library. One of it’s unique feature is it’s Smart Update feature. When a document is opened in an editor such as Word using the SharePlus Open In… feature the document is opened for editing. When the user is finished they use the Open In… feature in the editor to return the document to SharePlus. SharePlus then recognizes that it was the original source and will prompt the user to update the document on the SharePoint site.

Virtually all iOS Office document editors have had shortcomings related to formatting. The addition of Office to the iPad gives the enterprise user an familiar tool for editing document on a familiar tablet platform, iOS. The addition of the Open In… feature and the print feature would make Office for iPad a solid tool for mobile users.