Can I do real work from my iPad? Part Two: Software

Can I do real work from my iPad? Part Two: Software

April 16

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on the Baroan Technologies blog

Last time we talked about what type of hardware can enhance your ability to do work on your iPad. This time we’ll look at the software.

As I mentioned last time, a lot of office work consists of writing documents in Microsoft Word or creating Excel spreadsheets. There are few different apps you can download for the iPad, both free and paid, that allow you to create these different files.

Let’s take a look, starting with the free options.

Free Options

Microsoft SkyDrive app for iPad (available free in the app store):

You can view anything you’ve saved in SkyDrive but you can’t make edits, create anything new, or even print.


–          View anything saved to SkyDrive
–          Anything previously synced can be viewed offline


–          No editing
–          Can’t create documents, spreadsheets, or presentations
–          Can’t print
–          Useless for anything but reading

What’s the point? Don’t waste your time with this app.

Microsoft SkyDrive Online:

If you open a browser on your iPad and head to Skydrive.com, you can do a lot more with SkyDrive and the Office web apps.


–          Open, edit, and save Word, Excel, and OneNote documents as well as PowerPoint presentations using Microsoft Office web apps
–          Save documents in the cloud, accessible anywhere with Internet access
–          Remotely access documents on your other computers (as long as they’re turned on)


–          Can’t use offline
–          Can’t copy and paste without a Bluetooth keyboard
–          Slower than full Office programs

The online apps work pretty well on the iPad but things like auto correct and spell check are much slower. You also can’t copy and paste without using keyboard shortcuts, which can be annoying if you need to move text around but don’t have a keyboard. Remotely accessing documents is way awesome, but you still can’t print anything.

Google Drive App for iPad (free in app store):

Google’s file share service allows you to create and edit many different types of documents on and offline.


–          Create and edit documents and spreadsheets (including Word and Excel formats)
–          Edit documents and spreadsheets offline
–          Create new documents and spreadsheets offline
–          Save documents in the cloud, accessible anywhere with Internet access
–          Copy and paste from anywhere without a keyboard


–          Fewer tools than Word and Excel web apps
–          Can’t create presentations
–          Can’t print
–          Documents are saved in Google Docs format (some may see this as a pro)
–          Can’t download work in MS Office formats from the app but you can from the online version at drive.google.com

The Google Drive app lets you edit many types of documents; not just Word and Excel. You can copy and paste anything you wish, and it also works offline. The files you make are saved in Google Docs format but you have the option to download them as Word documents using the Google Drive web app when you get to a proper computer with an internet connection.

Paid options:

There are a couple of different paid and free office suites, but let’s focus on my favorite:

Quick Office HD for iPad ($19.99 in the app store):


–          Create, edit, and view presentations, spreadsheets, or documents—even offline
–          Save as Word, Excel, or Powerpoint files
–          Sync with Dropbox, Google Drive, Box, and more, making files accessible anywhere.
–          Print from iPad


–          Costs twenty bucks
–          Doesn’t sync with SkyDrive

There are free or cheaper office suites, but the others don’t allow you to print and offer limited functionality. The main advantages to using Quick Office HD are the ability to create presentations and the fact that this is the only option we’ve looked at that allows you to print from your iPad. For me, it was worth the cost, but it might not be for you when so many free options are available. For some it may be worth the cost. It might not be for you.

What I Suggest

To me, the clear free option is Google Drive. You can create and edit documents and spreadsheets on and offline that can be saved to your Google Drive and later be changed into MS Office and other formats so you can work on them from anywhere and in any format you want.

If you need to print a document from your iPad, or want to make a presentation, you’ll have to get Quick Office HD. From there you can print things saved to Google Drive or whatever compatible service you use. But for twenty bucks it’s probably better to wait until you can use a real computer.

What I Learned

There’s nothing that works perfectly when it comes to doing real work on your iPad. At this point, we’re trying to recreate the experience of a laptop on smaller, touch-screen enabled device, but we’re in a transitional phase and the technology just isn’t there yet (not for a reasonable price, at least). Your best option for now is to buy a laptop with a touchscreen or a convertible computer or wait until tablets are capable of operating as well as an actual laptop or desktop.

If tablets were enough like laptops, people wouldn’t buy both and that means fewer dollars in the pockets of hardware manufacturers (not that we feel bad for them).  Tablets were not built with doing real work in mind so we can’t really expect them to do everything we demand.

Update: The exception to the above might be the Microsoft Surface Pro, though the price is a bit steep. Check out this great review of the Microsoft Surface Pro from our partner and contributor Vince Tinnerello of Anchor Network Solutions.

Photo Credit: Yutaka Tsutano via Compfight cc