The Must-Have iPad Office Apps, Round 9

Google's newly completed Apps suite just can't beat Apple's iWork or Microsoft Office

iPad office productivity apps
The on-the-go business app toolkit for the iPad

Of the tens of thousands of apps available for the iPad, only a relative few are must-have tools for business use. In the last year, the landscape for iPad office apps has changed dramatically, with updates to iWork, the introduction of Microsoft Office, and Google's elimination of the beloved Quickoffice with its own Apps suite.

Read on for our picks of the best native office editors, cloud office editors, and native companion productivity tools for the iPad. (Most work on the iPhone, too!)

Also at InfoWorld: Web shoot-out: Microsoft Office vs. Apple iWork vs. Google AppsThe best Android office apps

Apple iWork, Microsoft Office, and Google Apps: InfoWorld scores
InfoWorld scorecards: The major native office apps

In the past year, iPad users gained three major editing suites vying for their adoption: Microsoft Office for iPad and Google Apps for iOS both debuted to compete with Apple's powerful iWork suite. At the app level, both Apple and Microsoft released major updates to their presentation, spreadsheet, and word-processing offerings. All support the native Office file formats, with iWork and Apps exporting to them as well.

There are still a few office suites from smaller providers (scored on the next slide), but for most people, the focus is on these three.

DataViz Documents to Go, Polaris Office, and Picsel Smart Office: InfoWorld scores
InfoWorld scorecards: The other native office apps

Despite the competition from the big three platform providers, three established suites continue to be available for the iPad: the venerable Documents to Go Premium, the Android-derived Polaris Office, and Picsel Smart Office. Although all support the native Office formats, the unpleasant truth is that none is a worthy competitor to Apple's or Microsoft's apps.

Apple iWork Pages word processor
Best word processor: Apple Pages

Apple's Pages is good at layout-oriented documents, and it offers revisions tracking, tables, spell checking, search and replace, text formatting, graphics insertion, commenting, password protection, AirPrint printing, and both ePub and PDF export. It also permits multiuser editing via the Web (but with no revisions), now with password protection.

It has limits: You can't work directly with documents in cloud storage services, only those in Apple's iCloud. You must copy a file before editing as there's no Save As feature once you begin editing. You can't create or apply character styles, and you can't create paragraph styles.

App: Pages
Price: $9.99 (free on new devices)
Developer: Apple
Compatibility: iPad and iPhone

Microsoft Word for iPad word processor
Runner-up word processor (tie): Microsoft Word

Word for iPad is equivalent in editing capabilities to Apple Pages, missing password protection and comment insertion but supporting hyperlink insertion and allowing you to choose the proofing language.

The reason Word doesn't tie with Pages is because of its poor file-handling and file-sharing capabilities -- you can't send documents to other apps, rename files, or manage file folders. But it now supports AirPrint printing.

App: Word
Price: Office 365 subscription ($10 to $12/month)
Developer: Microsoft
Compatibility: iPad

Infraware Polaris 5 word processor
Runner-up word processor (tie): Infraware Polaris Office 5

Perhaps the best office suite for Android, Polaris Office provides the capabilities you need and is similar to what Pages and Word provide, without Word's file and sharing limitations. Plus, it offers direct access to cloud services for opening and saving files, allowing you to work more easily across platforms. Where Office 5 fails to measure up is in user experience, which is basic, and performance, which is a bit slow; it also lacks the sophistication of Pages and Word.

App: Polaris Office 5
Price: $12.99
Developer: Infraware
Compatibility: iPad and iPhone

DataViz Documents to Go, Google Docs, Picsel Smart Office 2 word processors
The rest of the iPad word processors

Google Docs (free with a Google account) is a midlevel word processor, awkwardly integrated with the Google Drive service and lacking core capabilities like table editing, though it supports revisions tracking and printing.

DataViz's $16.99 Documents to Go Premium offers the basics, but no more. It is slow and lacks key features: graphics insertion, paragraph styles, and revisions tracking. Its only advanced feature is its extensive support for cloud storage, including iCloud.

Artifex's $9.99 Smart Office 2 is, in a word, unusable due to a very poor user interface and limited capabilities. Accessing cloud storage requires signing up for spam.

Apple iWork Numbers spreadsheet
Best spreadsheet editor: Apple Numbers

Apple's Numbers spreadsheet editor is great at data entry, especially numeric, date, and formula info. The keyboard even adjusts based on the type of data you're working with. Cell formatting is less flexible than in Excel, and Excel users may dislike Numbers' approach to creating worksheets: Numbers allows several on a page. It also nicely supports multisheet workbooks and provides CSV export, animated charts, and password-protected group editing via the Web.

Also, like all iWork apps, the only cloud storage service you can directly edit files in is Apple's own iCloud. But it supports AirPrint and PDF export.

App: Numbers
Price: $9.99 (free on new devices)
Developer: Apple
Compatibility: iPad and iPhone

Microsoft Excel for iPad spreadsheet
Runner-up spreadsheet editor: Microsoft Excel

Although Excel for iPad has the same serious file and sharing flaws as Word, it works just like Excel jockeys would expect with oodles of functions and a few key features like pane freezing that Numbers lacks. However, Excel may frustrate even Excel fans when they discover they can't remove inserted charts.

Still, Excel's instant familiarity will likely trump its deficits for current desktop Excel users, even if Numbers technically offers more capability overall.

App: Excel
Price: Office 365 subscription ($10 to $12/month)
Developer: Microsoft
Compatibility: iPad

DataViz Documents to Go, Google Sheets, Infraware Polaris 5, Picsel Smart Office 2 spreadsheets
The rest of the iPad spreadsheet editors

Google Sheets (free with a Google account) is Excel-like for the features it does have. But using formulas is difficult, as is working with cell ranges via touch gestures.

DataViz's $16.99 Documents to Go Premium offers the basics, but no more. It's languished for several years, so it's not a good investment choice. For example, it does not support printing or PDF export.

Infraware's $12.99 Polaris Office 5 has a competent if basic set of spreadsheet features, but its user interface is awkward.

Artifex's $9.99 Smart Office 2 is simply unusable due to a very poor user interface and limited capabilities.

Apple iWork Keynote presentation
Best presentation editor: Apple Keynote

Simply put, Keynote is an amazing slideshow editor. We prefer it over PowerPoint even on a computer. On the iPad it works beautifully when creating complex slide transitions and element effects, which competing apps can't do. It has lots of animation capabilities, password-protected Web-based collaborative editing, and the ability to remotely control a Keynote presentation on another Mac or iOS device.

Keynote's only negative is its awkward requirement of copying documents to and from cloud storage services, rather than allowing direct access. But it supports AirPrint and PDF export.

App: Keynote
Price: $9.99 (free on new devices)
Developer: Apple
Compatibility: iPad and iPhone

Microsoft PowerPoint presentation
Runner-up presentation editor: Microsoft PowerPoint

The first release of Microsoft PowerPoint was neither basic nor sophisticated, with sufficient features for editing and basic presentation creation. But a revision boosted PowerPoint's features significantly, making it nearly as capable as Apple's glorious Keynote in terms of slideshow pizzazz. If only it allowed remote-control of presentations from an iPhone!

App: PowerPoint
Price: Office 365 subscription ($10 to $12/month)
Developer: Microsoft
Compatibility: iPad

DataViz Documents to Go, Google Slides, Infraware Polaris Office 5, Picsel Smart Office 2 presentations
The rest of the iPad presentation editors

DataViz's $16.99 Documents to Go Premium is less than basic when it comes to presentation editing, allowing only text touchup.

The free-with-Google-account Slides presentation editor is not quite as basic, but it doesn't support transitions and has trouble saving changes and resizing elements.

Infraware's Polaris Office 5 runs slowly when working with slideshows and offers only basic capabilities.

Artifex's $9.99 Smart Office 2 is unusable due to a very poor user interface and limited capabilities.

cloud office productivity apps: InfoWorld scores
InfoWorld scorecards: Cloud office apps

As Apple, Google, and Microsoft battle over in-the-cloud office editing on the desktop, the action on the iPad centers around native apps. But several cloud-based tools use iPad apps as the front end, doing the heavy lifting in the cloud, including AstralPad, CloudOn Pro, Google Drive, Microsoft Office Web Apps, and OnLive Desktop.

CloudOn Pro
Best Microsoft Office in-the-cloud service: CloudOn Pro

With a Pro subscription, the CloudOn app nicely accesses the 2010 versions of Excel, PowerPoint, and Word, as well as Adobe Reader, hosted on Windows Server. Plus, it supports the iPad's native keyboard and Share facility. It uses your Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, and OneDrive cloud storage, so you don't have to worry about version control across devices.

It has a few flaws, but when you need the full desktop version of Microsoft Office, CloudOn is a handy option -- as long as you have a live Internet connection. The free CloudOn service remains available but lacks essential business features, such as revisions tracking.

App: CloudOn Pro
Price: $80/year
Developer: CloudOn
Compatibility: iPad and iPhone

Microsoft Web Apps, AstralPad, OnLive Desktop
The rest of the cloud-based office editors

The hosted Office Web Apps work nicely in the iPad's Safari browser but can't access local files or print. (Log in from& office.microsoft.com.) Note: You need a Microsoft account or compatible Office 365 account.

The free AstralPad provides moderate editing capabilities, but it's very slow, allows only two open documents, can't print, requires manual keyboard activation, and has a confusing interface. It does allow access to Dropbox and Google Drive files.

The free OnLive Desktop is a horrible Office hosting service. Ignore it.

Amazon Web Services offers its WorkSpaces Windows-in-a-cloud service for $35 per month, which has an iPad app. However, it's clearly meant as a PC replacement, not an iPad adjunct, so we did not test it.