Long before CEO Satya Nadella's announcement Thursday that the company he now runs was finally releasing Microsoft Office for the iPad, there have been other Office-like productivity suites and workarounds that for some mobile professionals have more than made up for Microsoft's absence.
Apple's own work-oriented apps for the iPad, which are now free, include the fine Pages word processor, the Numbers spreadsheet, and the Keynote presentation app — its answer to Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Other companies have stepped in too.
With that as the backdrop, it's premature to say whether Office for iPad from the Microsoft mother ship will somehow provide a superior experience to what's already out there, certainly not after what can only be a cursory first look at the new Office for iPad. But a billion people use some version of Office today, and of those who also own an iPad, it's reasonable to assume that no matter how good the alternatives are, they'll feel more comfortable sticking with Microsoft.
In fact, Microsoft does a very nice job of exploiting the multi-touch environment of the iPad. The Word, Excel and PowerPoint apps were made available for download Thursday in Apple's App Store; you are meant to download each individually.
FIRST TAKE: Nadella makes a good first impression
These are by no means watered-down iterations of their Windows or Mac counterparts, either. But you're also not going to see 3,000 features ported over from the Windows version to the iPad, says Microsoft executive Julia White. She explains that the best way to think about this is to think about what makes the most sense for the given device you are using. On computers, the typical Office user employs only a small percentage of available tools anyway, though the features you use may differ in significant ways from the tools that are used by your neighbor.
One feature that's unique to the iPad version is a laser pointer in PowerPoint that appears when you tap and hold down the display in presentation mode.
On the other hand, in this first version of PowerPoint for the iPad, you can't insert a video into a presentation.
Overall though, the iPad versions appear to provide a pretty complete feature toolset. You get access to images, charts and tables, footnotes and more in Word. In Excel, there's a full complement of financial, logical, date and time and other formulas and functions. PowerPoint has the requisite transitions, animations and speaker notes.
Touch-friendly versions of the "ribbon" interface familiar to Office users on other platforms add an element of comfort. And it's easy enough to share documents you are collaborating on with others.
As it happens, you can have your own look at Word, Excel and PowerPoint on the iPad for free, and view any documents or spreadsheets that you've previously created and stored in Microsoft's OneDrive cloud locker, which until recently was known as SkyDrive.
The catch comes when you want to create a document from scratch or edit something you've already started. That's when you must subscribe to Microsoft's Office 365 service. The main subscription offering currently costs $99.99 a year, which permits use of the various Office programs on up to five PCs and/or Macs, and on up to five tablets. The promise of this arrangement is that all your documents can be kept in sync and saved automatically across multiple devices, and be accessible via the cloud.
In the coming weeks, an Office 365 Personal plan kicks in that will lower the price to $69.99 annually for individuals who want to use Office on only a single PC or Mac, plus a single tablet.
In the meantime, Microsoft announced that it will now make Office Mobile for the iPhone and Android free, just as it already is on Windows Phones. In other words, you won't need an Office 365 subscription anymore to use Office on those handsets. You can create Word and Excel documents (but not PowerPoints) from the phone.
On the iPad, I downloaded the Word, Excel and PowerPoint apps separately, but once I signed into Word with my Office 365 credentials I fortunately didn't have to separately sign in on Excel and PowerPoint. Documents I had stored in OneDrive were, indeed, readily accessible in each app.
Using my finger (in lieu of a mouse) I was easily able to insert a picture into a Word document, resize it with "touch handles," add shadows and drag it from one part of a document to another. I summoned the onscreen keyboard when I had to type something.
As a writer, though, I still typically call upon a laptop when I have to bang out a lengthy column in Word. A physical keyboard is just that much easier. For those who choose mobility first and ditch the computer for an iPad, the arrival of Office on Apple's tablet is welcome and long overdue.
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; Follow @edbaig on Twitter