The must-have iPad office apps, round 9.5

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

iPad office round 9.5

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 multiple 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, three major editing suites vied for adoption among iPad users: 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, and iWork and Apps export to them as well.

A few office suites are still available 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, a trio of established suites is still 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 support, and both ePub and PDF export. It also permits multiuser editing via the Web (but with no revisions), now with password protection.

The mid-October update added direct access for saving and opening files from both Apple's iCloud Drive and third-party cloud storage services (Box and Dropbox). Pages also supports Apple's Handoff capability for Pages on other iOS devices and Macs.

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.

Word doesn't tie with Pages due to 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.

App: Word
Price: Office 365 subscription ($10 to $12 per 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. However, it supports revisions tracking, printing, and (as of late October) the use of heading styles.

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.

It supports AirPrint and both PDF and CSV export.

The mid-October update added direct access for saving and opening files from both Apple's iCloud Drive and third-party cloud storage services (Box and Dropbox). Numbers supports Apple's Handoff capability for Numbers on other iOS devices and Macs, as well.

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 exactly 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 like Excel to a certain degree. 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 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.

It supports AirPrint and PDF export.

The mid-October update added direct access for saving and opening files from both Apple's iCloud Drive and third-party cloud storage services (Box and Dropbox). It also supports Apple's Handoff capability for Keynote on other iOS devices and Macs.

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. And it can't show presenter notes while presenting -- d'oh!

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 interface and limited capabilities.

iPad office cloud 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, Microsoft Office Web Apps, and OnLive Desktop.

45ss ipad office 14cloud office 1

Cloud-based office editors: CloudOn Pro and Office Web Apps

The $48-per-year CloudOn Pro service used to be a nice way to run standard desktop Office from your tablet. No longer -- a late-October revision eliminated that approach for Word documents, replacing it with a less-capable editor about on par with Google Docs. Excel and PowerPoint editing is still done via a Windows Server-based Office 2010 session, but they seem to run less smoothly than before. We can no longer recommend this product.

The hosted Office Web Apps work nicely in the iPad's Safari browser. It'd be our choice for cloud-based traditional Office editor except it can't access local iPad files or print. (Log in from office.microsoft.com.) Note: You need a Microsoft account or compatible Office 365 account.

iPad office cloud apps: AstralPad, OnLive Desktop

Cloud-based office editors: AstralPad and OnLIve Desktop

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.