iOS productivity showdown: Apple iWork vs. Microsoft Office 365 vs. Google Docs

Posted:
in iPhone edited March 2014

One of the first concerns facing businesses -- and many consumers -- when choosing a new mobile platform is how it will enable them to get work done. To answer the question, AppleInsider went hands-on to compare the top three iOS contenders: Apple's iWork, Microsoft's Office 365, and Google Docs.

iOS productivity showdown

What's included and how much does it cost?

While each suite's ancillary services -- like hosted e-mail and file storage -- differ slightly, all three platforms offer some variation on the age-old trio of word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations. For the purposes of this review, we will look only at those features available on iOS -- iWork for iCloud's web-based document editing, for instance, is not included. Apple's iWork suite counts three native apps, iOS versions of the company's Pages word processor, Numbers spreadsheet, and Keynote presentation creation application. Each app is free with the purchase of a new iOS device, but users who need to get up and running on their current handset or tablet will still need to purchase them in the App Store for $9.99 each. Microsoft Office 365 is available from the software giant on a subscription basis, with varying costs and differing packages for home users and business users. We chose the $12.50-per-month Office 365 Small Business Premium plan, which is the least-costly option that grants access to the company's Office Mobile for iOS app. Unlike Apple's native app strategy, Microsoft has chosen to integrate its entire suite in to a single application, Office Mobile, though that strategy may soon change as rumors indicate an iOS version of the company's Word, Excel, and Powerpoint applications is on the way. Google Docs is famously free for anyone with a Google account -- which is now a large swath of internet users -- though we chose to work with the company's Google Apps for Business platform at $50-per-user-per-year. Upgrading to Google Apps for Business does not add any additional features within the scope of this review, and the accompanying Google Drive iOS app is available free of charge to all users.

iWork

iWork

Apple's suite is, without question, the most feature-rich experience available on iOS. The ongoing "Back to the Mac" iOS/OS X strategy combined with the company's renewed push into the enterprise and education markets have made the iOS versions of longtime tentpole applications first-class citizens, so much so that many users of their desktop counterparts feel iOS's influence has grown too strong. What frustrates customers on the desktop, however, is at the same time a boon for mobile users. Document creation is easy, featuring most of the same predefined templates as Apple's desktop applications, while retaining a significant degree of control over style and layout. Editing existing documents -- including collaboration features like Apple's implementation of change tracking and commenting -- works smoothly, with synchronization between devices happening quickly in the background whether on Wi-Fi or mobile data. Pages, Keynote, and Numbers on iOS are as feature-rich as their desktop counterparts. Pages can import and export Microsoft Word documents, though some formatting is often lost in the transmogrification. We also found some small, yet annoying, issues with the new Pages user interface, such as a situation where on-screen controls for swapping images disappeared if the image was enlarged such that its edges moved off-screen. Because users can't pan around the Pages canvas on iOS, fixing this means resizing the images until the controls return, then enlarging it yet again after making changes. Numbers is perhaps the most impressive iWork for iOS app in the context of power versus touchability. Apple has packed an admirable amount of the desktop application's functionality into the iOS app --�formula creation is particularly fine, as Cupertino has taken full advantage of iOS's ability to customize the keyboard to each specific purpose. Like its document and presentation siblings, Numbers can also import and export Microsoft Office-formatted documents. Keynote may be the least-used of the three applications over the course of a typical workday, but it has seemingly received the same amount of attention from the iWork for iOS team at Apple as its more high-profile brethren. Creating a simple presentation revealed no areas that we found lacking, and unlike Pages, Keynote did not allow us to enlarge photos so much that controls disappeared offscreen. Apple's recent focus on content sharing has carried over to iWork for iOS, and moving documents between an iPhone 5 and iPad Air both through iCloud and via the company's Bluetooth-based AirDrop technology worked well.

Office Mobile

Microsoft Office 365

Microsoft's Office 365 is widely viewed as the company's response to the threat posed by the growing number of business that are choosing Google's web-based productivity applications over Microsoft's desktop software, and it shows. Microsoft's Office Mobile app is currently only available for iPhone, though the company does promise an iPad version is in the works. After signing in to Office Mobile with a valid organizational Office 365 account -- which, in our testing, took nearly a full day to become active for one account but less than one hour for another -- users can choose any Office document in their SkyDrive account to view or edit. The app is well designed, striking a nice balance between Apple's iOS 7 and Microsoft's Metro, but functionality is severely limited in comparison to its competition. Office Mobile is fine for small changes, but falls down on creation. Office Mobile's Word implementation offers only basic formatting options. Text size can be changed and made bold, italicized, or struck through, while letter and highlight colors can also be applied in one of three pre-selected colors. Fonts and images cannot be swapped out, and we often experienced trouble selecting text for formatting. Excel fares much better in its mobile incarnation. The touch-based interface for basic spreadsheet functions appears to have been thoughtfully considered, and most of Excel's advanced formula functionality has made the transition. We did miss Numbers's customized formula keyboard, however, and the included charting functionality is rudimentary. PowerPoint, unfortunately, seems to take its cues from Word rather than Excel. Users cannot create a new PowerPoint document in the Office Mobile app, and editing is restricted to changing text --�though no formatting options are available --�rearranging slides and adding presentation notes.

Google Docs

Google Docs

Google Docs exists in an uncanny valley between native and web applications, and not just on iOS --�Google's in-browser strategy extends across its entire platform. On iOS, the company makes Docs available through its free Google Drive application, which matches Google's other iOS properties with a Google Now-style user interface. Like Microsoft's solution, Google Drive is the single native point of interaction for all of Google's productivity applications. The company has recently updated its entire iOS suite with single sign-on functionality, a convenient time-saving feature, especially for users with Google's two-factor authentication enabled. Google Docs is ubiquitous, but Google Drive for iOS is flawed. Word processing options are more advanced than those offered by Microsoft's Office Mobile but still fall far short of what Apple makes available in Pages. Users can swap fonts, change font size, and edit text and background colors in addition to standard bolding, italicizing, and underlining. Adding images is also not supported in the mobile version. Spreadsheet editing is similarly simple, with basic options available in a spartan user interface. Creating formulas requires typing them in longhand, without the benefit of Numbers's custom keyboard or Excel's formula dictionary. Charting is nonexistent in the mobile application. Presentations are a read-only affair in Google Drive for iOS. Users cannot make any changes, or even add presentation notes. Reflecting Google's mastery of online services, sharing and synchronization work very well. Changes are reflected very quickly between devices, and because of its implementation as part of Google Drive, documents can easily be shared between users without a direct connection between devices. We also appreciated the granular sharing permissions, which allow the document owner to grant view-only, comment-only, or editing permissions to other users.

Keynote for iOS

Conclusion

Unless users are in an organization that has standardized on Microsoft Office 365 or Google Apps for Business, there is little reason for iOS device owners to use anything other than Apple's first-party tools. Pages, Numbers, and Keynote are every bit as fast, stable, and feature-rich as their desktop counterparts and are a steal even for the small set of users who will need to pay to acquire them. Microsoft and Google's solutions seem to exist solely to quell the heartburn brought on corporate IT departments by anxious executives who use iOS devices but need a way to make simple changes to documents on the fly. If we were forced to choose one of the offerings from Mountain View or Redmond, we would pick Google Docs and the Google Drive app based solely on Docs's ubiquity among internet users. Tablets and smartphones may not yet be able to completely replace desktop and laptop computers for business users, but Apple's impressive effort with iWork for iOS has closed the gap significantly.

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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 65

    Editing HORRIBLE!! Not worth reading. 

  • Reply 2 of 65
    Numbers is awful and more eye candy than functionality. Pages and Keynote far easier to use and way ahead in of their MS offerings, word or powerpoint. Until Apple get Numbers functionality on par with Excel, they are never going to to break into the corporate IT world where the spreadsheet is king.
  • Reply 3 of 65
    Originally Posted by Richard Getz View Post

    Editing HORRIBLE!! Not worth reading. 

     

    I guess iWork failed again!

  • Reply 4 of 65
    nagrommenagromme Posts: 2,834member
    Numbers is the killer app for me. I've always used spreadsheets of necessity but never liked them. Switched to Numbers a couple years ago and never looked back! I like the way it "thinks"--it removes a barrier of annoyance I have always felt with old-fashioned spreadsheet apps. I use the iPad version.

    I really like that I can view my iPad work on iCloud.com any time, or grab a PDF that way.

    Added bonus: for financial matters I like to work on the floor (don't ask me why) and the iPad is the perfect form factor for that. Toss some paper tax records and notes next to it, put on some iTunes in the background, and get to work.

    I haven't even added a Bluetooth numpad, although I've thought about it. I seem to do more "processing" of numbers than entering them, so I haven't minded tap-entry.

    I uses Pages some but I won't switch to it as my mainstay until I get my next iPad (Air) with a Surface-style keyboard cover (Logitech or Zagg). For now I do my writing in TextEdit on Mac mostly (my docs aren't for printing so it's all I need--and I send the RTFs to my iOS devices for read-only reference; either using Dropbox or Readdle Documents). Plus there's free OpenOffice occasionally for compatibility with stuff people send to my Mac (some complex docs open better there than in TextEdit).
  • Reply 5 of 65
    If I were ever forced to choose between google craps and hell, guess which one yours truly would choose!
  • Reply 6 of 65
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 20,292member
    FWIW I don't think Apple even calls this collection iWork anymore, treating them more as three standalone applications.
  • Reply 7 of 65
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 20,292member
    edit: duplicate
  • Reply 8 of 65
    solipsismxsolipsismx Posts: 19,566member
    gatorguy wrote: »
    FWIW I don't think Apple even calls this collection iWork anymore, treating them more as three standalone applications.

    Nice catch. If you type in http://www.apple.com/iwork or http://www.apple.com/ilife it will redirect you to http://www.apple.com/creativity-apps/mac/.

    Oddly, doing the same thing with any of the old iLife suite apps will redirect you to their http://www.apple.com/mac/<name>; page, but you get the page error when doing this with any of the old iWork suite apps.
  • Reply 9 of 65
    The author would pick Google Docs and the Google Drive app based solely on Docs's ubiquity among internet users.

    Wow! Now there is some quality reasoning. Office runs circles around anything offered by Google and is the predominantly used application suite amongst those that need a serious productivity solution. I willing to bet Office is more ubiquitous than Google Docs/Drive.
  • Reply 10 of 65
    Love using Pages with my iPad and my iMac ... It just works! :)
  • Reply 11 of 65
    I would like to see a comparison of each productivity suite on the native platforms.

    In my opinion, Apple's productivity suite resides (or did reside) in a nearly perfect compromise of ease of use and features. Google Docs is missing far too many features while Microsoft Office has become an unusable, bloated disaster.
  • Reply 12 of 65

    The whole idea of 'productivity' apps on a phone makes no sense to me. Editing a spreadsheet or presentation on a device with a 4-inch screen is always going to be horrible, however well-designed the software is.

     

    Tablets are a bit more feasible, but I'm still going to reach for the laptop to get any serious work done. Productivity and touchscreens don't really mix.

  • Reply 13 of 65
    euphonious wrote: »
    The whole idea of 'productivity' apps on a phone makes no sense to me. Editing a spreadsheet or presentation on a device with a 4-inch screen is always going to be horrible, however well-designed the software is.

    Tablets are a bit more feasible, but I'm still going to reach for the laptop to get any serious work done. Productivity and touchscreens don't really mix.
    It would make sense to assume that, but the way the "iWork" apps are written and designed for the iPhone are pretty incredible. I actually use my iPhone to edit and create all of the budget worksheets for my home and business purposes. Granted I do use my MacBook pro and iPad as well but the iPhone is what I use mostly due to the fact I can just whip it out and edit wherever I'm at.
  • Reply 14 of 65
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 20,292member
    I would like to see a comparison of each productivity suite on the native platforms.

    Google Docs doesn't have a "native platform" does it? Which is best depends on your needs. All of them have some features and advantages over another. Apple productivity apps may have more polish for instance but for a casual user Google Docs has several features that Apple doesn't.
    http://office-suites.findthebest.com/compare/4-15/Google-Docs-vs-iWork
  • Reply 15 of 65
    I have built three major presentations on my iPad Air, and have been delighted with the ease of use and the result. I also love how all docs for the three apps are available on all my devices. No need for anything Microsoft or Google.
  • Reply 16 of 65
    arlorarlor Posts: 490member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by currentinterest View Post



    I have built three major presentations on my iPad Air, and have been delighted with the ease of use and the result. I also love how all docs for the three apps are available on all my devices. No need for anything Microsoft or Google.

     

    Your second sentence is also true of Google Apps/Drive. Perhaps also Office 365, but I haven't used it yet.

     

    I still find Office (and/or InDesign in some cases) necessary for complex documents. iWorks (or whatever we're going to call the suite now) and Google Apps are probably both more than adequate for most people's needs, though, and the automated cloud storage features are nice.

     

    Between Google and iWorks, Google will necessarily have the edge for anybody who has at least one non-Apple product in their collection, but iWorks is somewhat more capable (columns!, for example) if you're Apple-exclusive.

  • Reply 17 of 65
    Diehard Apple fan here. But even with a gun pointed to my head, I still pick Office over iWork. Office is as close to a standard there is in the business environment. Not saying it's good one, but pretty much everyone can open your docs and spreadsheets. I wish Word has better vector graphics support. Numbers have better looking charts than Excel but loses on everything else. Excel in capable hands are powerful beyond spreadsheet. They are mini applications connecting to SQL, embeded macros to manipulate data, etc. iWork is cute, but when I need a real workhorse that everybody can use, I go to Office.
  • Reply 18 of 65
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Banyan Bruce View Post



    Numbers is awful and more eye candy than functionality. Pages and Keynote far easier to use and way ahead in of their MS offerings, word or powerpoint. Until Apple get Numbers functionality on par with Excel, they are never going to to break into the corporate IT world where the spreadsheet is king.

    Pfffff!

  • Reply 19 of 65
    This is all BS, NONE of the packages are finished and debugged, even though their respective companies would tell you different, Apple's iWork has the best likelihood of being improved and upgraded in the short haul... although THAT will be just to get to where it once was on the Mac. Let's see if Apple will move it forward and start actually adding features that would make iWorks more useful to more people. I really don't expect iWorks to be a feature rich as MS Office, but it was short of what it needed to replace MS Office for the average user.
  • Reply 20 of 65
    tbelltbell Posts: 3,146member
    tbsteph wrote: »
    The author would pick Google Docs and the Google Drive app based solely on Docs's ubiquity among internet users.

    Wow! Now there is some quality reasoning. Office runs circles around anything offered by Google and is the predominantly used application suite amongst those that need a serious productivity solution. I willing to bet Office is more ubiquitous than Google Docs/Drive.

    Wasn't he just comparing the online versions?
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