Effectively dealing with documents produced by Microsoft Office is one of the major challenges for businesses that want to make better use of iPads. An analysis by Gartner points out that while there are a range of solutions on offer, all involve compromises.
A paper by Gartner analyst Eldon Nelson notes that four approaches are typically used, each of which has potential disadvantages:
- Native apps work well whether the device is connected or not, but often have trouble importing existing documents.
- Apple’s own iWork suite is a special case for native apps: they work well but don’t always import files correctly and there are no options for mass deployment in a corporate environment.
- Using a virtualised desktop allows access to Office itself, but requires a connection and can be tricky to operate in a tablet environment.
- Using a browser-based app (such as Office Web Apps or Google Docs) can handle format conversion well, but only works when online and can experience minor browser glitches.
Microsoft’s own Office iOS document editing apps overlap these categories somewhat and handle importing better than most third-party solutions, but the same fundamental issues remain. If you really want a full-blown Office experience on a tablet, a Surface remains the best bet. That said, the iPad is far more popular, so it’s hard to ignore it as part of a business mobility strategy.