March 31, 2014 Last Updated 4:20 pm

First Look: Microsoft Office apps for iPad – long overdue, possibly essential, possibly irrelevant

Like Adobe, Microsoft has transitioned its main productivity products to a subscription model, Microsoft Office 365. This, more than anything, was the motivation behind the launch of the new iPad apps.

Most of the tech website have already reviewed the new apps – Microsoft Word for iPad, Microsoft Excel for iPad, Microsoft PowerPoint for iPad, and Microsoft OneNote for iPad – so there is no reason to do that here. But I thought I’d relate some of the basics and also add some observations.

MO-introThe apps are free to download and will work to read Microsoft Office documents without any charge. To create and edit those documents, you will need an Office 365 subscription ($99.99). It is because of the requirement for a new subscription that the reviews for the new apps is evenly divided between 5-star and 1-star reviews. Just ask Hearst Magazines about what readers feel about having to buy digital when they are already buying print.

So far there are already over 1500 star reviews inside iTunes and many, thoughtful written reviews. Yes, most negative reviews center on pricing, but many of those are pretty thoughtful, too. The biggest complaint is that simply editing, and all printing, require a subscription. While I understand the limitation from Microsoft’s perspective – they want to drive subscriptions – the limitations may be more than enough to dissuade iPad owners from keeping the apps on their tablets.

For Mac users, your Office ’11 purchase is irrelevant, you’ll need to change over to Office 365 in order to get fully functioning apps. Should you do that? I can’t answer that without knowing how dependent you are on Office now. If you work in one of those environments tied to Office and Windows the answer is probably “yes”. But for many there will be no need.

If you already have Apple’s productivity apps loaded on your iPad, and millions of people do, loading these new apps will only eat into your storage level. For the past four years observers have been wondering what was holding Microsoft back from launching iPad apps. Now that they have, it may be too late for many users – they have already gotten used to Apple’s iWork apps. And besides, they are completely free now.

MO-iPad-appsHas Microsoft launched bloated apps? No. In fact, both Word and Excel are almost exactly the size of their Apple counterparts: Word = 259MB, Pages = 266MB; Excel = 233 MB, Numbers = 234MB.

PowerPoint is where things are very different, but not the way I expected. The PowerPoint app weighs in at 215MB, while Keynote is 466MB.

(You can completely disregard the file sizes mentioned above. Those sizes are the app download sizes before installation. For an update on what the true sizes are once they are installed on your iPad, go to this post.)

I am no longer an Office user, with the exception of Word, which I only use on some Kindle Edition work. Otherwise, I no longer see these apps as essential and unavoidable. But I know for many PC owners, Office remains an important tool for them. I suppose if I were looking at magazine or newspaper P&Ls all day, like I used to, the release of Excel for iPad would be particularly appreciated. But for now the apps will reside in a folder, pretty much ignored, waiting to see if they really are needed at some point.