Microsoft Office: Enabling the iPad to do 'real work'

Microsoft Office: Enabling the iPad to do 'real work'

Summary: Windows users and Microsoft will tell you that the iPad can't do real work since it doesn't have Office. What will they say once Office is on the iPad?

TOPICS: Mobility, iPad, Tablets

I've covered how I use the iPad for work, and that Microsoft's play with Office on the iPad has an enterprise focus. That coverage always gets a knee-jerk reaction from many that without Office and/or Windows doing real work is not possible. Perhaps that's due to how individuals define real work, but the thought that the iPad is not good enough is widespread.

iPad Real Work2
iPad Air (Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet)

Even Microsoft has pushed in its Surface ads that you must have Windows and/or Office to do real work. We're told in no uncertain terms that this is an advantage over the iPad, and if we want to do real work we'd better get onboard the Surface train.

So, what are these Windows enthusiasts and Microsoft going to say once Office for the iPad is released, as is expected to happen soon? If we believe the hype that Office is needed to do real work, that should open the iPad up for it even for nonbelievers.

See related: Office for the iPad: It's all about the enterprise

The iPad naysayers are getting their new arguments ready for such a reality. I've already heard that even with Office, the iPad screen is too small to be used for heavy Excel and Word editing or creating, ie real work.

That overlooks the fact that the 9.7-inch iPad display is not much smaller than the 10.5-inch screen of the Surface tablet, which has always been applauded for its ability to handle real work. In fact, with its different aspect ratio, the iPad's screen is longer (though narrower) in landscape orientation, which is used for most big spreadsheet work, than that of the Surface.

Those who don't like the iPad will tell you that heavy spreadsheet lifting can be done with the Surface at the desktop, with a big monitor plugged in. That's a fair argument, but it must be recognized that rarely is the iPad the only computer people have available. Owners often have a big monitor at the desk, too.

In the enterprise in particular, it's likely that workers assigned an iPad will still have some desktop system in the office. Unlike the Surface, iPads aren't sold as a sole computing device. They are supplemental devices that won't usually be used for stuff like big spreadsheet work, so there's additional gear for that — just like there is for the Surface when a big monitor is in the picture. But the iPad alone could do such work in a pinch, just like the Surface.

This belief about the iPad is not shared by just a few, I hear every single day that the iPad isn't suitable for doing real work. I still regularly hear that Apple's tablet is a toy, a fad, a fashion accessory, and that it will soon go away as a result.

Millions of iPad owners know that's not true, and many have been using them for work even without Office. Once they can do 'real work' with Microsoft Office, they will be even more convinced of the iPad's utility. No matter what others may argue.

Topics: Mobility, iPad, Tablets

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Real work is multitasking

    with multiple screens.

    Not pawing at a toy with your fingers.

    I don't get the obsession with making a consumer product something it's not, that's with any tablet.
    • Real work is a lot of things

      And they're generally not bound by multiple screens, pawing, or whatever any of that was about.

      Tablets are excellent mobility tools - cash registers that have to float with a sales person, inventory taking tools, a site auditor/inspector's tool, courier, logistics, and shipping, medical rounds.

      Too many of us technies conflate what we do at our Star Trek multi display workstations with "real work" - newsflash, the rest of the world works too.
      • Real work

        "Real work" is relative. Interestingly enough, for me it has nothing to do with Office. More with fast task switching, multitasking, and the ability to extend screen estate. For others it has to do with having a keyboard. For others yet again, it has to do with a highly portable device.
      • Yes, as a CLIENT an iPad (or any tablet) can be made to do work ...

        ... but a tablet is not well suited to be a content-creation device unless it is equipped with a keyboard and stand of some kind because an onscreen-keyboard interferes with the screen.

        Further, the screen is never at the correct angle for both typing and reading.
        M Wagner
        • Reply to M Wagner

          With the smart cover folded, and its user prone, the iPad is at an ideal typing/reading angle. While I would not try to get away with prone at work, at that range, I don't need glasses to use it. The virtual keyboard is also easier than a standard physical keyboard for a one-handed man to type on.
      • Basically, you just described a cash register, that has been removed from

        behind the desk or that has been taken off its anchor.

        A cashier station is not a productivity device, and that device would not be expected to get Office installed into it.

        You can believe all you want that an iPad is all you need to get real work done, but, a cashier station, as you described, is a long way from being what most businesses need. Even retail shops that use cash registers, need real computing devices in the back office, and not some simple cash register or a media consumption device.
      • The iPad has aways had some capability....

        ..and office will improve on that capability, but, its still al problem working on any tablet without a full OS for starters and with a small screen secondly, without DVD drives, without large onboard storage and of course, if there isn't proper USB connectivity it just makes it worse.

        The problem is, and will likely remain for a long time that significant real work cant be done on a tablet and only if your a beggar for punishment can any work be done on a tablet at all, particularly without additional peripherals, even with office.

        But Office at least is a start. It can at least make doing somethings a realistic possibility where it was mostly impossible or a poor mans solution to do much office type work on a tablet in the past.
    • "Real work is multitasking with multiple screens"

      "with multiple screens"
      For YOU.
      (and me too, but that's not the point)
      As Mac_PC_FenceSitter said, just because the highly technical IT bods who frequent here work in a situation like that, the rest of the working pop don't.
      I spend a lot of time in meetings and spending time with my teams and around other department (try it, communication the old fashioned way), and a tablet is very useful then.
      It's still work, and at a push I can amend a doc and sent it back without returning to my desk.
      If the proverbial hits the fan, then back to the desk and the best machine.
    • Most people do fine with a single screen.

      But you've got an argument with "pawing at a toy with your fingers."

      iOS' biggest problem is its lack of pointer support.

      You can use whatever keyboard you want, but when you're having to poke at text, you're doing something wrong.

      That's just asking for a case of Gorilla Arm Syndrome.
      • iOS' biggest problem is its lack of pointer support.

        Pointer support is a function of iOS drivers, not that of iOS. There are tons of third part pointing devices for iOS as well as devices made by Apple. You are right though, that solution needs to be purchased separately.
        Tim Jordan
    • Real work is anything someone

      will pay you money to do. Q.E.D.
      • baggins what does your statement have to do with the blog?

        It's a silly comment really considering the implication of this blog.
        There may well be more jobs in the world that require nothing more than a person's bare hands and physical stamina,but what does that have to do with tablets in the work place?
    • What is real work?

      Using Apples' iWork, Keynote, Numbers, and Pages, I get real work accomplished. Agreed not as feature rich as MS Office, yet real work is accomplished and my clients are pleased. If one finds they do need MS Office that is okay as well. Do not denigrate those that use other programs other than MS Office. My spreadsheets are as powerful as many I have seen in MS Office, same with my presentations with Keynote and word-processing with Pages.
      What is real work for you may be kiddy stuff to others and vise versa.
      Also, much work with MS Office or iWork is converted to PDF, the client does not care how it was made just that it is.
      Here is some real work: airline pilots using iPads instead of many pounds of flight books. Would you call them toying with their fingers? Many corporations are using iPads, ah the list goes on. Open you mind and eyes, there is a world awaiting you.
      • Yes, Apple offers the tools but to be very productive, you still need ...

        ... a third-party keyboard and something to hold the iPad at the correct angle for viewing while you are typing.

        The reality though is that if you need to share your documents with others, Office tools are more widely used.
        M Wagner
        • stop viewing tablets as desktop replacements.

          Tablets are more supplemental devices to desktops in the office, and there's nothing wrong with that. Certain tasks will always require larger screens and more powerful hardware and software.

          The smaller screen size and power efficient internals and long battery life and form factor is at an advantage over desktop PCs and laptops for doing certain 'tablet' tasks. Tasks that would be impossible or uncomfortable with a desktop or laptop computer with keyboard. I am not going to walk around the showroom holding a heavy laptop in hand for instance (to interact with customers), that's where the true strengths of tablets like an iPad comes in. I don't need to set it down to type. I can take it anywhere, and use it anywhere in any orientation in any setting.

          I see people and businesses using the iPad everyday in ways a laptop or desktop PC would not be ideal. Just last weekend we ran into girl scouts selling cookies using an iPad and smart iPhones with Square credit card readers. Real-estate agents, scientists doing field work, doctors, dentists, pilots, store sales person walking around with iPad in hand (PoS device). Many car companies are using iPads for a more engaging experience with their customers. The military adopted iPads years ago and are using it in ways a desktop/laptop with keyboard would not be ideal. Tablets such as the iPad are not bound by the office tasks, there's many other ways users are being productive with these devices. Many new ways that was impossible to think of with desktops and laptops.
          • Didn't you guys say last year and before

            that iPad replaces desktop? I don't mean exactly you, but most of Apple fanbois preached iPad user don't use desktop mostly or something like that. Why change in the heart all of a sudden? I'm just wondering.
            Ram U
          • It's simple really

            If you need all the functionality, power and utility of a desktop PC, then you're not looking at tablets. If you are in the market for something better at portability and faster responsiveness, friendlier, simpler, longer battery life, lightweight and thousands of tablet specific apps, then get an iPad (or tablet). One product doesn't have to cancel out the other in the market, they both can coexists.

            Now there are those consumers that never really needed the utility nature of the desktop PC (powerful graphic cards, internal fans, maintenance etc), and are now finding tablets are perfectly suited for their needs. We all know people that bought Windows computers but only use about 10% or less of its functionality. Most likely they never really needed a desktop or laptop in the first place but never had any other option that caters to their needs. That's where the iPad steps in. It's not really replacing the functionality of a desktop PC if their needs never required full desktop functionality in the first place. It's like buying a 4-wheel truck for the sole purpose of commuting daily throughout a busy city. It just doesn't make sense. Facebook, twitter and other social sites, e-shopping, casual gaming, messaging, web browsing, emailing, photo viewing sharing and manipulating, recipe book, reading books, mags, paying bills, doing taxes, and many other tablet specific functionality that's just wasn't possible to think off using a desktop/Laptop PC.

            This is what's scaring Microsoft and its followers and causing confusion. There's now a third viable computing option in the market for those that never really needed the full utility nature of Windows PCs. So for those consumers, instead of buying another PC, they now have the option of getting a tablet. Microsoft's attempt of muddying the water with hybrid "Windows" PCs and Windows 8/Metro did not help much in slowing this movement.
          • No,

            and I have seen no Apple 'fanboy' preaching that an iPad would be a replacement of a desktop.

            Personally, I have a MacBook Pro *and* an iPad in my schoolbag when at college.

            Back home the MacBook is connected to a 27" Thunderbolt display (+ an extended Apple keyboard and TouchPad etc) - in reality turning the laptop into a kind of desktop.

            The iPad is a good supplement to a *real* computer. Not a replacement.
          • You are right, iPads are not desktop replacements, and they're not laptop

            replacements either, and every function you mentioned above (girl scouts, and scientist doing field work, etc), are just data gathering functions, and no real processing of the data. Using iPads as debit/credit card info collection points, is not real processing of data. In fact, those functions have been getting done by dumb data gathering machines for 100 years or so. iPads might be replacing some of those dumb functions, but, then again, they aren't being used for point-of-sale machines, or data gathering machines. If it makes you feel good that your beloved iPads are serving some useful functions, then, go ahead, but you can't say that those simple functions are equivalent to what desktops and laptops can do. Smartphones are as capable of iPads, but, they aren't being used to replace PCs, and the big difference between iPhones and iPads, is just screen size. So, neither iPhones nor iPads can replace a full-featured PC, and you just described the real simple functions that iPads can do well enough. Laptops and desktops weren't being used for those simple functions that a lot of iPads are doing now. PCs would be overkill for serving as data collection terminals or simple POS gadgets.
          • iPads are more than data collection,

            If I can write up invoices, edit PDF files (and add a real signature), while being able to do all the other things (email, editing photos, browsing the web and downloading files) then I think you may be wrong. The only limitation is the fact that nobody has written Photoshop for iPad, or Pro Tools, or AutoCAD. But that's just a matter of time. The form factor isn't the problem.