The three big guns of Office - Word, Excel, and PowerPoint - arrived in unison for the iPad. Each is a separate (and free) download from the App Store. The basic app allows you to read Word documents, work with existing Excel spreadsheets, and present a PowerPoint slideshow. You'll need to sign in with an Office 365 account to create new documents or use the full set of editing tools, however.
Signing in with an Office 365 Home Premium, Small Business, or Enterprise account activates all of the Office apps and enables the full range of editing capabilities.
Each of the Office apps for iPad requires a separate download from the App Store. They're not small, either: Word, Excel, and PowerPoint each use approximately 450 MB of storage on the iPad, and OneNote clocks in at nearly 600 MB.
If you're not signed in with an Office 365 account, you can't create new Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, or PowerPoint decks. You can open existing Office files from the iPad or from OneDrive, but you can't make any changes to those files unless you sign in with an Office 365 account.
If this opening menu for each of the big three Office apps on the iPad looks familiar, that shouldn't be a surprise. The basic model is similar to its equivalent in the Windows desktop apps included with an Office 365 subscription. You can store new documents on the iPad or open and save directly from the cloud.
You don't need to remember to save documents, because AutoSave is on by default. You can disable AutoSave if bandwidth is an issue, and you can also create a copy or revert to a previously saved version from this menu.
If you initially created a new document on the iPad or saved an Office-formatted email attachment, you can move it to the cloud by tapping this icon. The File menu also lets you share the document as an email attachment or create a link to the file in OneDrive or OneDrive for Business.
If you've used Excel on a Windows PC or a Mac, this basic view should be familiar. Each of the five menu options below the document title reveals a ribbon, which can be hidden with a tap. The range of options is less extensive than on the PC or Mac versions of Office, but the spreadsheet's contents, including charts and formatting, are rendered with full fidelity.
When you tap in Excel's formula bar, the iPad keyboard appears. For Excel, you can use the standard keyboard or tap the 123 icon in the top right to expose this custom keyboard. These options are much better suited to entering formulas; tap and hold any key with a green flag in its corner to expose a range of additional, related characters.
One of the signature features of Excel 2013 for Windows is the new charting engine, which is replicated in the Excel app on the iPad. After selecting a range of data, you can tap the Recommended button to see a selection of chart types that are most appropriate for the selected data. Note that the thumbnails on this menu are displaying a preview that uses the actual data.
In another feature borrowed directly from Excel 2013 for Windows, this list of chart styles allows you to quickly change the appearance of an existing chart by using ready-made collections of colors, shapes, and layouts.
Not every feature available in the desktop Office programs is available in the corresponding iPad app. In Excel, for example, you can view the last saved arrangement of data in a PivotTable, but you can't make any changes from the iPad.
The options on Excel's Home ribbon include the basic text formatting you'd expect, as well as a full assortment of number formats and cell styles. Note that you can't create or edit custom formats or styles here; that's another task that requires the full desktop app.
If you know Word for Windows, you'll be right at home in the Word app for iPad. Note that tapping and dragging a selection in a Word document displays a magnifier porthole that's different than the standard round magnifier you'll find in iPad. That subtle customization makes it easier to see multiple words when making a selection, instead of just positioning the pointer for editing.
One of Word's most powerful features on the desktop is the ability for co-workers to add comments and track changes as they collaborate on a document. The Show Markup options on the Review tab let you control the appearance of comments in the document shown on the iPad's screen.
With the All Markup option selected, you can see every insertion, deletion, and comment thread for the current document, in a display that's nearly identical to what you would see on the full desktop version of Word. And yes, the red squiggly underlines are there to highlight potentially misspelled words. If you find them distracting, you can turn them off with a toggle on the View tab.
The Insert ribbon offers a limited selection of options, including page and section breaks, tables, pictures and shapes, and hyperlinks, as shown here. Compare that small (but useful) selection to the extensive range of options on Word for the desktop and you get a sense of the differences between the two programs. One example: The Pictures option allows you to insert a picture from the iPad Photos folder only; you can't add pictures from an online collection directly.
After you insert a picture into a document, you can change its appearance using the style options shown here, which include most of the choices you'll find in the equivalent menu in Word 2013 on a Windows PC.
Opening the New tab in PowerPoint displays this gallery of presentation themes, a subset of the options in PowerPoint for the desktop. After you make your selection, you can't change themes in the PowerPoint iPad app; for that task, you have to go back to the desktop. Also worth noting: the subtle menu in the upper right, where you can choose a Standard (4:3) or Widescreen (16:9) presentation.
Unlike its desktop cousin, PowerPoint on the iPad offers only a single view, with a column of slides on the left and the currently selected slide on its right. You can tap and drag slides in the list on the left to change their order, or tap and hold to display a menu that includes options to cut, copy, delete, or duplicate a slide, or to set the slide as hidden so it won't appear when you present the deck.
Here's another example of a feature that should be familiar to longtime PowerPoint jockeys. Tap New Slide and you can choose from the standard selection of layouts, as shown here.
The sheer number of transitions available for each slide is startling, and you have control over many how those effects work as well. You don't get the same fine-grained control over slide timings as in PowerPoint for the desktop, however.
One ideal application of PowerPoint for the iPad is to send the tablet's output to a large screen and then drive the presentation with taps and swipes. For live presentations, you can also tap and hold to display a virtual laser pointer, or use the pens and markers shown here to emphasize elements on the slide. These annotations are strictly temporary and disappear when the slide show ends.
You'll find a minimal selection of settings for each of the Office apps at the bottom of the iPad Settings page. From here, you can clear cached documents or completely reset any app. For Word, this is where you go to disable AutoFormat As You Type, a feature that is either magical or maddening, depending on your personal preference.