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Getting Started with Microsoft Office for iPad

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Microsoft Office is the killer app for businesses. Word is the default way to make documents, Excel is the only spreadsheet most would consider using, and PowerPoint is synonymous with presentations. And until recently, to get the full editing power of Microsoft Office, you had to run it on a Mac or PC.

iPads have increasingly replaced laptops in the office and beyond, and now, you can take the power of Office with you on your iPad. No more figuring out how to get the most out of alternative apps—Microsoft Office is really on the iPad now, and it's surpassingly full-featured.

Here's everything you need to get started using Office on your iPad.

The New Office

Microsoft Office on your Mac or PC comes as a set of programs that you install together. Typically, you'd purchase the edition of Office you need—the Home edition would include Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, while the Professional editions would add Publisher, Access, Outlook and more—and install it in one set. Then, in a few years, you'd purchase an upgrade with the latest versions of Office, and would upgrade all the apps included together.

Last year, Microsoft changed that setup a bit by introducing Office 365. For around $10/month, it lets you download every app in the Office Suite on up to 5 computers, and also includes free online storage and Skype minutes. When new versions of the Office apps are released, you'll automatically get them as part of your subscription. It's still real Office apps that you install and can use offline, but you pay for them over time in a subscription. And, it's more integrated with OneDrive, Microsoft's online storage, to keep your files synced with all of your devices.

This new model makes the most sense with the new release of Office for iPad. If you open the App Store on your iPad today, you'll find copies of WordExcelPowerPoint, and OneNote that are each free to download from the App Store. You can open and view Office files from your iPad and OneDrive online storage for free, but to edit or create new documents, you'll need an Office 365 subscription. If you only need one of the apps, you can simply download it on its own, or you can download each of them to have the whole suite.

That way, if you already have an Office 365 subscription, say to use on your PC, but then also want to edit documents on your iPad, you won't have to buy anything extra. And if you don't have Office 365 but would like to use Office on your iPad, you can pay a few dollars a month to use it. That's a far less difficult purchasing decision to make than the old model where you'd have to invest several hundred dollars into a new copy of Office.

Getting Started with Office for iPad

Ready to get started using the new Office on your iPad? Just download WordExcel, or PowerPoint from the App Store, and launch the app of your choice to get started. After a quick introduction to the new app, you'll see a login screen that asks for your email address. Enter the email address you use with your Microsoft Account (for Hotmail, Xbox Live, and more), then sign in with your password.

Note: There's also Microsoft Office Mobile for iPhone and Android. This app includes very basic viewing and editing features for Office files, but is not the new Office for iPad. You'll want to download the individual Word, Excel, and PowerPoint apps on your iPad instead. 

Login to Office 365 on iPad
Sign in with your Microsoft Account before you can use Office for iPad.

If you have an Office 365 subscription, either a personal or business subscription, you'll be logged into the app where you can start using it—though first, click the Activate button in the bottom left corner of the app to activate it with your account. Otherwise, if you don't have an Office 365 subscription, you can purchase an Office 365 subscription in the app for $99/year, or just use the Office apps to view your files. If you'd like to try out Office 365, visit the Office Trial page in your browser and click the green Start your free month button. Follow the directions there, then re-open the Office apps, and you'll be able to use all of the features.

From there, Office for iPad works almost just like every other version of Office you've ever used. You could follow most of our Excel tutorials in Excel for iPad, make the same essays and reports in Word you've always made, and show your PowerPoint presentations without any trouble. Just find an Office document on your iPad—perhaps in an email attachment or in your Dropbox app—and open it in the appropriate Office app, and you'll be ready to get to work.

That said, there's a few things that are unique to the iPad Office apps, so here's the tips you need to bring your Office skills to the iPad.

The File Screen

When you first open any of the Office for iPad apps—after you've signed in, at any rate—you'll see the familiar New Document browser. Much like in Office 2013, when you first open an Office app or press the File button, you'll see a list of built-in templates to pick from.Tap the template you want to open it and start creating a new document using that layout. Alternately, tap the Recent tab on the left to view your recently opened documents from your iPad and OneDrive. Or, tap Open to open older saved documents from either location. Finally, you can tap your profile picture in the top right to sign out or switch accounts, which is a great way to let others get their own Office documents from your iPad.

Create a new document from a template
Create new documents using the built-in templates

Once you've selected the document or template to open, you'll see the full app UI. Every Office for iPad app uses a ribbon interface that keeps all of the tools you need in several tabbed layers at the top of the screen. The ribbon works almost the same as on the PC, with the editing tools you need organized into easily accessible sets. There's also a back arrow button on the top left of each app, which will take you back to the File screen that opens on first-launch. Beside it, you'll find a save button, undo and redo buttons, and then a search and sharing tool on the far right.

Word for iPad
Word for iPad, in all of its beauty.

The Ribbon

Just like on your PC, the ribbon in Office for iPad apps includes the tools you need for your work organized into tabbed sets. The default tab, Home, shows your font and basic formatting options, and the other tabs give you extra app-specific tools (Formulas in Excel and Transitions in PowerPoint, among others). The final two tabs, Review and View, give you options to markup documents for collaboration and tweak the way the Office apps look (say, by turning off the ruler).

Tabs in the Word for iPad Ribbon
The 3 default first tabs in Word for iPad

Inside the ribbon tabs, there's the standard tools that are simply a button you'll tap, along with menus that have extra tools inside them. Some of these are the standard menus you'll have on the PC, such as transitions in PowerPoint, charts in Excel, or font styles in Word, but others are unique to the iPad apps such as the Recommend charts list in Excel that suggests a chart for the data you have selected.

Drop-down menus in Word for iPad
There's drop-down menus with some neat, iPad specific features

Then, there's dynamic tabs that appear in the ribbon when you select certain items in your document. You'll see a picture tab, complete with styles, shadows, and text wrapping settings, when you select a picture—and there's extra tools on the picture itself to rotate or resize it. You'll see a similar ribbon when you add a table, so you can add rows or customize the way it looks. These extra tabs will always appear on the far right, and only will show when you select an element that needs those extra tools.

Picture options in Word for iPad
Just as on a PC, the ribbon adds extra tabs when you heed new features.

The New Keyboard and non-Mouse

The ribbon gives you all the Office features that you need, but your iPad's still missing the two things most important to using Office: a keyboard and mouse. The former is easily solved with the on-screen keyboard, which works quite nicely with the ribbon. You'll have both on the screen at once, so you can change formatting and keep typing without losing a beat.

The on-screen keyboard wouldn't work so nicely for Excel, though, since you'll mostly be entering numbers and symbols that are hard to reach in the iPad's keyboard. Excel includes an extra number keyboard just for that. When typing in Excel, tap the 123 button on the top right of your keyboard to switch to the numpad view. This will give you a normal numpad, arrow keys, and the function keys you'd need most in Excel. Tap and hold on any of the function keys with a green tab in the top corner to find extra characters you can enter. And, of course, you can switch back to the normal keyboard by tapping the Abc button, which gives you a far simpler way to add formulas you already know.

Excel for iPad keyboard
You can enter info in Excel using a standard keyboard or a tweaked on-screen numpad

You can't add a mouse to your iPad, but the text selection tool in iOS gives you much of the same features such as copy and paste. When you select text in Office for iPad apps, you'll get extra features as well, depending on what you select, including the option to copy and paste formatting from one part of your document to another.

iPad text selection options
There's no mouse, but there's almost right-click like options extended for Office.

Saving in the Cloud

Office for iPad is built around OneDrive, Microsoft's online storage, and by default asks you to save your documents there. That way, they'll automatically be synced online and with your other devices, so you can resume your work from anywhere. Alternately, you can save your documents to your company's SharePoint or OneDrive Professional storage, or just save them locally on your iPad.

Either way, to do so, just tap the save icon in the top left of the ribbon, or tap the back arrow to go back to the File screen. You'll then see a Save As screen where you can name your document and choose where you'd like to save it.

Saving files in Office for iPad
Save Office documents offline on your iPad, or in the cloud on OneDrive or your business SharePoint

Collaborating with Others

One of the nicest features in Office for iPad is that you can live collaborate with others on your documents from your iPad. Just tap the person icon in the top left of any Office app, then choose the Email as Link or Copy Link option to send a link to your document to anyone. They can then open the file in Office Online in their browser, or in Office on their Mac, PC, or iPad, and live co-edit it with you. You'll be able to add annotations and comments via the Review tab of the ribbon in any of the apps.

Collaborate in Office for iPad
Collaborate in real-time with others using Office 2013, Office Online, or Office iPad

Or, if you simply want to send a copy of your document to someone—perhaps to send a finished document to your boss—just select the Email as Attachment button in the sharing pane. There's no way to send a file from Office to another app on your iPad, so if you need to share the file in Dropbox or another sharing service, you'll need to email it to yourself and then send it to the other app.

Integrating with Hardware

Office for iPad's greatest limitation is with extra hardware. If you have an external bluetooth keyboard or an iPad keyboard case, Office does work perfectly with it. You can type in text and data, move around with arrow keys (and yes, it works perfect in Excel for moving around cells), copy and paste data, and use standard formatting shortcuts to format your text. For that, you'll need to use Mac-style keyboard shortcuts: Command-I for italics, Command-B for bold, Command-U for underline, and so on.

Then, with PowerPoint, you can use it to show presentations on a TV or projector, though the integration isn't perfect. If you have an adaptor, you can connect your iPad directly to your projector, or otherwise you can stream it via AirPlay to your Apple TV or Mac. PowerPoint doesn't integrate directly with AirPlay, so you'll need to use AirPlay Mirroring to show your entire iPad screen instead.

AirPlay in PowerPoint for iPad
You'll need to use AirPlay mirroring to send PowerPoint presentations to a projector.

Then, strangely enough, there's no option to print documents from Office for iPad. Instead, as a workaround, you can sync them via OneDrive to your Mac or PC and print them from there, or open them in Office.com and print them online. That'll give you a PDF copy of your document, which you can also share directly if you'd like instead of printing it.

Or, as another workaround, tap the share icon and email the document to yourself, then open it in your iPad's Mail app and print it from there. It's not perfect, and the formatting won't be as nice, but it'll at least get your documents printed without needing another computer.

Update: The Office for iPad apps now support printing via AirPrint. If you have a wireless printer, just tap the file icon in the toolbar, select print, then use the standard iOS printing options to get your document printed. It works just like printing in any other iPad app, including the iWork apps.

Putting Office for iPad to Use

If you've used any recent version of Office, you should feel pretty much at home by now. There's not every Office feature in these apps, but there's more features than in Office Online, and you'll find the majority of features you'll need for most projects. You can tweak your paper size, margins, columns, and footers in Word, add charts and link to data in other pages in Excel, and use beautiful transitions in PowerPoint. Just play around with the apps on some sample documents, and try out the features to get a feel for how they work before you start using Office for iPad on your business documents. You'll likely feel perfectly comfortable in less time than you'd imagine.

The Alternatives

If you have a Microsoft Office 365 subscription, Office for iPad is the best tool to edit and create Microsoft Office files from your iPad. If you don't have a subscription, though, and would rather something cheaper, there's still several great options for you. Apple's iWork apps have always been some of the nicest tablet apps, and while they're not 100% perfect at importing Office documents, they're close enough for most use. They have almost every feature that Office for iPad includes, and they're free with a new  You can also reliably make new documents in the iWork apps and export them in Microsoft Office formats, or share them with the iCloud web apps. Plus, they let you print documents, something Microsoft Office for iPad doesn't support yet.

Then, the next best option is using Microsoft's own Office Online, which works surprisingly well on the iPad. Just go to Office.com, select the app you want, and make new documents or open existing ones from your OneDrive account. There's less features in Office Online than in Office for iPad, but it's free and actually is quite nice. Be sure to check our tutorial on using Office Online if you want to get the most out of it.

Office Online in iPad
Office Online includes all of its features in the browser on iPad, with touch-sized buttons.

Conclusion

The iPad has been a serious work device ever since it was first released. The iWork apps and new tools from 3rd party developers filled almost every business niche needed. And yet, there was always one thing missing: Microsoft Office. Even though there's alternatives that are great, plenty of people wanted real Office on the iPad.

That’s fixed now. Microsoft Office for iPad is here, and it’s actually quite nice. It’s missing a few features, but it’s at least as good as the iWork apps, with the guarantee of compatibility with every other copy of Microsoft Office. If your business or university is standardized on Office, that alone is enough reason to use the new Office for iPad over the alternatives you’ll find on the App Store.

The apps themselves all work great, and every feature that is included seems to work perfectly in initial testing. We’d love to hear from you, though, if you try out the Office apps. Let us know in the comments below if you have any trouble using the new Office for iPad apps, or if there’s any major features you’re missing. We’d love to help you find workarounds and ways to get the very most out of Office, no matter where you’re using it: on your Mac or PC, on the web, or now on your iPad.

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