Reports in June put the number of iPad specific applications in the App Store north of 10,000. No small number of them feature ways of capturing and manipulating text. But for many lawyers, Microsoft Word compatibility is the gold standard, as it is nearly ubiquitous in law firms. While my personal iPad workflow relies primarily on plain text, the numerous comments on this blog and e-mails to me suggest that most attorneys want Word compatible files from start to finish. So, this post sets out to determine which of the Microsoft Word compatible word processors for the iPad handles the import and export process the best. I’m not tackling other features here – just basic Word compatibility.
The criterion for inclusion in my test is the ability of an app to (i) import Microsoft Word files, (ii) edit those files and (iii) export Microsoft Word compatible files. By my tally, there are currently four major word processing applications for the iPad that feature this level of Microsoft Word compatibility. Those apps (and their developers) are:
All of these apps are iPad native versions, though they have been on the iPhone for some time.
My test was pretty simple. I started with a blank document in Microsoft Word. I added some lorum ipsum and applied simple text formatting. Clicking the thumbnail on the right will take you to an image of the original word file. As you can see, it contains the following basic text formatting:
- normal text, ragged right justification
- normal text, full justification
- bullet list
- numbered list
- bold, underline and italics
- tracked changes (deleted text, added text, comment balloon)
- table (with left, right and center justified text)
A few comments about how I came up with this list. First, while this is but a small sampling of the formatting available in Microsoft Word, I think it is reasonable to conclude that these are the most frequently used formats. Second, I wanted to focus on formatting that I thought a lawyer would use most commonly. For this reason, features like image inserts were not tested. While other formatting is used in pleadings and business agreements, the above formatting is probably all that is necessary for typical legal correspondence and basic drafting. I plan to do a similar post in the future focused specifically on pleading formatting (line numbering, line spacing, footnotes, captions) and business agreement formatting (automatic section numbering, numbering formats, section cross references, page breaks).
To test the apps, I imported my original Microsoft Word 2003 file into each iPad application. Once in the application, I added some text to the document in various locations. I then exported the document from the iPad application in Microsoft Word format. These exports were then opened in Microsoft Word 2003 on my desktop from where I created a PDF. Each of the resulting PDF files is attached at the bottom of this post.
In my test, Documents to Go Premium and QuickOffice Connect Mobile Suite for iPad finished in a dead heat. Both preserved the formatting of the original Word document the best. Most notably, while both DTG and QuickOffice do not display tracked changes on the iPad (the document is displayed as though the changes are “accepted”), the tracked changes formatting was preserved when the file was exported out of these iPad apps and viewed again in a desktop version of Word. This is both important and promising. It is important in that it is good to know that tracked changes formatting is not lost while using these apps (even though it can’t be viewed). It is promising in that it suggests that perhaps this is something that can be addressed in an update of the app since the track change data appears to be preserved in the file on the iPad.
Office 2 finished next. The main failing here was with the tracked changes. In the final export from Office 2, the text marked as deleted was reinstated, the added text was inserted and the comment bubble was deleted (though the text from the comment bubble was oddly preserved in the last line of the document)..
Pages finished last. It failed in the same manner as Office 2 with respect to tracked changes except the deleted text was in fact deleted rather than preserved. It went on to muck with the formatting of the table and the formatting of the text I added to the table was inconsistent with the rest of the document.
For straight Word compatibility, Documents to Go and QuickOffice are equals as far as this test goes. Realize that if you have no need for tracked changes, then any of these applications will do a fine job of allowing you to view, edit and send along Microsoft Word compatible documents. Note that these applications all have extensive feature sets, different price points and other strengths and weaknesses that may make a different application better for your situation.
What does your word processing workflow entail? Which of these apps are you using as part of your workflow? Others I haven’t mentioned?