The must-have iPad office apps, round 6

Big changes to key iPad office productivity apps reshape the winners and losers.

iPad office apps

Road warriors' business app toolkit for the iPad

Of the tens of thousands of apps available for the iPad, only a relative few are must-have tools for business use. The tools are regularly updated as new competitors enter the fray -- cloud-based ones most recently.

No doubt your iPad has specialty apps beyond these to help in your specific work. For this, you should peruse our recommended iPad specialty apps and our favorite iOS and Android apps for IT pros, as well as install the appropriate clients for your videoconferencing and instant messaging services.

Read on for our picks for the best native office editors, best cloud office editors, and best native companion productivity tools for the iPad.

Also at Infoworld.com: The best Android office apps

native iPad office apps: scores

InfoWorld Test Center scorecards: Native Office apps

After years of neglect, there’s a new version of Documents to Go available, and Google has now made its mark on Quickoffice, which it acquired more than a year ago. As a result, our choices for the best native office productivity apps have been up-ended, though not in the way you might expect.

For example, Google has removed cloud support from Quickoffice (and will remove it from the legacy Quickoffice HD Pro in May 2014), eliminating its key ease-of-use feature. DocsToGo’s changes are mainly cosmetic. And Apple’s iWork and ByteSquared’s Office2HD have both quietly fixed some issues I complained about previously.

ByteSquared Office2HD word processor

Best word processor (tie): ByteSquared Office2HD

If you want the ability to edit files directly from the popular cloud storage services, your only strong choice is Office2HD, which supports Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, and SkyDrive (but not iCloud). The word processor is capable, supporting most features users need: revisions tracking, tables, spell checking, text formatting, graphics insertion, and (a recent addition) both AirPrint and printing and PDF export.

The one surprising limitation is that you can find text but not replace it. Like most iPad word processors, you can't apply real style sheets. A cool feature is the ability to go back to previous versions of your documents.

App: Office2HD
Price: $7.99

Developer: ByteSquared
Compatibility: iPad (iPhone version: $5.99)

Apple iWork Pages word processor

Best word processor (tie): Apple Pages

Apple's $9.99 iWork Pages is good at layout-oriented documents, and it offers most business features you'll need: revisions tracking, tables, spell checking, search and replace, text formatting, graphics insertion, both AirPrint and printing and PDF export. Pages has also upped its support of style sheets, with headings mapping to Word's defaults and inserted text taking on the style of the paragraph you added it from.

It does have two limits: One, you can't work directly with documents in cloud storage services, just those in Apple's iCloud. Two, you must copy a file before editing; there's no Save As feature once you begin editing.

App: Pages
Price: $9.99
 (free on new iPhones)
Developer: Apple
Compatibility: iPad and iPhone

Google Quickoffice, DataViz Documents to Go, Picsel Smart Office 2 word processors

The rest of the iPad word processors

Google's Quickoffice (free with a Google account) remains a mid-level word processor if you edit local files, but it has lost its support for cloud storage services.

DataViz's $16.99 Documents to Go Premium offers the basics, but no more. A recent update made it run slower and added none of the key missing features: graphics insertion, paragraph styles, and revisions tracking. Its only advanced feature is its extensive support for cloud storage, including iCloud.

Picsel's $9.99 Smart Office 2 is, in a word, unusable due to a very poor user interface and limited capabilities. And using cloud storage requires signing up for spam.

Apple iWork Numbers sptreadsheet

Best spreadsheet editor (tie): Numbers

Apple's iWork Numbers spreadsheet editor is designed to make data entry easy, especially around numeric, date, and formula info. The keyboard even adjusts based on the type of data you're working with. Excel users may dislike Numbers' approach to creating worksheets; Numbers allows several on a page, which can confound experienced Excel users.

Also, like all iWork apps, the only cloud storage service you can directly edit files in is Apple's own iCloud. But it does support AirPrint and PDF export.

App: Numbers
Price: $9.99
 (free on new iPhones)
Developer: Apple

Compatibility: iPad and iPhone

Google Quickoffice spreadsheet

Best spreadsheet editor (tie): Quickoffice

Quickoffice's spreadsheet-editing module works very much like Excel, so it's instantly accessible to Excel users. That also means it offers less visual feedback than Apple's Numbers. Although it does support AirPrint and PDF export, it no longer supports editing from cloud storage services, but it’s the only app to support pane freezing.

App: Quickoffice
Price: Free with Google account
Developer: Google's Quickoffice
 division
Compatibility: iPad and iPhone

ByteSquared Office2HD spreadsheet

Best spreadsheet editor (tie): Office2HD

Office2HD's spreadsheet module is very similar to Quickoffice's, lacking only pane freezing but boasting extensive support of cloud storage services. For many users, it's a better option than Quickoffice due to the cloud support.

App: Office2HD
Price: $7.99

Developer: ByteSquared
Compatibility: iPad (iPhone version: $5.99)

DataViz Documents to Go, Picsel Smart Office 2 spreadsheet

The rest of the iPad spreadsheet editors

DataViz's $16.99 Documents to Go Premium offers the basics, but no more. It's languished for several years, so it's not a good investment choice. It does not support printing or PDF export.

Picsel's $9.99 Smart Office 2 is simply unusable due to a very poor user interface and limited capabilities.

Apple iWork Keynote presentation

Best presentation editor: Keynote

Simply put, iWork Keynote is an amazing slideshow editor. I prefer it over PowerPoint even on the Mac, and on the iPad it works beautifully when creating complex slide transitions and element effects, which competing apps can't do. A bonus is Apple's free Keynote Remote app for the iPhone and iPod Touch that lets you control a Keynote presentation remotely on your Mac or iPad.

Keynote's big negative is its awkward requirement of copying documents to and from cloud storage services, rather than allowing direct access as other apps do. But it does support AirPrint and PDF export.

App: Keynote
Price: $9.99
 (free on new iPhones)
Developer: Apple

Compatibility: iPad and iPhone

Google Quickoffice, ByteSquared Office2HD, DataViz Documents to Go, Picsel Smart Office 2 presentation

The rest of the iPad presentation editors

The free-with-Google-account Quickoffice's presentation editor is basic, really aimed at touching up existing presentations' text and object placement, not creating new slideshows. And forget about anything like Keynote's animation capabilities. But it's the only app other than Keynote that supports AirPrint and PDF export.

ByteSquared's $7.99 Office2HD presentation editor is likewise basic, aimed at just touchup work. But it does work with cloud storage services.

DataViz's $16.99 Documents to Go Premium is less than basic when it comes to presentation editing, allowing really just text touchup.

Picsel's $9.99 Smart Office 2 is unusable due to a very poor user interface and limited capabilities.

cloud office

InfoWorld Test Center scorecards: Cloud office apps

As Apple, Google, and Microsoft battle over in-the-cloud office editing on the desktop, the action on the iPad centers around native apps. But there are several cloud-based tools that use iPad apps as the front end, doing the heavy lifting in the cloud.

CloudOn

Best Microsoft Office in-the-cloud service: CloudOn Pro

With a Pro subscription, the CloudOn app nicely accesses the 2010 versions of Excel, PowerPoint, and Word, as well as Adobe Reader, hosted on Windows Server. Plus, it supports the iPad's native keyboard and Share facility. It uses your Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, and SkyDrive cloud storage, so you don't have to worry about version control across devices.

It has a few flaws, but when you need the full version of Microsoft Office, CloudOn is a handy option -- as long as you have a live Internet connection, of course. The free CloudOn service remains available but lacks essential business features, such as revisions tracking.

App: CloudOn
Price: $80/year (Pro subscription)

Developer: CloudOn

Compatibility: iPad and iPhone

Office Web Apps, Office 365

The rest of the Microsoft Office in-the-cloud services for the iPad

Two services let you run Office 2010 as a hosted app over the Internet from a Windows Server, with the claimed benefit of giving you the actual Microsoft experience on your iPad.

The subscription-based Microsoft Office 365's hosted Office Web Apps works surprisingly well in the iPad's Safari browser but has little integration with the iPad, so accessing local files or printing requires labor-intensive workarounds. (Log in from http://office.microsoft.com.)

The free OnLive Desktop is a horrible Office hosting service: It scrunches Office 2010 into the iPad's smaller screen. The app forces you to manually activate its own onscreen keyboard, can't print, and loading files requires separate login to its website. Plus, leaving the app disconnects you.

Google Drive, AstralPad

The rest of the alternative cloud-based office editors

An alternative to hosted Office services are Web-based document editors.

Google's Drive (free with a Google account) can only edit text and do rudimentary formatting -- and only for files saved in Google's own format in your desktop browser. The same is true for spreadsheets; there's no formula editor, for example. And it can only view presentations. It’s not the editor Google promotes it as.

The free AstralPad provides moderate editing capabilities -- more than Google Drive, less than hosted Office -- but is very slow, allows only two open documents, can't print, requires manual keyboard activation and has a confusing interface. It does allow access to Dropbox and Google Drive files.

iPad productivity apps

Editor's Choice: Must-have productivity iPad apps

Beyond the holy trinity of office productivity apps -- those for textual documents, spreadsheets, and presentations -- are lots of iPad specialty apps. Some are so broadly useful that they should be on nearly everyone's iPad. Our picks for those follow.

Good.iWare Goodreader file manager

Best file manager: GoodReader

Many people really wish the iPad had a shared file system like a PC or Mac, but it doesn't. GoodReader can give you much of the file manager you want. It provides a central file repository for files you transfer via Wi-Fi, various storage services, iTunes, and the Open In facility used by many iOS apps (such as Mail). GoodReader -- as its name implies -- also lets you read many file formats, including several not supported by iOS's naive QuickLook facility. Plus, it unzips file archives, so you don't need a separate utility for the task.

App: GoodReader
Price: $4.99

Developer: Good.iWare

Compatibility: iPad (iPhone version: $4.99)

Good.iWare GoodReader PDF

Best PDF markup: GoodReader

Although GoodReader didn't start life as a PDF annotation tool, it's evolved into a darned good one. You get all the markup tools you expect from Acrobat Professional -- even the advanced editing tools. The app does a good job of using touch gestures for highlighting portions of your PDF for markup. My only quibbles are that getting the markup menu back can be tricky and that you can't rotate individual pages, so sometimes you're marking up a page rotated 90 degrees from the orientation of the sticky notes' text you're adding.

Note: The free Adobe Reader is good for simpler uses.

App: GoodReader
Price: $4.99

Developer: Good.iWare

Compatibility: iPad (iPhone version: $4.99)

Ginger Labs Notability

Best note-taking (tie): Notability

Taking notes is a very personal activity, and there are dozens of apps for the iPad that reflect all those preferences. But three such apps work well for most people. One is the iPad's built-in Notes app, which is great for typing in text-only notes and syncing them to your computer and other devices.

If you want notes that include audio recordings and drawings, you should also get Notability. It's straightforward to use and associates your recordings to what you type as you type; to hear the portion of a recording made when you typed in specific text, just tap that text. The newest version works with iCloud and on iPhones.

App: Notability
Price: $4.99

Developer: Ginger Labs

Compatibility: iPad and iPhone

Evernote

Best note-taking (tie): Evernote

The third note taker you should consider is Evernote, a Web-based service that collects snippets of information -- more Post It-style notes than detailed meeting notes, though it can do those, too -- and synchronizes all that info across your devices and computers. You can create buckets and move items around them, and you won't be as likely to lose them as you do all those scraps on your desk. For collaborative note-taking, Evernote offers several paid subscription options.

App: Evernote
Price: Free (app); $50 for pro subscription
Developer: Evernote
Compatibility: iPad and iPhone

Calculator Original

Best calculator: Calculator Original

Who doesn't need a calculator now and then? But unlike the iPhone, the iPad doesn't come with one built in. Fortunately, you can get an iPad version of that familiar iPhone calculator for free.

App: Calculator Original
Price: Free

Developer: Spencer Brown

Compatibility: iPad

Box

Best cloud storage (tie): Box

Like Dropbox, Box enjoys wide support from iPad apps, and it works in Windows, OS X and Android. It now offers the simple integration with OS X and Windows that Dropbox long has boasted, making it easy to work with files. Box can be used with Apple's iWork suite on the iPad for no additional charge, and it offers an enterprise version that lets IT manage access and content rights for corporate data.

App: Box
Price: Free, but charges for storage vary

Developer: Box

Compatibility: iPad and iPhone

Dropbox

Best cloud storage (tie): Dropbox

Apple's iCloud is a great service for keeping files and other data synced across iOS and OS X devices, but it's not (yet) a storage service where you can keep files in a central location accessible to all devices and other users. Dropbox is such a service, and it's integrated with many iPad apps, so it can fill in as a common file system in some cases. Dropbox also integrates nicely with OS X and Windows, appearing as another storage volume. It's available for Android as well. Note that using Dropbox with Apple's iWork apps requires a $5 monthly fee.

App: Dropbox
Price: Free, but charges for storage vary

Developer: Dropbox

Compatibility: iPad and iPhone

Microsoft SkyDrive, Google Drive, AppSense DataNow

Other cloud storage tools for the iPad

Three other cloud storage tools may warrant your attention.

One is Microsoft's SkyDrive app, mainly because it comes with Office 2013, Windows 8, and Office Web Apps as a default storage location, so it's essential for Windows users. (There’s a separate Pro version for Office 365 business users.) Note that few apps support SkyDrive natively, so you'll need to transfer files.

Likewise, although this popular service is supported by many apps natively, having the Google Drive client app is also a good idea.

If you use multiple cloud storage services, AppSense's free DataNow app can manage them, letting you move files among them easily from one console. It supports Dropbox, SkyDrive, Google Drive, FTP servers and WebDAV servers.

Omni Group OmniFocus

Best task manager: OmniFocus

If you're a project manager who needs serious task management capabilities, such as timelines, multimedia annotations, multiple assignees, calendar integration and hierarchical steps, OmniFocus is the gold standard for iOS and OS X. If all you need is a to-do list, the iPad's built-in Reminders app is primitive but serviceable.

App: OmniFocus
Price: $39.99

Developer: Omni Group

Compatibility: iPad (iPhone version: $19.99)

Headlight Software FTP On the Go Pro

Best FTP client: FTP on the Go Pro

Cloud storage services have made FTP utilities archaic for many users, but if you work on a website or in many file-management systems, you still need a client. For the iPad, that client should be FTP on the Go, which not only does the FTP uploading and downloading you'd expect, but also provides a basic HTML editor so that you can touch up your Web pages.

App: FTP on the Go Pro
Price: $9.99

Developer: Headlight Software

Compatibility: iPad (iPhone version: $6.99)