iPad smackdown: Microsoft Office vs. Apple iWork vs. Google G Suite

Your iPad can largely function like a laptop with two of the three main office productivity suites

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iPad productivity smackdown: File collaboration compared

Productivity functionality such as editing and formatting have been pretty stable since the late 1990s, so the differences are more about what the vendors choose to support rather than about innovation. In recent years, the innovation has been in collaboration. 

All three suites support document sharing: You can invite people to open a document for viewing or for editing (your choice), or you can send them a hyperlink to that shared document. In all three cases, editing requires that the recipient have the appropriate account (iCloud for iWork, Office 365 for Office, or Google Drive for G Suite).

iWork has sharing support for Android users, but they can only view shared documents. Shared iWork documents can be edited only in a Windows PC or Mac browser, or in iOS or MacOS via an iWork app. Shared Office documents can be edited in Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Android via the native Office apps on those platforms or via a desktop browser on a PC or Mac. Shared G Suite documents can be edited in iOS and Android via the native mobile apps and in Windows, MacOS, and Chrome OS via a browser. Advantage: Office and G Suite. 

In the case of Office, editing links are permitted only if enabled by your Office 365 administrator, but you can also share documents directly with other corporate users from the Office apps. Also, after you create a link, Office closes the sharing tool, which makes you think it canceled out. What actually happened? Office copied the link to the Clipboard and closed the tool, but it doesn't let you know that. iWork and G Suite simply present the link for you to copy yourself. Advantage: iWork and G Suite. 

Although Office lets users edit a document simultaneously if they're all working in a browser, the Office apps allow only one user to edit the document at a time; all other users are locked out of editing mode while that document is open in an app. That difference is likely to trip up users. iWork and G Suite both allow simultaneous editing both from their apps and from browsers. Advantage: iWork and G Suite. 

iWork also helpfully adds an icon to the top of the screen for a shared document, as well as in the document viewer, reminding you that the document is currently shared; Office and G Suite do not give you any such easy reminder. All three apps let you see who the document is shared with. Advantage: iWork.

iWork lets you assign a password to a file shared for editing, and you can unshare the link from within iWork. When working with personal files (not stored on your corporate OneDrive for Business or SharePoint repository), Office doesn't let you assign a password to a shared file for editing, and it doesn't let you disable that sharing, either in the Office apps or in the OneDrive app.

G Suite does not support passwords for shared editing links, but like Office it offers a direct-sharing capability to individual users. In the enterprise version of G Suite, sharing works the same way as direct sharing does in a corporate Office 365 environment. Advantage: iWork.

In Office, you can manage individuals' access to corporate documents shared directly with other corporate users from within the Office apps. iWork doesn't have this concept of personal versus corporate use, and Google handles it by making you sign in and out of accounts, with one-at-a-time access. Advantage: Office.

Overall, Office gets the win, mainly because its sharing works best in a multiplatform environment and best supports corporate data-management needs. Both iWork and G Suite provide easier user interfaces.

Productivity showdown: Making a choice

It should be clear that the choice is between iWork and Office. Of course, that needn't be a choice, since iWork comes with your iPad, and it's a rare business that won't provide Office to its employees. (That is why Microsoft has tied the iOS and Android versions of Office to having an Office 365 subscription, to force the issue for companies with mobile workers.)

G Suite is not nearly functional enough on iOS to make the iPad viable as a mainstay production device. G Suite really only supports production use on a computer browser, with its mobile apps suitable only for touchup work.

Because Office and iWork are nearly equivalent in their productivity capabilities, your decision will be driven largely by two other factors:

  1. Office dominance. Because Office for iPad looks and works very much like Office for Android, Office 2016 for Mac, and Office 2016 for Windows, it makes a lot of sense for a "Microsoft shop" to have everyone use Office everywhere. That reduces training requirements and slightly eases document flow. In more heterogeneous environments, iWork's strong file compatibility with Office means you can have your iWork and Office too.
  2. Collaboration and cloud differences. All three suites differ most in how they handle files in the cloud and support collaboration. Even when their functionality is the same, how they deliver that functionality can differ significantly. Most companies will go to Office now that the underlying OneDrive cloud storage engine works decently across all platforms, and now that OneDrive has SharePoint integration. Plus, Office has the best cross-platform support.

The good news is you really can't go wrong with Office or iWork. The more Apple-centered you are, the more iWork is plausible. But Office has the key advantages of working well across all platforms and fitting in easily with your existing Office infrastructure.

This story, "iPad smackdown: Microsoft Office vs. Apple iWork vs. Google G Suite" was originally published by InfoWorld.

Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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