The argument continues all over the web as to whether or not the iPad is just a consumer toy, or is it of any use in the Enterprise. Sure a hardcore Road Warrior can use it while on the road to watch some movies or do some reading, maybe even review a document or two, but can he actually manage with just an iPad and no notebook PC? Can he actually get any work done or will he just have to haunt the hotel Business Center?
Several different office-style suites have already come out to try to make the iPad more productive as a laptop replacement. One of the lesser known but earliest entries in this iPad Productivity Sweepstakes has been Office² HD by Byte². So how does it measure up to someof the more established names in the Mobile Office niche? Find out after the jump.
Office² HD is a straightforward, no-nonsense sort of app that covers two of the three legs of the Office trifecta. You can create and edit Word 2003 docs and Excel 2003 spreadsheets. You can’t edit or create PowerPoint presentations, but you can view them. The same is true for word and Excel 2007 docs…you can view them in Office² HD but that’s it. In addition to viewing Office 2007 docs and PowerPoints, you can also use Office² HD to view PDFs, Mac iWork docs, html pages, even some some common graphics and video formats.
From the first moment that Office² HD opens up, it is clear that it is all business. No fancy opening screen, no helpful wizards, no nothing. Just a great big field of white with a message in the middle telling you the obvious…that there is no document open. To get started, you need to press the only button on screen, the one marked Open (which I admit I sort of liked, it had a very severe sort of Spartan feel to it, unlike the normal touchy-feely nature of many apps on Apple products…”OPEN???? THIS IS IPAD!!!!!” <kick>).
Pressing Open drops a menu down the left hand side of the screen which is more or less the key component to getting around in Office² HD. This is the menu that control everything about opening, creating, saving and finding documents. Along the bottom bar of the menu are a series of clear, ubiquitous icons for opening the Options menu, getting help, deleting selected files and creating and moving folders. I really love the fact that the program is that tightly consolidated, that it all boils down to moving back and forth through a single menu. That kind of focus and clarity brings out the best in a platform like the iPad. Whenever you can have all the controls you need right in front of you, the iOS touch screen interface really shines.
However, in this case the single menu is not very intuitive. When you open it, you are in your Local Files directory. There is a Plus button which one can assume is used for adding documents, but is actually just for creating them. To add documents from an outside source, you need to hit the Back button (even though you haven’t anywhere to go back to yet). Once you have gone back, you realize this is the home menu, and it shows a Local Files folder that you can guess you just came from. However, now what? The only new button is an Edit button. You need to open that to get the Add Service button, to expose one of the strengths of Office² HD, it’s cloud access capabilities. Like I said, not very intuitive. I would never had thought to check the Edit menu to add a server except for the fact that..well…it is the only button there.
Office² HD can access a nice range of WebDAV based sources, including all the current essentials, such as mobileMe, Google Docs and Dropbox. You can also enter details for your own WebDAV server if you have one. The nice part is once you have added a server, it works with it just as if it were an additional local file, logging into it automatically when you bring up the application, assuming you have net access.
I would have liked it to be a little clearer how to actually GET to the place you can add these servers, but once you find it, the process is easy and clear and adds tremendous value to the app.
Once curious failing regarding getting documents into Office² HD is that you can;t really do it from iTunes. For some reason, you can access Office² HD via File Sharing in iTunes, even add documents to it, but it doesn’t put them in a folder you can access. It just floats them on the directory somewhere, but since this is an application on an Apple device, you have limited ability to move around the directories to find the files. There must be some easy way for Byte² to correct this, just by altering the internal folder structure of Office² HD. This really is something that NEEDS to be done.
In editing Word documents, I really liked the style of Office² HD. Again, it is a very straightforward, direct interface. You have a slideable toolbar at the top of the page that accesses a surprisingly powerful feature set. The icons are familiar to anyone who uses Microsoft Word (or really any word processor program) and you can handle most all of the basic functions of creating documents. For example, you can create tables and add pictures…you just are somewhat limited as to how you can format and adjust them. However, just the fact you can add them is a big plus that Office² HD has over some other iPad office suites.
Once very nice aspect is that in selecting a color for a font or a highlight, you can go beyond the standard 16 color set and access an extensive color library, more than 600 in total. Unfortunately, the font choices are limited to the big 6, and there is some odd duplication in order to keep both the Word and Mac crowd happy. Having both Ariel and Helvetica is a bit silly, it would have made more sense to have a font converter automatically make Ariel into Helvetica, or vice versa, and then include a more useful, unusual font that is still part of the standard palate. Garamond or Tahoma would have been nice, or one of the Bookmans.
One other element I really miss from Word are Styles, or at least Headings of some kind. Also the ability to work with Headers and Footers. The lack of functions like that tends to keep most iPad word processors on the level of Notepad, not Word, at least as far as serious document creation is concerned. Office² HD is not alone in lacking them, but it is a problem none the less.
As I have seen in other iPad Office suites, the Excel side of things is actually more powerful and complete than the Word side. Perhaps it is just because I avoid working in Excel like I avoid newborn babies on transatlantic flights, but Office² HD seems to mirror Excel pretty well indeed. Lots of formulas and mathematical thingies, the ability to work with and create multiple sheets, the ability to control the look of individual cells, and to sort things. All that crunchy stuff that Excel experts love.
Another nice part of the Office² HD interface which you can see in the screencap to the right is that when in landscape mode, you can choose to open up your Files menu on the left side while you work. A simple arrow toggle moves it on and off screen.
So, is Office² HD to iPad Office Suite I have been looking for? Not yet, but it has some impressive elements, especially regarding the simplicity of it’s GUI…unfortunately sometimes the simplicity translates as confusing. I could do with some more intuitively named buttons to help me navigate all that clarity.
While Office² HD has more essential features then some other Office Suites on the iPad, it is still lacking some pretty important ones. Its inability to edit or create Office 2007 docs is a MAJOR problem and needs to be corrected in the next version. In addition, it’s interaction with iTunes is, you will pardon me, FUBAR and also MUST be fixed sooner rather than later.
I would recommend Office² HD if you have some light document editing to do on the iPad, or need a powerful, broadbased file viewer. Also, if cloud access is a must for you, then rest assured that Office² HD makes full use of WebDAV servers, accessing those files seamlessly and transparently. Also if your main need is for Excel spreadsheets, then this would be a great app for you.
Don’t look to Office² HD if you need a powerful way to create or edit Word documents for business. It will handle light text or personal documents beautifully, however.
I have a feeling however, considering my interaction with the developers at Byte², that we will see a lot of these deficiencies being corrected in upcoming versions. Productivity apps on the iPad are still a developing art form, and Office² HD is an impressive platform to build from. A little more functionality and some more thought as to usability and workflow and this will be a force to contend with in iPad office suites.
Buy Office² HD at the App Store for $7.99.