Microsoft Office vs. iWork

Let the battle for productivity on the iPad begin

Businesswoman using digital tablet in office

Luis Alvarez / Getty Images 

Microsoft Office is now on the App Store, but does the popular productivity suite really top Apple's iWork in terms of functionality? Microsoft has a very polished product, but Apple has improved its own offering over the years. Which one is right for you?

Two people using Office and iWork, respectively
Lifewire / Alex Dos Diaz

Overall Findings

Microsoft Office

  • More formatting options for images.

  • More special effects for fonts and shapes.

  • Easy to use.

  • Can sync with a desktop PC.

  • Full features require an Office 365 subscription.

iWork

  • Ability to add charts is built-in (Office requires Excel to do the same).

  • "Open In" feature lets you open a document in any app that supports the format.

  • Keynote takes full advantage of the iPad's video-out capabilities, allowing it to show the slide in full screen while the iPad shows presenter notes.

  • Free to all iOS device owners.

Office and iWork are good productivity suites offering a variety of apps. They both offer fully-featured word processing, spreadsheets, and presentation software. iWork is better if you need to create lots of charts, while Office can create splashier documents and power points. iWork's price tag (free) makes it an attractive choice for iOS owners, but if you also own a desktop PC Office offers more flexibility.

Platform Compatibility

Microsoft Office

  • iOS 7.0 or later

iWork

  • iOS 12 or later.

Both Microsoft Office and iWork receive constant updates and are compatible with the current version of iOS.

Microsoft Word vs. iWork Pages

Word

  • Easy to use.

  • Requires Excel to use charts.

  • More customization options for text.

Pages

  • Easy to use.

  • Built-in charts functionality.

  • "Open in" feature lets you open documents in any app supporting the format.

Word and Pages are similar, with identical features spread across a smorgasbord of functionality. Both allow basics such as text formatting, custom headers, footers, footnotes, bulleted and numbered lists, pictures and images (including a small clipart gallery) tables, and paragraph styles. Pages and Word also rank high in ease-of-use.

One big feature included with Pages is the ability to add charts to the document, a feature missing in Word (unless you use Excel, too). You can also go back and edit the data behind the chart at any time. Pages makes it easy to share your documents as well with the "Open In" feature, which allows you to open the documents in any app that supports their format. That means you can open your Pages documents in Evernote or even Word.

Microsoft Word dropped the ball with charts, but it does go deeper in some of the formatting options. Both apps allow you to change the color of the text, but Word also allows the adding of special effects like 3D or shadows. It also has more formatting options for images, like drop shadow, reflections, or other effects.

Both products are similar and will get the job done for most people. Pages has an advantage with charts, but Word is a great choice for those already doing a lot of work with Microsoft Word on their PC.

Microsoft PowerPoint vs. iWork Keynote

PowerPoint

  • Can't create complex charts without the help of Excel.

  • Great customization options.

  • Uses display mirroring for presentations.

Keynote

  • Creates great charts without outside software.

  • Can show slides in full screen.

  • Ability to see presenter notes on iPad screen.

PowerPoint and Keynote each have their strong points. PowerPoint gets the nod for creating a solid presentation, while Keynote is better at actually presenting the presentation. One big exception here is charts. PowerPoint can only create simple charts without the help of Excel. If you have lots of data, and it changes regularly, Microsoft recommends creating the chart in Excel first and copying it into PowerPoint. Keynote, on the other hand, has no problem creating nice looking charts.

The level of detail Microsoft added with fonts and shapes really pays off in PowerPoint. The text can take on a shadowed or 3D effect, pictures can be modified with various effects, and PowerPoint has a much larger gallery of shapes and symbols that can be added to presentations. Keynote can do some of this, but not nearly as well as PowerPoint. If you need to make a really splashy presentation, PowerPoint is the best choice.

But what about giving that presentation? Both products seem geared toward presenting, with the ability to highlight an area of the slide or use a virtual laser pen to highlight a topic on the slide. But Keynote takes full advantage of the iPad's video-out capabilities, allowing it to show the slide in full screen while the iPad shows presenter notes. PowerPoint relies on display mirroring, which means the iPad's screen is simply duplicated. Not only does this mean no hidden notes on the iPad, but it also means the slide won't take up the full screen when connected to a TV or projector.

Microsoft Excel vs. iWork Numbers

Excel

  • Easy to work with.

  • Readily accessible menus.

  • Copy/paste function needs improvement.

  • AutoSum functions can be real time savers.

Numbers

  • Easy to use (mostly).

  • Finding shortcuts requires some experimentation.

  • Easier to use copy/paste functions.

Microsoft did a great job of making the mobile version of Office accessible, and nowhere does this stand out more than Excel. Feature for feature, Numbers and Excel are pretty similar, but Excel is easier to work with.

It's the attention to detail that makes Excel a winner here. For example, both Excel and Numbers feature custom keyboard layouts that can help with entering a large amount of raw data, especially numbers, but it's easier to figure out and use in Excel. In Numbers, you'll need to experiment to find these shortcuts. While both break down functions into categories, even including the most recently used functions, it's easier to find what you are looking for with Excel's readily accessible menus. The "AutoSum" functions, which predict the data you want to use, can also be real time savers.

Microsoft did fumble the ball on copy-and-paste functions. It's hard enough just to get the copy/paste menu to appear when you're tapping a cell. You need to tap, hold for a moment and then release. Excel is also a bit finicky when pasting functions where the function applies to the relative data in relation to the target cell. This whole process seems much smoother in Numbers.

Pricing

Office

  • Free to read, review, and present documents, spreadsheets, and presentations.

  • Creating or editing requires an Office 365 subscription.

iWork

  • Free to download for all iOS owners.

iWork is a clear winner when it comes to price. It's completely free to download for all iOS device owners. Meanwhile, Microsoft Office for iPad is free to download and it lets users read, review, and present documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. But, to use the software's full features, including creating and editing, you need an Office 365 subscription.

Final Verdict: iWork Is a Good Deal For Most People

It's rather surprising just how well iWork holds up when compared to Office. Almost all of the features are the same between the two products, with Microsoft Office getting a slight edge in the ease-of-use category and Apple's iWork suite getting a big thumbs up for including charts in the word processor and presentation software.

It's also worth noting Microsoft Office is relatively new to the iPad, while iWork has been around for a few years. The feature set may be very similar right now, but Microsoft Office will likely grow and mature as Microsoft gains experience with the iOS platform.

All things being equal, though, it's hard not to give iWork the crown. It's a free download, while some of Office's most important features are locked behind a subscription fee. But, if you use Microsoft Office extensively, whether for work or at home, the interoperability between Office for the PC and Office for the iPad is enough to give Office a clear advantage. And the Office 365 subscription gives you multiple licenses, so you can install it on your desktop PC, your laptop, and your tablet.