Microsoft Office vs. iWork

Let the battle for productivity on the iPad begin

Microsoft Office is now in the App Store, but does the popular productivity suite top Apple iWork in terms of functionality? Microsoft has a very polished product, but Apple has improved its offering over the years. We tested both so you can make a confident decision about which one is right for you.

Illustration showing people using Microsoft Office and iWork
Lifewire / Alex Dos Diaz

Overall Findings

Microsoft Office
  • More formatting options for images.

  • More special effects for fonts and shapes.

  • Easy to use.

  • Sync documents to a desktop PC.

  • Full features require a Microsoft 365 subscription.

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

  • Open In feature opens documents in any app that supports the format.

  • Keynote takes advantage of the iPad's video-out capabilities; it shows slides in full screen while the iPad shows presenter notes.

  • Free to all iOS device owners.

Office and iWork are good productivity suites that offer a variety of apps. Both offer fully featured word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation software. iWork is better if you create lots of charts, while Office creates splashier documents and presentations. iWork is free, which makes it an attractive choice for iOS owners.

The base version of the unified Office app for iPad (featuring Word, PowetPoint, and Excel) is free, but if you require advanced features, you'll need an Office 365 subscription. If you also own a desktop PC, Office offers more flexibility.

Platform Compatibility: Both Get Constant Updates

Microsoft Office
  • iOS 7.0 or later

  • 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: Pages Has the Advantage

  • Easy to use.

  • Requires Excel to use charts.

  • More customization options for text.

  • Easy to use.

  • Built-in charts functionality.

  • Open In feature opens documents in any app that supports the format.

Word and Pages are similar, with identical features. Both allow basic tasks 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). This is less of an issue now that Microsoft has unveiled a unified Office app for iPad that includes Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.

Pages makes it easy to share documents with the Open In feature, which opens documents in any app that supports the file format. That means you can open your Pages documents in Evernote or Word.

Microsoft Word dropped the ball with charts, but it does go deeper in some of the formatting options. You can change the color of the text in both apps, but Word has special effects such as 3D and shadows that can be applied to text. Word also has more formatting options for images, for example, drop shadows, reflections, and 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 who do a lot of work with Microsoft Word on a PC.

Microsoft PowerPoint vs. iWork Keynote: Keynote Has Great Charts and Slides

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

  • Great customization options.

  • Uses display mirroring for presentations.

  • Creates great charts without outside software.

  • Can show slides in full screen.

  • Ability to see presenter notes on the iPad screen.

PowerPoint and Keynote each have strong points. PowerPoint is great for creating a solid presentation, while Keynote is better at presenting the presentation. One exception is charts. PowerPoint only creates simple charts without the help of Excel. If you have lots of data, and it changes regularly, Microsoft recommends creating the chart in Excel 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 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 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 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 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 screen is 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 Is Easier to Work With

  • Easy to work with.

  • Readily accessible menus.

  • Copy and paste function needs improvement.

  • AutoSum functions can be time savers.

  • Easy to use (mostly).

  • Finding shortcuts requires some experimentation.

  • Easier to use copy and 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 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 when 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 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 time savers.

Microsoft did fumble on copy-and-paste functions. It's hard to get the copy and paste menu to appear when tapping a cell. You need to tap, hold for a moment, then release. Excel is also 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: iWork Is Completely Free for iOS Owners

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

  • Advanced features require a Microsoft 365 subscription.

  • Free to download for all iOS owners.

iWork is free to download for all iOS devices. Meanwhile, Microsoft Office for iPad is free to download, and it lets users read, review, and present documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. The unified Microsoft Office app for iPad also lets users edit, create, and save files to OneDrive and other third-party cloud services, along with an impressive array of expanded features.

While Office for iPad had most of the features users need available for free, for advanced functions, such as complicated formatting, you'll need an Office 365 subscription.

Final Verdict: iWork Is a Good Deal for Most People

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

It's also worth noting that 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. For instance, ease of use is much better since Microsoft unveiled a unified Office app with Word, PowerPoint, and Excel, and the free version supports more features and functionality.

All things being equal, though, it's hard not to give iWork the crown. It's a free download, while some features in Office 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. The updated features of the unified Microsoft Office app for iPad, along with a Microsoft 365 subscription, will offer all the functionality you'd need. With multiple Microsoft 365 licenses, you can install it on a desktop PC, laptop, and tablet.

While the unified Microsoft Office iPad app is available on the App Store, if you prefer downloading separate applications, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint apps are still available individually.

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