This has been a big year for iPad word processing. In March Microsoft delivered an iOS version of Word. April saw Apple update the iPad version of its Pages word processor and give the app away with new tablets.
Last week Google joined the party with a stand-alone Google Docs app for the iPad.
Each word processor is part of a suite that also includes a spreadsheet and a presentation app. All three are closely tied to cloud services.
Here I’m only interested in word processing.
Word and Pages are light versions of comprehensive word processors. Pages is geared towards complex layouts that mix words and images. Microsoft Word is the favourite in corporate offices and with people like lawyers. It comes packed with more features than most of us will ever use — even on an iPad.
Google Docs shines when it comes to remote collaboration, otherwise it is more suited to less fancy output. But with software simplicity is a virtue.
Can’t argue with Google’s price
While all three apps are nominally free, Google Docs is the most free.
There’s simply no charge. Pages is free for those who buy a new iPad. Existing iPad owners need to pay around US$10 for the download. Strictly speaking Microsoft’s Word App is free. However you only get full use it if you have a Microsoft 365 subscription. My subscription costs NZ$165 a year.
Although the Google Docs app is new, Docs has long been an option on the iPad. Until now you had to use it online in a browser on an iPad — or indeed any other device.
That’s perhaps the biggest change with the iPad app: it now works offline just like the Word and Pages apps.
Google gets competitive
The arrival of app is probably as much about competing with Microsoft as with the need for a standalone version of the software.
In terms of functionality, iPad Google Docs doesn’t match either Word or Pages. In fact there’s a lot that’s missing from the online version. You can’t insert images or hyperlinks — that’s a deal breaker for my online work. I can’t seem to find a way to create tables or do a word count. Word and Pages do all these things and more.
To be fair to Google, this is the first version of the app. I seem to remember Pages didn’t include everything it now has when it first appeared. Pages is the most powerful of the three, by a nose over Word. Yet that makes it a little more complex in use. Google Docs on the iPad is great for knocking out words quickly.
One area where Google beats Apple is that Docs is universal. You can run it on next to any device. Pages is strictly Apple. Microsoft’s Word Web apps fills in any gaps in that application’s coverage.
Verdict – iPad Google Docs
If you already work with Google Docs or collaborate with others who do, then the iPad app is a welcome addition. Otherwise, it is underpowered compared with Word and Pages, although not always in a good way. I downloaded the app a few days ago and doubt I’ll use it for much other than reading the documents stored in my Google Drive.
I get the impression Google’s top brass wanted an iPad app out in the market as quickly as possible and the current effort shows what could be achieved in a hurry. If Google sticks with the product — that’s not always a given — updating and adding in features that are found in the web version then it has the potential to be a serious alternative.