A Look at Word Processing for the iPad: Pages and Word

I write…a lot. As a graduate student, it is my “trade,” that activity that occupies the majority of my time and determines whether or not I succeed. Like a journalist or a writer, I consequently live in the rather mundane world of word processing (there’s no way I can make that sound exciting). Because of this, I need a word processor that can handle not just basic tasks like writing a letter but referencing, large document support (100+ pages) and the exporting of documents to widely readable formats. Until recently, I had never really considered the iPad’s role in this equation – on-screen keyboards are notorious for being terrible forms for long sessions of writing and the screen’s rather small size gets to me. That said, I decided to give it another try with the release of Word for the iPad. What did I find? Let’s explore together.

Word Processing and the iPad
Word processing on the iPad is not new. Until recently however, Apple’s Pages was a considerably better option that just about anything else. Not only did it have sync support (about the only good thing Google Docs has going for it) but it was easy, powerful and cheap/free. This title a top the mountain of word processors was largely uncontested since nothing could keep up with the integration and power of Pages. Yet, even then, Pages left a lot to be desired. I remember trying to use Pages once and then remembering that it isn’t Word and consequently, it had to approximate my document. It did an admirable job but it butchered up my references. I use Mendeley and it inserts references as special objects so that reference lists can be generated on the fly but Pages “flattens” them, turns them into plain text and thus removes Mendeley’s ability to track which references I’ve inserted. On top of this is the always present inability for Pages to get my Word documents to look exactly as they do in Word which is not necessarily a criticism of Pages specifically but rather, a criticism of all non-Word word processors.

Until recently, all of this made the prospect of processing documents on my iPad rather unattractive. I need (I can’t emphasize that enough) compatibility with Word – you don’t screw around with formatting in academia. Nothing on the iPad could ever guarantee that, however much Pages certainly tried to meet me where I needed it to be. Recently though, Microsoft saw fit to release Word for the iPad. Were my wishes finally answered by Microsoft or would word processing continue to be a rather unpleasant experience?

The Options