First Impressions on Word for iPad

Today I spent a little time testing how well Word for iPad retains document formatting when transitioning between the portable and desktop versions of Word. Most mobile offices suites promise compatibility with the full version of Microsoft Word, but none have been able to keep the integrity of documents with complex formatting. Under the best circumstances, all content is retained. But in worse situations, content might be lost. What follows are my findings and impressions after working with a document both in "full Word" and in the iPad edition.

For this experiment I created a .docx document using Word 2010. I wanted to learn 2 things:

  1. How reliably did Word on the iPad show a document? Did it honor all the formatting? Did the lines break at the same place?
  2. After making edits on the iPad, how well did the document work back in "Full Word?"

Here are the items my test document contained:

  • Automatic numbers. Multi-level numbering, linked to styles.
  • Columns. A continuous section break that defined a portion of the document as 2 columns.
  • Content controls. Dynamic elements that served as placeholders for document content.
  • Cross references. References to numbered paragraphs in the document.
  • Footnotes. Several footnotes throughout the document, placed at key points to call attention to test items.
  • Headers & Footers. Multiple headers and footers in the document.
  • Section breaks. Different sections to allow for different headers and footers.
  • Styles. Custom styles to control formatting in the document.
  • Table of contents. A TOC field that displayed an outline of the document.
  • Track changes.

An Overview of the Process

I created the document in Word 2010, then emailed it to myself. On the iPad, I opened the message and then pressed and held on the message attachment, which caused the Open In options to appear. After that, I tapped open in Word.

Read Only

Because Office 365 wasn't active on the iPad, the document opened in Read Only mode. It was an accurate representation of the desktop version. All the lines wrapped in the same place. It looked virtually identical to what was displayed on the computer screen. (Much better than the iPad's built-in document viewer, Quick Look.)

Office 365

After activating an Office 365 account, three options became available. Word for iPad could now create new documents, edit existing ones, and save to either the iPad or to OneDrive.

Save a Copy

Word prompted me to save a copy of my desktop-edition-created document. This told me that Word for iPad translates a "full Word" document into a "Word for iPad" document. The changes happen behind the scenes, to make the doc compatible with Word's simpler iPad framework.

In the document

The user interface in the tablet version of this app feels right; it is well thought-out and intuitive, especially for one who's already familiar with the Ribbon Interface.

Editing a Document in Word for iPad

Editing a Document in Word for iPad

Automatic Numbers

The existing automatic numbering list was maintained. I was able to move content around in the document with cut and paste. Nothing broke, which was great. However, I was unable to create new paragraphs and invoke the same numbering list that was already in use throughout my document. The iPad edition didn't show my list as an option in the numbering gallery.


The columns were preserved in my document just fine. When I toggled Show/Hide, Word displayed the section breaks that defined where the dual-column format began and ended. It even allowed for the addition of new multiple-column sections within the document.

Content Controls

The macro package I use in connection with Word leverages content controls as placeholders for dynamic elements to be inserted into a document on-demand. While they didn't appear on the iPad, they were preserved and reappeared when the modified document was opened in Word 2010 after the experiment.

Cross References

Cross references to automatically numbered items are supposed to update themselves if content moves around and numbers change. They work, although I noticed that the "above/below" option dropped off in the mobile app; it reappeared later when the field updated in Word 2010.


There's not much to say here. They worked just as you'd expect.

Headers & Footers

Header & Footer Page Number Message

Header & Footer Page Number Message

Headers & Footers work the way you'd expect. They support different first pages, same as previous, odd and even pages. Although, I did have a little trouble getting Word to focus on exactly the area I wanted. Manipulating documents on the iPad will probably become a bit easier with practice. The only thing I couldn't do was update the page numbering format. Word's message about what to do was clear, though.

Section Breaks

I was worried about this part because section breaks are tricky. All section breaks in the test document were preserved, including options for different first page and same as previous. However, I didn't see a way to enable or disable same as previous within a section. This isn't a problem if you think about what Word for iPad is trying to do, which is to provide a simplified version of office that doesn't wreck a document when you make a few edits.


Would you believe I was worried about this, too? Styles are preserved, but they aren't represented in the styles list on the menu. To be more specific, in full Word, a document's styles "travel" with it. On the iPad, Word doesn't show the names of any traveling styles. If you didn't know better, you'd think the only available styles are listed within the style menu on the Home ribbon. I found you can use a desired style by copying and pasting a paragraph that has the formatting you want. Again, this isn't terrible, but it means that any documents edited on the road should run through a formatting check in full Word to ensure that proper styles are applied, if they are even used at all.

Table of Contents

A table of contents is preserved and can be updated on the iPad. I haven't found a way to insert one, though.

Track Changes

Track changes are supported. You can enable change tracking on the iPad and make edits as you like. You can also review, accept, and reject changes. The name associated with edits is tied to your OneDrive identity.

What's Left to Test?

I plan to look at bookmarks, tables, table styles, and the table of authorities functionality to see how they stack up on the iPad.


After this first, brief pass through Word, things look very promising. It offers much more document fidelity than I expected. I don't know why I'm surprised. I mean, Microsoft makes Word; they should know how to make a proper, reliable mobile app with similar functionality. Stay tuned. I'll report back with more Word results soon.