A Deeper Look at iWork and Office on iOS for iOS-only

Today, I’m going to look back on the last semester of grad school, and how I would do things different if I was iOS-only. This is the benefit of hindsight. Paths seem clearer when looking back.

In my recent article on Slamming into Walls, I mentioned some issues I had with Office on iOS. A summary of the problems:

  • Cannot edit (or create) styles
  • Does not see side-loaded fonts (I was wrong: it does see the side-loaded fonts. It just dumps them in its own “iOS Fonts” section of the app.)
  • Does not complain about missing fonts
  • Cannot edit document margins

Team Collaboration: The biggest barrier to iOS-only

There was one statement I had on the article that will be relevant to the entire piece: The more you control the output of your job from start-to-finish, the more success you will have with the iPad.

We did three group presentations in this class. The presentations were the one thing that made me hesitant about iOS-only. How PowerPoint handled the custom fonts was pretty poor. I ended up just being “the PowerPoint guy” so I didn’t have to deal with round-tripping files with team mates. I probably could have gone iOS only on all the presentations.

However, where the wheels came off the bus was WebEx. One day, we had to meet via WebEx because we were all remote. The WebEx app on iOS is a blight on humanity for a presenter. I had to send the PowerPoint file to the WebEx app, and it just showed in a scrolling view. Not slides. It just looked like a PDF in preview. It also lost all custom fonts. This app would be a deal-breaker for going iOS-only.

In hindsight, I would create the presentations on the Mac again. In the collaborative setting it was the path of least resistance. I would hate to slow up a working session because I was fighting through some iOS issue.

Writing Papers:

Word and Pages both pissed me off on iOS for different reasons. Word pissed me off because I couldn’t edit the margins. Pages pissed me off because it cannot have one page in a document set for landscape, and the rest portrait. I had one paper that required this format. In Word (on any platform), if I used footnotes it messed up the bottom margin setting and I had to do a custom margin to get it to a true 1” margin. In Pages on iOS I would could do this. One way around this was to not use footnotes. Which would be ok, since I use footnotes and more of an editorial aside. The other weird formatting issue is that professor wanted the bibliography single-spaced, but with an extra line in between entries. On the Mac it was very easy to adjust the paragraph formatting for that section to have 12pts of space after every carriage return; on iOS I couldn’t do that and would have to manually add each return.

The other part of this is storage. I used both iCloud Drive and OneDrive to store all the related bits for class. The Apple way is to have individual components in the app’s folder: Pages stuff in the Pages folder, PDFs in my PDF reader directory. On iOS 10, this is the best way to do it. I found it easier to use OneDrive and dump all the various bits into an OBC500 class folder. The Files app on iOS 11 may change this a little. A part of it is going to take a mindset change as well. The good news is iOS 11 will be out long before our next class, so I will have some time with the Files app.

While both apps pissed me off, the one paper that had the funky formatting required would require me to use Word if I was iOS-only. However, I was far happier with iCloud syncing in Pages. There was one time I was working on the paper on the train and the smart move would have been to have Pages download the file from iCloud, work on the paper, and then have background sync upload the changes when I got on WiFi.

Citation management is actually pretty easy on iPad. It’s the one area I expected to have the most problems, but it ended up being the easiest. I used EasyBib on the web (not app)1 for all my citations. It made referencing web sites and books simple. Just enter in the URL or book name and EasyBib looks up all the information. When you are ready to insert your bibliography just go to Export, and choose Copy and Paste. A separate web view opens. Select the text and copy it into Word and Pages.

I wrote three papers in the last semester. All of them I were candidates for completion on the iPad. The only one that was a little harder was the one with a single landscape page and the rest of the document portrait. Word can handle this perfectly. The issue of adjusting the margins was a minor one. While I tweaked it, submitting it as-is was fine also.

Submitting Papers

It’s also nice that now Safari understands the radical notion of uploading files. Submitting the papers on the iPad would be fine. Reading the feedback from the instructor, however, was a big problem.

The way feedback was provided was entirely within the web front end of Canvas. The Word file was marked up within this web view. On iOS on both Chrome and Safari, the frame where the paper (and feedback) is displayed was cut off. Requesting a desktop version of the page didn’t work. Viewing the grade in the Canvas iOS app didn’t work. Other than the WebEx thing, viewing the teacher’s feedback was the one area where iOS-only slammed into a wall. I just couldn’t find a way around this.

The Next Class

I’m not sure how the next class will go. We don’t have a start date or syllabus yet. Based on how this class went, I think my iOS-usage will go as follows:

  • Writing Papers: I will most likely do all of these on my iPad.
  • Presentations: Solo presentations I will likely do on my iPad. Group presentations will remain in PowerPoint on my Mac. If we are collaborating on PowerPoint files, I will also use fonts available on our standard Windows build at work.2
  • Submitting: Either or. Doesn’t really matter
  • Reading Feedback: Unless the instructor supplies a marked-up Word file, I will have to read the feedback on my Mac or work laptop.
  1. On the iPad Pro, the app is a dumpster fire. It is locked to portrait and looks ugly on my 12.9″ iPad.
  2. The course I am in enrolled in is a benefit from work. All of my classmates were co-workers and the teachers come to us for the classes.
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