Using Office 365 on the iPad

One app works, one app struggles, another app doesn’t yet exist.

One of Microsoft’s major selling points for its cloud productivity suite Office 365 is that you can work on your data anywhere you have internet access. But how well does Office 365 work on one of the biggest mobile devices – the Apple iPad?

The thing to remember with Microsoft Office 365 is that it will run better on Microsoft technologies, such as a PC running Internet Explorer. However, Microsoft claims the platform is compatible with technologies from other providers.

Office 365 is composed of three major components; Exchange for email, SharePoint for file management and collaboration, and Lync for communication. Let’s take a look at each one of these components separately and how they function with an iPad.

Probably the easiest component of Office 365 to configure for an iPad is Exchange Online. Provided you don’t have a cheaper “kiosk” licence you will be able to connect your Office 365 emails to your iPad in a matter of minutes. You simply need to go into the iPad’s mail settings and add an Exchange email account using your Office 365 credentials.

For more on Office 365 on the iPad, read Editing SharePoint Online on the iPad.

Once configured you can send and receive emails with all the standard functionality Exchange emails enjoy on an iPad. It is also possible to work with your emails via a browser and Outlook Web App. However, this is where things start to become less fully featured.

Because an iPad uses Safari as a browser rather than Microsoft Internet Explorer the environment isn’t as “feature rich”, as Microsoft would say. You can certainly log into your Office 365 portal and work with your emails but the experience is far more basic.

This “functional experience” also extends to using Office 365 SharePoint Online. Basic SharePoint pages work generally without issue, but when you start creating complex pages with embedded web parts, such as those with Silverlight (Microsoft’s Flash alternative), that the functionality again becomes restricted and the animations don’t appear.

SharePoint Online also automatically comes with “mobile” pages built into the product. You generally access these simply by placing a “/m” at the end of any URL. This mobile view was more designed for use on hand-held devices with small screens but can be equally used on an iPad. Unfortunately the mobile SharePoint view is extremely basic view that strips away all images, fonts and design. It basically shows you a text-only view of the site.

Probably the best option for accessing Office 365 SharePoint Online is via a dedicated app like SharePlus or Filamente, which both have free and paid versions. These apps typically allow you to configure access to an Office 365 SharePoint Online site and then interact via a dedicated interface.

This solution is not perfect, though. While they make accessing data quick and easy they also remove many of the visual effects and web parts of SharePoint Online. However, for working on SharePoint data including files in document libraries, nothing else is better.

To edit SharePoint Online documents on your iPad you will need a suitable document-editing app. If you need to edit Microsoft Office documents you will need something like Docs to Go or Office2HD. Problem is that these applications can be used to open and edit SharePoint Online documents but when you attempt to save them back you are greeted with a nasty read only option.  You can of course save these edited files locally to your iPad but then there is no way to get any updated version back into SharePoint.

For more on Office 365, check out The eight best and eight worst things about Office 365.

One might also think that you could use the Office Web Apps functionality of Office 365 to edit documents in a browser. You can certainly view the documents using Office Web Apps but when you attempt to edit them you lose any cursor control in the actual document. This totally prevents you from making changes.

In both cases when it comes to editing documents on an iPad from SharePoint online, you seem to get right down to very last step of editing or saving the document and you can’t. Very frustrating.

The current missing component for Office 365 on an iPad is integration with Lync. In short, there really isn’t any replacement. There is no native Lync client for the iPad and even when you are invited to a Lync meeting via a browser client the plug-in is not supported.

The only way to interface with Office 365 Lync would be to configure Windows Messenger federation in the Office 365 admin portal and use a Windows Live Messenger app on the iPad. However, this is only going to provide you with the ability to do instant messaging and not calls or desktop sharing.

Not unexpectedly, using Office 365 on an iPad does come with some major limitations, especially when it comes to SharePoint and Lync. Organisations seeking to use the iPad as a primary device for accessing Office 365 need to carefully consider and test the functionality they require to ensure what they want is available. For most, it will work well as reading device rather editing device.

There is no doubt Office 365 functionality will continue to improve on the iPad as both platforms become more popular with business. However, at this stage if you are looking for the full functionality of Office 365 then it is recommended you stick with your Windows desktop PC.

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