Eventually, Microsoft will bring a touch-optimized version of Office to the iPad. Until that day arrives, however, there's Apple's iWork—and now HopTo, which offers a reskinned version of Word as lovely and useful as an iPad app should be.
Best of all, it's free, and the HopTo app is available Thursday in the Apple's App Store.
Why try it? Because other virtualized, cloud-based versions of Office have largely failed to gain traction on tablets, hamstrung by the need to route virtually every instruction through a remote server. The virtualized apps are slow and unresponsive, and always threaten to disconnect and crash at the worst possible time. Worse still, users have typically had to pay for their troubling experiences, often via a monthly subscription.
The alternative has been to use native iPad apps. Apple's iWork suite is probably the preferred choice, but there's also ByteSquared's Office2HD and DataViz Documents to Go Premium. But various quirks-—such as Apple Page's burial of the "Save As" command, for example—have left some users pining for something that makes more sense.
HopTo, however, appears to have changed the game. Chief executive Eldad Eilam gave me a demo of a final version of the HopTo app a short time ago, before it entered Apple's app approval process. It doesn't provide a total replacement for Apple's iWork suite—for example, you can create and edit Word and Excel files, but only view PowerPoint documents at present. But it also adds file management (a capability iWork lacks), as well as the ability to work with multiple cloud providers. And it uses a licensed version of Office 2010 as its base, providing "per-pixel" compatibility with Office.
As such, HopTo's iPad suite provides an inexpensive complement to a traditional PC. "I'm not going to suggest that the iPad will replace the PC" as a tool for productivity, Eilam said. "Just part of it. And the entire world is still on Office."
Unfortunately for HopTo, Apple recently made the iWork suite free for users who purchase a new iOS device, making iWork a much better bet than if HopTo had debuted a few months ago. And, of course, Microsoft is expected to release touch-enabled versions of the Office suite for iPads and Android tablets sometime next year.
But HopTo's elegant UI and giveaway price tag makes the app a strong candidate as your iPad productivity application of choice. It just does more, for less.
Slide, slide, slide
After downloading the app, you're presented with a bold, attractive home screen, with three sliding rows of icons: recent documents on top, My Documents in the middle, and a list of cloud providers at the bottom. Instead of just storing documents on iCloud, you can save and load documents from Google Drive, Box or Dropbox, or directiories within your own (connected) PC. Like Windows 8, you access various options by sliding left and right through various choices. Each document's title also includes a badge denoting which cloud service is hosting the file.
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