When I travel with an iPad and leave my laptop computer at the office, one of the few features that I sometimes miss is the ability to create redline edits to a document. I could use apps like Pages or Documents to Go or Quickoffice to view or revise a Microsoft Word document, but to make my edits obvious I would have to enter the new text and then manually highlight my text in yellow so that the other attorney could see what I added, and even then there was no easy way for the other attorney to accept my edits. For serious edits I often had to resort to using LogMeIn to connect to my work computer from the iPad and use my work computer to make the edits in MS Word with the track changes feature enabled. Fortunately, those days may be coming to an end. Yesterday, the iPad app Office² HD from Byte2 was updated to add support for true MS Office track changes support, so I bought a copy of this $7.99 app to try it out. Unfortunately I've run across a few bugs in this app, but the track changes feature is implemented quite well.
The app has a nice layout. You can view a list of your documents and organize documents into folders. The app doesn't include Dropbox support, but you can use the Dropbox app and then the "Open in..." feature to open a document from your Dropbox in Office² HD. [UPDATE: As pointed out in a comment, the app does have support for Dropbox, Google Docs, SkyDrive, Box and other services. I didn't see it the first time I looked for it.] When editing a document, the standard features are all there to format text, highlight text, change the font or font size, etc. Strangely, all of my documents showed up in the app with Helvetica as the font, even though the app seems to support Times New Roman and that is what I used on my computer. Even so, after editing a file and then sending it back to my computer, I once again saw Times New Roman as the font on my computer.
Office² HD is more than just a word processor. It can also review and edit Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations, and in my simple tests last night it did so quite well. But I focused last night on track changes support for Word documents because that is the main reason that lawyers will consider purchasing this app.
The website for Office2 includes this full explanation of the track changes feature, but it works pretty much like you would want it to. Tap the tools icon at the top right of the screen and tap the last option, Track Changes. In the next window, you can turn on the track changes feature and then decide how you want to view the document, either the original (without any of your changes shown), the original with redline indication of what is changed, the final document with all of your changes shown as if accepted, and final with markup so that you can see what you have edited.
In the following appeal brief, for example, I am using the final with markup view. I inserted a few words (The Supreme Court explained) and they are shown in blue and an underline with a black line in the left margin to show that a change is there. Next I deleted a sentence, and the main body of the screen shows the text without that sentence but a bubble on the right shows where I made a deletion and what I deleted.
The bubble on the right is small and a little hard to read, but you can simply tap once on the bubble to enlarge it.
The final with markup view is also useful if you want to review the changes in a document that someone else has edited. As you can see in the last picture, from the bubble you have the option to reject or accept a change. You can also tap on an edit and from the popup menu choose to accept or reject that change. Also, there is an option under the tools menu to accept or reject all changes in a document. Thus, another attorney can create redline edits in a document and send them to you for review, and using Office² HD on your iPad you can accept or reject each of those edits, make whatever additional edits are necessary (with the track changes feature turned on if you want to make it obvious what you changed), and then you can send the document back.
The track changes feature alone would make this a great app, but this app has other powerful features. For example, Office² HD lets you export a document to PDF format. I'm not aware of any other app that lets you create a PDF from a Word document on the iPad itself. [UPDATE: A reader tells me that iAnnotate can export from Word to PDF, but I haven't tried that app so I cannot confirm this.] Also, Office² HD is one of the rare apps that lets you create and view footnotes in a Word document. Quickoffice doesn't support footnotes at all, and Documents to Go lets you view footnotes but not add them. Unfortunately, even Office² HD doesn't support editing or deleting footnotes. Moreover, I found that when I added a footnote in Office² HD and then later viewed the footnote in the document on my computer, the footnote had two question marks instead of a space between every single word. (I reproduced this bug in several different documents.) I'm thrilled to see that Office² HD attempts to go beyond all other iPad apps in handling footnotes, but clearly more work is needed.
And since I'm mentioning problems, let's get to my major gripe with Office² HD, and it is a big one. This app crashes more than any other app I have ever used on an iPad. Documents of around 25 pages or less on letter size seemed to work without incident, but for larger documents, such as a 27 page appeal brief and a 38 page appeal brief, both on legal size paper, the app crashed so frequently that I frankly lost count. I'm not sure if the problem was the page size, the fact that the documents were on legal size paper, or just the fact that these were long documents with lots of footnotes and formatting, but the crashes were a real problem for me. I even restarted my iPad to clear the memory and then started editing a document, and the crashes still happened. And when the app crashes, you lose all edits made since the last time that you manually told the app to save your work, so unless you get in the habit of saving every few minutes, you can lose work that will take a while to recreate. I deal with large and complicated documents in my practice almost every day, so I was annoyed to see these crashes. Ugh. My hope is that this problem will be fixed in a future update, but for now, you need to be cautious when working with longer documents.
In this review, I focused on the iPad version because word processing on an iPad is superior to using the small iPhone screen, but the company also sells Office² for the iPhone and it also now has the track changes feature and the other features I noted above, including the ability to export a Word file to PDF format. It is harder to edit a document on a small iPhone screen, but it does work in a pinch, and with Office² you can now make redline edits when you are on the go. Note that when I edited large briefs on the iPhone version, I experienced the same types of crashes that I saw with the iPad version.
Later this year we may have more options for editing a Word document with track changes support. I know of one other app developer who is currently working on this feature for another app, and there are fresh new rumors that a version of Office from Microsoft itself will be out this November, and if that happens perhaps we will see a Microsoft-sanctioned option for track changes support. (Before you starting counting non-hatched chickens, note that earlier this year there were rumors that Office for iPad would be out in March of 2012, and that obviously didn't happen.) But for now, there is only one app in town with the important track changes feature for litigators who want to make or review edits in briefs, transactional attorneys who want to revise contracts, or anyone else who wants to take advantage of the track changes feature in a Word document.