The track changes feature in Microsoft Word is a critical feature for many attorneys because it provides a way to suggest edits to a brief, contract, or other document while making those edits obvious so that someone else can accept or reject individual edits. Although the iPad and iPhone have been able to view Microsoft Word files since Day 1 using the built-in file viewer, the ability to work with documents containing redline "track changes" edits has been limited. For a while now, Documents to Go has been able to view those redline edits but not make them. A few months ago, Office² HD from Byte2 was updated to add full support for track changes — the ability to both view redline edits and create your own. Unfortunately, the interface is not great, with track changes shown in very tiny type on the side of the screen:
This week, the Quickoffice Pro app (now owned by Google) added the ability to both view and create redline edits using the track changes feature. I like the implementation in Quickoffice Pro much better than the implementation in Office².
To turn on the feature, tap the track changes icon, which is at the top right of the screen, fourth from the right. Once selected, a green ON circle appears on the icon.
To create edits in the document using the track changes mode, tap the Track Changes button just above the keyboard so that it both turns green and says "ON" to the left. Now, edits that you make appear in redline. (Well technically, the color is blue.) For example, in the next screen I am updating a Lexis cite with a So. 3d cite now that a case has appeared in the official West reporter:
Every change made in the track changes mode will have a line with a plus and minus button. Tap the plus button to see what was added in this edit. Tap the minus button to see what was deleted in this edit:
Using the track changes menu bar which appears just above the keyboard, or at the bottom of the screen if you have hidden the keyboard, you can easily tap the arrows to go through each of the redline edits and choose to accept or reject each one. Or tap the button at the left of the menu bar to accept or reject all edits at once.
I'm thrilled to see track changes added to Quickoffice Pro. However, I still have one very serious reservation about using the app: it does not support footnotes at all. For example, if you look at my first Quickoffice Pro picture above, I have part of a sentence displayed before the ARGUMENT section of my brief begins. Viewing the file in Quickoffice Pro, you might think that there are no footnotes. But if I view the same file in Documents to Go or Office², footnotes appear. For example, here is the file in Documents to Go, first showing how it normally looks, and second showing how it looks when I tap on the footnote number:
You cannot edit footnotes in Documents to Go or Office², but as a litigator, the ability to know that they are there and read them is usually pretty critical for me.
So with this update to Quickoffice Pro, what is the state of viewing and editing Word documents on the iPad or iPhone? Documents to Go, Quickoffice Pro and Office² will all let you view a Word document, including any redline edits. I like the Documents to Go interface the best because it is so easy to zoom the text size larger or smaller as you are reading a document, but something can be said for the interface of each of these apps. To create redline edits, you can use Quickoffice Pro or Office², but Quickoffice Pro doesn't show footnotes, whereas Office² does.
This might lead you to conclude that Office² is the app to use because it has the most features, but I have two issues with Office² that make me hesitate to recommend the app. First, as noted above, I don't like the way it handles track changes in the margin. Edits are very hard to read. Quickoffice Pro does a much better job of handling redline edits. Second, Office² seems to crash on me all the time when I open a complicated document — and by complicated I mean any document of around 15 or more pages with footnotes. That covers most any file that I would want to edit on my iPad. When I reviewed Office² in June I noted that I was having a lot of trouble with the app crashing, but at the time I assumed that an update to the app would fix that. But it has now been four months and I'm still having the same problems with no fix in sight.
If Quickoffice Pro were to simply add the ability to work with footnotes, that would probably become my go-to app for Microsoft Word files. For now, because I tend to review documents on my iPad or iPhone far more than I edit them, I'm sticking with Documents to Go because I can see footnotes and redline edits and I otherwise like the Documents to Go interface. Hopefully track changes support will be added to Documents to Go at some point, although it is perhaps worth noting that Documents to Go is now owned by RIM, the manufacturer of the BlackBerry, and that company has a lot more to worry about right now than iOS apps. If I really need to use track changes and other sophisticated features of Microsoft Office on my iPad, I often will just use LogMeIn to create a remote connection to my PC and handle it that way. (If remote access to your own computer is not an option, you might consider a service like CloudOn which provides online access to a virtualized version of Office 2010.) All of this means that if you are trying to pick an app to handle Word documents (and other Office documents such as Excel files) on your iPad or iPhone, you are going to have to decide what features and limitations of these three apps are the most important to you.
And when you make your decision, you also need to think about the different versions of the apps. There are two versions of Documents to Go. The regular version costs $10 and probably does everything you need, but for $17 you can get the Premium version that adds the ability to create and edit PowerPoint files (the regular version only views PowerPoint files) and the ability to edit and sync files stored in cloud services (Google Docs, Box.net, Dropbox and SugarSync). But both versions of Documents to Go work on both the iPhone and the iPad. With Quickoffice Pro and Office², you don't pay extra for features, but instead you pay extra for other devices because both apps come in a regular version for the iPhone and an "HD" version for the iPad. So if you own an iPhone and iPad, you'll probably have to buy Quickoffice Pro and Office² twice, whereas you only need to buy Documents to Go once.
And to make all of this more complicated, we continue to hear rumors that Microsoft itself will release a version of Word (or Office) for the iPad. As I noted this past Friday, the latest rumor is a launch in early 2013, but note that we have been hearing rumors like this for almost a year now, so I'm not sure how much faith we can put in any of these rumors.