Editing PowerPoint documents on an iPad

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You love your iPad, and chances are good that you need to use Microsoft Office for work. You have lots of options for editing documents created in Microsoft Word and Excel on your iPad, but what about the third major component of Microsoft Office, PowerPoint ()?

If you need only view a PowerPoint document, you can use almost any iOS app that displays documents (including Apple’s Mail and Safari). iOS can natively display, though not edit, PowerPoint (.ppt and .pptx) documents—but it shows them as a continuous scroll rather than as individual slides. You also won’t be able to see any animations, builds, transitions, or other special features. For displaying an existing PowerPoint presentation, a better choice is the free SlideShark app, which preserves most major PowerPoint features but still doesn’t allow editing.

When you need to edit a PowerPoint presentation or create a new one from scratch, your alternatives fall into three main categories: Keynote, a third-party office suite, or a virtual copy of PowerPoint for Windows.

Use Keynote

Apple’s $10 Keynote for iOS () is a fine tool for creating, editing, and displaying presentations. This version doesn’t have all the features of the desktop version of Keynote (), and if you import a presentation (whether created in Keynote on OS X or in PowerPoint), you may lose some important content. Say good-bye to fonts, transitions, and builds that aren’t available on the iPad, as well as audio and more. Even so, using Keynote is arguably the best way to edit a PowerPoint presentation on an iPad, because the app offers more powerful editing tools than any other native iPad presentation app does, and it has a better touchscreen interface than a virtual copy of Microsoft PowerPoint.

Keynote may be the best app for creating and editing presentations on an iPad, but its PowerPoint importing and exporting aren't perfect.

However, if you need to move a presentation back and forth between an iPad and a Mac or PC, where you’ll edit it using PowerPoint, Keynote’s failure to preserve formatting may be a deal-breaker.

Use an office suite

The next option is to use an Office-compatible office-suite app. Five major contenders are available at the moment, and each offers at least minimal PowerPoint editing capabilities. All let you insert, duplicate, delete, and (with one exception) rearrange slides from imported PowerPoint presentations. And they all can play presentations, although without any builds, transitions, or animations.

Documents To Go Premium: DataViz’s $17 Documents To Go Premium lets you edit only the text of imported PowerPoint presentations (including presenter notes); you can’t alter formatting, layout, graphics, or any other visual attributes.

Office2 HD: Byte Squared’s $8 Office2 HD lets you change text, formatting, and alignment—but bizarrely for a presentation tool, it offers neither bulleted nor numbered lists. You can add shapes and graphics, change the front-to-back arrangement of elements on a slide, and set a slide’s background to an image or a solid color. (The $6 Slide2 HD, from the same developer, includes only the presentation features of Office2 HD.)

Polaris Office: Infraware’s $13 Polaris Office offers fairly extensive graphics, formatting, and arrangement tools, but like Office2 HD it lacks an automated way to create bulleted or numbered lists (although imported lists appear correctly), and like Picsel's Smart Office 2, it renders some fonts oddly. Although I could easily add, duplicate, or delete slides, I could find no way to rearrange them.

Quickoffice Pro HD: Quickoffice’s $20 Quickoffice Pro HD () lets you modify text attributes (including bulleted lists), add images and shapes, and rearrange visual elements, but it doesn’t give you a way to change a slide’s background.

Quickoffice Pro HD offers a reasonable set of tools for editing PowerPoint presentations, although nowhere near as many as Keynote.

Smart Office 2: Picsel’s $10 Smart Office 2 provides editing capabilities similar to those of Quickoffice Pro HD, but rendered some fonts oddly in my testing.

All these apps are supposed to be able to edit PowerPoint documents without losing formatting. That is, even though the apps don’t support all of PowerPoint’s features, when you send the documents back to your Mac or PC, the documents retain the formatting they had when you imported them. However, I had mixed results with Smart Office 2; some PowerPoint documents I modified and saved to Dropbox didn’t open on my Mac at all. Quickoffice is my favorite of these apps—but depending on what you need to do, your mileage may vary.

Use a virtual PowerPoint for Windows

If you’re unsatisfied with the degree of PowerPoint compatibility that the foregoing iPad apps offer, how about using Microsoft PowerPoint itself? Although Microsoft hasn’t yet seen fit to release an iPad version of its Office programs, several other apps let you connect to virtual Windows servers in the cloud—meaning you can use the full version of PowerPoint for Windows right on your iPad. Apps in this category include CloudOn, Nivio, and OnLive Desktop. See “Run Office on your iPad” for more details on each of them.

If you need all the power of PowerPoint on your iPad, how about … PowerPoint for Windows? The full (virtual) version is available in several apps, including CloudOn, shown here.

Another option in this general category is Xform Computing’s $25 AlwaysOnPC Personal Cloud Desktop. Instead of presenting you with a virtual Windows desktop, it uses Linux, and instead of Microsoft Office, you get OpenOffice.org (an open-source, Microsoft Office-compatible office suite).

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