The right office apps for the iPhone at work

If your company allows employees to use an iPhone, here are the productivity apps that you should install on the mobile devices

With Apple's iOS 4 supporting corporate security requirements, companies are increasingly saying an explicit yes to iPhone use. Certainly an iPad makes more sense as a lightweight laptop replacement (see InfoWorld's picks for the best iPad office apps), but there are many times you can't easily pull out a laptop or iPad but can use a smartphone. Just as companies typically install a suite of productivity apps (nearly always Microsoft Office), what should the iPhone equivalent be?

The answer can't be Office, because Microsoft has no iPhone-compatible suite. Microsoft's Office Web Apps cloud-based suite doesn't work on an iPhone either. Google Docs is also not usable on an iPhone.

[ Learn how to manage iPhones, Androids, BlackBerrys, and other smartphones in InfoWorld's 20-page Mobile Management Deep Dive PDF special report. | Keep up on key mobile developments and insights with the Mobile Edge blog and Mobilize newsletter. ]

InfoWorld.com investigated the available apps and has put together a recommended business apps suite that should be the standard install on corporate iPhones. Note that when I say iPhone, I include iPod Touches. (I've added iTunes links for each app covered.) And for business needs beyond basic productivity apps,  check out InfoWorld's compendium of specialty business iPhone apps.

In some respects, the choices were easy because there are fewer productivity app options for the iPhone than for the iPad. But that also points to an issue if you work with both iPhones and iPads: In many cases, you won't be using the same productivity app on the iPhone as you do on the iPad. There are few productivity apps that excel on both devices. Thus, our recommended iPhone office apps "suite" is not the same as the set of apps we recommend for the iPad.

The office suite candidates are Quickoffice's Quickoffice Mobile Connect Suite ($10, but its price changes frequently) and DavaViz's Documents to Go Premium ($17). (Apple's iWork suite is not available for the iPhone.) Note that Documents to Go is a universal app, so it can run on iPhones and iPads -- and if you have multiple devices, one license covers all the devices for a specific user. Quickoffice's iPhone version is not compatible with the Pad, or vice versa, so if you use both devices, you'll need to buy a separate version for each.

Quickoffice has a word processor and spreadsheet editor; DocsToGo (as it's labeled on the iPhone) has a word processor, a spreadsheet editor, and a tool to add notes to a presentation. Both programs read and write to the Microsoft Office file formats.

I first pick out the best individual productivity apps, then pull together a recommended suite that includes utilities that should be part of your standard iPhone arsenal:

The best word processor for the iPhone If you're using an iPhone to create or edit documents, expect to be limited to simple tasks, like basic editing, touchup work, commenting, and creating summaries or basic notes. Neither office app supports revision tracking; if that's essential to your workflow, you're out of luck.

Quickoffice. Quickoffice's word processor is simple, with straightforward controls for basic formatting, such as font, text size, paragraph alignment, and lists. But Quickoffice has neither search-and-replace nor even search-only capability. It also lacks a word counter.

I found it awkward to have to tap a Done button to close some of the pop-up dialog boxes that Quickoffice uses for formatting. I kept trying to tap elsewhere on the screen, as is the typical approach in iOS to close a control.

There are no layout controls, so you can use Quickoffice only to work on text. Happily, Quickoffice retains the style sheets in your imported documents, so they're intact when you later export a document, even though it doesn't let you create, edit, or apply styles.

Quickoffice can connect to Box.net, Dropbox, Google Docs, and MobileMe cloud storage, as well as to a computer directly over Wi-Fi. It also of course can email documents. And it provides a Save As option, as well as an internal folder structure so that you can organize your documents.

DocsToGo. DataViz's app is similar to Quickoffice in terms of its capabilities: a simple text editor with basic formatting options and the same cloud storage connection options. However, DocsToGo offers more capabilities, such as search and replace and word counting.

I couldn't recommend the iPad version of DocsToGo due to a really dumb UI design: All controls are at the bottom of the screen, where they become hidden by the onscreen keyboard. The iPhone version has the same design, but it doesn't cause a problem as it does on the iPad. The reason: You typically type with one finger on an iPhone, so tapping the floating Hide Keyboard button right above the onscreen keyboard is a trivial task that doesn't get in the way. On an iPad, where you tend to type with multiple fingers, the action to hide the onscreen keyboard is somehow much more of an interruption, and putting the controls at the bottom of the screen is fairly standard in iPhone apps -- Quickoffice does it too.

DocsToGo is slightly easier to use than Quickoffice, as its basic formatting options can be selected from menus, with no closing dialog boxes. If you open a "more" dialog box, though, you have to tap Done to close it, as in Quickoffice.

The verdict: DocsToGo. You get more editing capabilities than in Quickoffice, and a slightly more straightforward user interface.

The best spreadsheet editor for the iPhone The capabilities of the candidate spreadsheet editors are much closer than for the word processors.

Quickoffice. Excel users will take to Quickoffice quickly, as it works very similarly. Quickoffice has a large set of functions, and it's easy to work with cells, rows, and columns, even on the small screen. Functions are also easy to insert, thanks to the Excel-like function menus that insert a sample formula for you.

Switching worksheets requires opening a menu of sheet names -- there are no tabs to tap -- so Excel users (and users of Quickoffice on the iPad) will have a bit of an adjustment to make in terms of navigation. Quickoffice has no charting tools, nor the ability to sort columns or rows, freeze panes, or hide columns or rows.

DocsToGo. The spreadsheet capabilities in DocsToGo are superior to those in Quickoffice, offering several features not found in Quickoffice, including the abilities to search text, hide rows and columns, sort rows and columns, and freeze panes. It also offers a go-to-cell function and can display the spreadsheet in full screen.

Switching worksheets is an awkward process, involving the opening of a page through which you then slide across available worksheets. Quickoffice's approach is easier.

Like Quickoffice, DocsToGo uses Excel-like function menus to insert formulas. But DocsToGo provides a bigger window for the formula, making it easier to edit.

The verdict: DocsToGo is our choice for spreadsheet editor because it is more capable than Quickoffice and no more difficult to use overall.

The best presentation software for the iPhone The choice here is an easy one, as you shall see.

Quickoffice. The Quickoffice suite cannot view, edit, or create presentations.

DocsToGo. The DocsToGo suite lets you open PowerPoint files and add notes to them, such as to make comments or provide feedback to your spreadsheet jockey.

It also has basic editing capabilities. In slide preview mode, you can insert a new slide and duplicate or delete existing ones. To edit the text in your slides, you must switch to outline mode -- and you can do no formatting. Note that if you're in outline mode, you have to go back to slide preview mode to create, copy, or delete a slide.

The result is that DocsToGo is fine for touchup work on existing presentations; you can also create a basic text-only presentation that you might use as the starting point for a slideshow to which you add images and formatting on the desktop. But that's all.

The verdict: The only choice is DocsToGo, which can at least do the basics.

The best PDF markup program for the iPhone There are dozens of apps to open PDF documents on the iPhone, but since the built-in Preview app does that for mail attachments, and most Wi-Fi file-sharing apps also preview PDF documents, what you really want is one that can mark up PDF files, adding sticky notes and the like.

That app is GoodReader ($3). You can do most of the markup as you would in Adobe Reader, such as notes, highlights, and even free-form shapes (such as to circle an item). Once you get the hang of using your finger like a mouse for such actions, the app is easy to use.

GoodReader is not just a PDF markup app. It can also view Office files, text files, and pictures and play audio files; plus, it comes with a Wi-Fi file-sharing capability to transfer documents to your computer.

Note that GoodReader is not a universal app, so you'll need to buy a separate version for the iPad.

Additional utilities most everyone should have The iPhone can't open Zip files -- an amazing omission in the iPad as well. There are several apps that can unzip files, but the best for the iPhone is ZipBox Pro ($2), which is straightforward to use and also works on the iPad.

If you view native Photoshop files, such as for page layout, Web, or presentation projects, get the Air Files app ($1), which also offers Wi-Fi file-sharing and basic drawing capabilities. (As you can see, Wi-Fi file sharing is built into lots of apps!) Note that Air Files does not run on the Pad; you'll need the separate AirFilesHD app ($1) for that device.

Putting it altogether: The ideal office suite Given that the DocsToGo suite does it all well enough, the ideal combination was easy to pick: DocsToGo, GoodReader, and ZipBox-Pro. Add to the mix Air Files if you need to view Photoshop files.

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Galen Gruman

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