The iOS version of Microsoft Office Mobile didn’t exactly get rave reviews when it was released recently, especially as it’s available only to people who have an existing subscription to Office 365. And we have a sneaking suspicion that this might have been one reason behind Apple’s decision to give away its iWork apps for free with all new iOS devices.

See also: Apple iPhone 5C vs iPhone 5 comparison review

The iWork suite consists of three productivity apps – the Pages word processor, Numbers spreadsheet, and Keynote for business presentations. The suite was originally developed for the Mac in order to provide a low-cost alternative to Microsoft Office, and iOS versions of the apps were later released for £6.99 each.

The iWork apps for iOS are typically slick Apple products, but in the past they’ve primarily been of interest to Mac users who also owned the Mac version of iWork and wanted to transfer documents between their Mac and iOS devices.

However, giving the iWork suite away for free means that many people who have a Windows PC will now have these apps running on their iPhones and iPads too.

If you don’t want to subscribe to Office 365, or to purchase rival office suites such as QuickOffice for iOS, then the iWork apps could provide a useful option for sharing documents between your PC and iOS devices. The benefit for Apple, of course, is that this is yet another way of luring Windows users into the Apple ecosystem (from which there is no escape…).

Pages, Numbers and Keynote

The three iWork apps are typical Apple products, with attractive interfaces that are very easy to use. In fact, Apple - with typical humility - once described Numbers as “the most beautiful spreadsheet ever”.

Numbers on iPad

More important than the graphical eye-candy is the fact that the apps can also import and export Microsoft Office file formats, such as .doc, .xls and .ppt, providing a degree of compatibility with Microsoft Office on your PC.

The iWork apps for iOS have all been around for a while now, and we’ve reviewed them in detail on other occasions. They’re not the most powerful productivity apps currently available (if you’re planning on doing clever things with pivot tables in a spreadsheet then you might want to look elsewhere) but they’re versatile enough for most home users and students, and also for many business users too.

Keynote, in particular, will be useful for many people as the PowerPoint component in Office Mobile is primarily designed just for viewing existing presentations. In contrast, Keynote allows you to create simple but effective presentations using a variety of transitions and graphical effects using your iPhone or iPad.

But while the apps themselves are very easy to use, the process of transferring documents between your mobile devices and a desktop or laptop computer has always been a bit of a mess. The problem here is that neither the iPhone nor iPad has a handy USB port that would allow you to quickly transfer files to or from a Mac or PC.

Apple’s original idea was to use a clumsy file-sharing feature built into the Mac and Windows versions of iTunes, which required you to physically connect your iOS device to your Mac or PC with a charging cable and to then select and transfer each file individually. That option still exists as a last resort when there’s no Wi-Fi network or Internet connection available, but as cloud computing has become more and more popular in recent years Apple has started to move the iWork suite up into the cloud – or, to be precise, to its own iCloud service.

iWork For iCloud

The Mac side of things is a piece of cake. If you’ve got a Mac with the iWork suite installed on it then the iCloud software that is built into both iOS and the Mac OS will automatically sync your iWork documents between your Mac and iOS mobile devices. See also: MacBook Air 13in (mid-2013) review

You can write a letter using Pages on a Mac, then edit it on an iPhone or iPad, and the most up-to-date version of that letter will automatically be available when you open Pages on your Mac again.

Unfortunately, the Windows side of things isn’t so straightforward. There are no Windows versions of Pages, Numbers or Keynote, so you can’t simply sync documents between the iOS apps and their counterparts on Windows. Instead, you have to use a browser-based service that Apple calls ‘iWork For iCloud’.

In order to use this service you’ll first need to install the Windows version of Apple’s iCloud software onto your PC. Head to www.icloud.com and you’ll be prompted to download iCloud for Windows and then to enter your Apple ID (which you would have created when you first activated your iOS device).

Download iCloud Control Panel

You might need to activate iCloud in the Settings of your iPhone or iPad if you declined to when setting up your device, and also make sure you’ve selected the ‘Documents And Data’ option in the iCloud preferences panel. This ensures that any iWork documents you create on your iOS devices are automatically uploaded to the iCloud website.

Set up iCloud in iOS 7 iPad

When you log into iCloud.com from your PC you’ll see the iCloud home page with icons for Pages, Numbers and Keynote, alongside other options such as Apple’s ‘me.com’ email service or the ‘Find My iPhone’ service for lost or stolen phones.

You’ll notice that these icons have a ‘beta’ label on them, but this refers to the online versions of these apps, which are Apple’s attempt to produce a suite of online apps like Google Docs or Microsoft’s Web Apps. They allow you to create a new document in your web browser – something that wasn’t possible before.

iWork for iCloud

For now, click the icon for any of these three apps and you’ll see the Document Manager window, which displays any documents that have been created using Pages, Numbers or Keynote on your iPhone or iPad.

At this point you will also be prompted to download the iCloud plug-in for Internet Explorer (support for other browsers is still in development). This isn’t essential, but it does make converting and transferring files between iWork and Microsoft Office more straightforward so you might as well install it when prompted.

Next page: Transferring iWork documents from iOS to PC