What File Formats Does the iPad Support?

by David Lipscomb
Apple's iPad tablet is versatile enough to support many file formats.

Apple's iPad tablet is versatile enough to support many file formats.

The iPad is an increasingly important tool for entertainment, business and education use. The iPad's document, image and audiovisual capabilities means that the device must support commonly used formats across Microsoft Office, iWork and audiovisual apps. This flexibility means that regardless of the type of material you add to the iPad for work or fun, it most likely is supported. This allows you to further leverage the iPad's inherent portability to maximize productivity.


Business-oriented document program files from Microsoft Office and Apple's iWork are fully compatible with the iPad. The iPad supports programs such as PowerPoint .ppt presentation files, Word doc.x document files and Excel .xls spreadsheet files with Keynote, Pages or Numbers apps. These apps are downloadable from the App Store, making the iPad more useful in Windows-based office and educational environments. IWork is another available app that is compatible with MS Office files, ensuring no downtime while you convert files. The iPad's Personal Document Format or PDF file support is critical for the exchange of edit-protected documents across a single standard. Support for Rich Text Formatting is useful, given the format's near-universal support across a variety of platforms and word processors. Plain text is supported by the aptly named PlainText and Writer apps, among others.

Audio Files

Like Apple's ubiquitous iPod, the iPad supports many commonly used audio formats. The device natively supports iTunes store favorite Advanced Audio Coding or AAC. This format offers a high level of sound quality while operating at lower average bit rates compared to MP3, named after the Motion Picture Experts Group. As a universal compressed audio format, MP3 is of course supported. The device includes Apple Lossless Format, offering sound quality original to the source file while requiring roughly half the storage space. For recording professionals Avid Audio Extension is supported, allowing for better compatibility between devices using ProTools and other mixing software. A standard of the compact disc format, Waveform Audio File Format is natively supported. This allows for identical sound with any CD ripped into iTunes and synced with the iPad. Notable exclusions are Vorbis, Windows Media Audio and FLAC files.


All significant imaging files are supported by Apple's iPad. The lossless PNG image format is the preferred default type for the iPad. Full resolution and image quality is maintained. RAW format, a favorite of photographers due to its near-uncompressed state, can be used in iPhoto on the iPad. However, the display shows the JPEG version of the image, which maintains a high level of quality. Vector formats like SVG and EPS are supported via apps like Inkpad, TouchDraw and iDraw, which is comparable to Adobe Illustrator. Moving GIF images are handled by the iPad when used as a Mail attachment or in a Web browser, but require an app to view them outside of these environments. Options include GifPlayer, GifViewer and ComicViewer. You can even make GIFs using Cinemagram, Giffer! and GIF+, turning any photo into an animated image.

Video Formats

The iPad's high screen resolution is ideal for watching videos and movies. H.264, also known as MPEG4 is chief among these. In addition to being a high definition video standard, H.264 is most relevant on the iPad due to widespread use by streaming video services. YouTube, the iTunes Store and Vimeo all support the format. Other common formats such as MP4, MOV and M4V are all supported. Older video formats like AVI are supported for compatibility with older Web-based video types. Proven mobile algorithms like u-law are supported, enhancing speech and increasing dynamic range of an audio file.

Native iPad Mail App Format Support

It is important that your portable work and entertainment device support files that may be emailed to you in an attachment. That's why the iPad supports Microsoft Office formats including Excel, PowerPoint, and Word file extensions. On the image side, the Mail App supports JPEG, TIF and GIF formats. Additionally Acrobat formats such as PDF files can be opened, along with the word processing standard Rich Text or RTF. Commonly used formats such as HTML and plain text are natively also handled by the iPad. V Card is supported via third party apps like Read vCard, or by emailing the .vcf file to yourself and clicking on it in the Mail app.

About the Author

David Lipscomb is a professional writer and public relations practitioner. Lipscomb brings more than a decade of experience in the consumer electronics and advertising industries. Lipscomb holds a degree in public relations from Webster University.

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