Microsoft this morning announced the next step in its initiative to spread its Office apps to the most popular mobile platforms in the world. And it's a big one: The firm is releasing a preview versions of its Office apps for Android tablets, new Office apps for iPhone, and updates to its Office apps on iPad. Furthermore, it is dramatically expanding the set of capabilities offered to consumers using these apps without an Office 365 subscription.
"Anytime someone has an idea or an inspiration, we want to empower them to take action," Microsoft corporate vice president of Office John Case said in a prepared statement. "With over a billion Office customers worldwide, and over 40 million downloads on the iPad, it's clear that Office applications are what people want to use to get things done."
Buckle in, folks. There's a lot going on here. Let's start with the first question I know you have.
Touch-optimized Office for Windows
"We are actively working on touch-optimized Office apps for Windows 10," Microsoft senior product marketing manager Amanda Lefebvre told me during a recent briefing. "These apps will be available alongside Windows 10, when it ships. The release is pegged to Windows 10, so if it moves out [on the schedule], we do too." In other words, it's not happening any earlier than Windows 10.
Office for Android tablets Preview
Like Office for iPad, Office for Android tablets is three separate apps—Word, Excel and PowerPoint—and they will soon be made available in preview form from the Google Play Store. Customers can sign up for the Preview starting today, and general availability is expected in early 2015, Microsoft says.
Why go through this kind of process? In addition to testing those apps in various languages and geographies, Android introduces an additional hurdle in the form of different device types with various specifications, so Microsoft wants to make sure it works well everywhere. In my quick initial testing earlier this week, I found that the new apps would not install on my new Nexus 9, but they did install on the Nexus 7, for example. So there's some compatibility work to be done here.
From a functional standpoint, Microsoft intends for Office for Android tablets (and, eventually, the touch-optimized Office for Windows apps) to be as functionally identical to the Office for iPad apps as possible. But the Office for iPad app have already improved a lot this year—Microsoft claims to have added over 150 new features since the initial March release—so Android has some catching up to do. That will happen over time, and Microsoft intends for all of these tablet versions to essentially solve for the same sets of scenarios. "There's no reason why we would limit one over the other," I was told.
And yes, you can add Dropbox as a place in these apps, alongside OneDrive and OneDrive for Business.
Here are a couple of my shots from Word for Android on my Nexus 7:
Office for iPhone
If you're familiar with how Microsoft currently divides up its smart phone and tablet versions of Office, you know that the tablet versions are more functional and that the phone versions are presented as a single, monolithic hub app that is less functional. That is changing, and it's starting with a new release of Office for iPhone. Not Office Mobile for iPhone. Office for iPhone.
The distinction is that Microsoft is moving its iOS, Android and Windows 10+ Office (touch) versions to a universal app model on each platform, and it's starting with iOS. So Office for iPhone is based on Office for iPad, and like that release, it's three separate apps—Word, Excel and PowerPoint—instead of a single hub app.
These apps deliver the same level of functionality on iPhone that you see with iPad today, giving users what Microsoft calls "the industry standard office productivity solution in your pocket." Each app will be made available today on the App Store for free.
A few details about these apps.
First, while they do offer the full functionality of Office for iPad, they are tailored for iPhone and provide a new user experience that was built from the ground up and designed to work well on the portrait orientation of an iPhone 5, 6 or 6 Plus screen (in addition to landscape display). A new dock stage UI lets you access your places and documents, and as with Office for Android tablets, you can access Dropbox in addition to OneDrive and OneDrive for Business.
Office for iPhone also features a vertical ribbon UI in portrait mode and the document layout fidelity users expect from Office. Each app also offers a unique display mode of its own. Word for iPhone features a superior document reading experience called Reflow View that optimizes the document text for the screen and reflows and wraps pictures inline. Excel for iPhone has a full-screen view that removes all the UI chrome so you can see more of the spreadsheet you're working in. And PowerPoint for iPhone has a new Presenter view that now works in portrait mode too.
The Office for iPhone apps have been optimized for all supported iPhones, and on iPhone 6 Plus, the artwork has been hand-crafted in a resolution three times the normal size for a crisp, clear display.
Office for iPad updates
The Office for iPad apps—again, Word, Excel and PowerPoint—are being updated today to adapt to the changes listed below and to add Dropbox support, plus some more features to close the functional gap between these apps and their Windows desktop siblings.
More capabilities for consumers without Office 365
Regardless of which of the new Office versions—Office for Android tablets, Office for iPhone or Office for iPad—you're using, Microsoft has dramatically eased the restrictions for consumers who use the apps without Office 365. (Business users will still need Office 365 to use these apps, however.) That is, where Office for iPad previously only allowed basic document viewing capabilities without a subscription, now these new versions offer what Microsoft calls "core Office editing experiences" for free on each. To get access to premium editing features, however, you will still need an Office 365 subscription.
So what's the dividing line between "core" and "premium"? For the most part, premium editing features are those features that only business users would need. For example, in Word, you need a subscription to use Track Changes. In Excel, you can view pivot tablets without Office 365, but you need a subscription to edit or create a pivot table. In PowerPoint, you can create and edit presentations without Office 365, but Presenter view is a premium feature that requires a subscription.
"This is a pretty big shift for us," Lefebvre told me. "It should drive great usage and adoption."
Coming soon: Office for Android apps
As you might expect, Microsoft will sometime soon replace the Office Mobile hub app on Android handsets with separate Office for Android handsets apps—again, Word, Excel and PowerPoint—just as it has done on iOS. And it's reasonable to expect the firm to do so on Windows, with Universal apps that work on both phones and tablets.
Just a recap of what's available when:
Office for Android tablet preview is available for sign-up today.
Office for iPad and Office for iPhone are available beginning today in 29 languages and 136 countries. (These apps require iOS 7.0 or later.)
Touch-optimized Office for Windows will ship at the same time as Windows 10. No word yet on a preview release.
Big news today.