Microsoft Office, the array of software that includes programs like Word, PowerPoint, and Excel, has long been one of Microsoft’s most profitable products. Many businesses and industries, from schools to governments to corporations, simply can’t do without it; they’ve been built to rely on those programs. But Microsoft Office has been basically absent from mobile–tablets and smartphones–for years. Today, that changes.
At an event in San Francisco this morning, Microsoft finally showed off its new version of Office, designed from the ground up for the smaller displays, slower processors, and touch screens of mobile devices–specifically, the iPad and iPhone. This is a big deal; Office is incredibly important to Microsoft. Microsoft has struggled to make products like Xbox profitable and to make anyone even care about products like Windows Phone. Meanwhile, Office’s revenues have continued to grow.
Microsoft has waited so long to come out with a version of Office for iPad that the company now has lots of competition: Apple has a suite called iWork, which includes a word-processing program (like Word), a spreadsheet program (like Excel), and a presentation slide-show program (like PowerPoint)–and it’s all free on the iPad. Google’s version is called Google Drive, and includes programs like Google Docs and Google Spreadsheets. It, too, is free and has long been available.
Microsoft’s new mobile version of Office is taking a slightly different approach. The design language is common among all three programs (Word, Excel, and PowerPoint): at the top of the screen, there’s a big bar, with tabs that basically consolidate, simplify, and replace the old “File,” “Edit,” “Insert” menus you’d use on a computer. Hitting one of those tabs gives you further options beneath it, like font options (bold, italics) in Word or type of transition between slides in PowerPoint. It’s a nice, clean interface: not flashy, very easy to use.
Microsoft has also had to figure out how to use a touch screen in place of the old keyboard and mouse setup it’s used to. Mostly, this works the way you’re used to on tablets: we’re all familiar with a few of the gestures, like the press-and-hold, or the double-tap. These work the way the right-click used to on your mouse. And there are some cool extras that take advantage of being on this new gadget. In PowerPoint, when you press and hold your finger on a slide during a presentation, your cursor turns into a little digital laser pointer that you can wave around. In Word, you can easily take a picture with your iPad’s camera and stick it right into a document.
But all of the apps are necessarily slimmed down. Word, Excel, and PowerPoint have become exceedingly bloated and powerful programs in the decades they’ve been around; they do tons of different things in tons of different ways, and an iPad, which has basically a cell phone’s worth of power, just can’t do all that stuff. Instead of trying to cram everything into a device that really can’t handle it, Microsoft simply got rid of a lot of the features. That means the iPad version will definitely be missing some stuff, like some of the weirder formatting options in Excel or the ability to add videos in PowerPoint.
But the big difference between Office and the other tablet software suites like iWork and Google Drive is that Office costs money. There’s no option to simply buy it, either; you’ll need a subscription to Microsoft’s Office 365 service, which costs, at minimum, $6.99 a month. There’ll be a free version that’ll let you open and view documents, but it won’t let you edit or create any.
Office for iPad should be available to download in the App Store today.