Office for iOS is disappointing

So when screenshots of MS Office running on an iPad showed up about a year ago or so, I was pretty excited about it. My work ecosystem drives around a MacBook Pro, iPad 3, and iPhone 4S. I use all three daily for productivity, and the missing link was being able to use Office on all three.

I know there are other solutions (Google Docs, Apple's apps, etc), but I require Office for compatibility with peers and Excel is hands down the best (there are better word processors and presentation apps, notably Pages and Keynote, but again, compatibility with others). Microsoft has typically done a good job with Office for Mac. It has its problems, but in general a good experience.

I bought an Office 365 subscription so I could cover my Macs and Windows PC's at a much cheaper rate than buying them separate. When Office for iOS came out a few weeks ago, I was pleasantly surprised to see a free app that comes along with my Office 365 subscription. This is potentially bad for everyone else, but we'll get into why it doesn't matter later since the apps are awful.

So after a few weeks of using Office for iOS, it's a huge disappointment.

First off, the choice to start on iPhone is a bit odd. The iPad would theoretically be a better fit for this due to the larger screen, etc, but I assume that's on the way at sometime?

The iPhone can already natively view Word, Excel, and PPT files, so the real plus would be in creation and editing capabilities. Here's where we get into some odd restrictions. You can create Word and Excel documents, but not PPT. You can however edit existing PPT documents, but it has some major problems. I figured I'd be using Excel and Word the most anyway, so no big deal.

Starting with Word, I was at a restaurant waiting for my wife, so I opened a Word document I had already created on desktop to play around with. I spent the next 10 minutes trying to figure out how to copy text, and was unable to do so until I Googled it (It uses a totally different method for this compared to everything else on iOS, you have to double tap on a word and expanding the selection is clunky). Deviating from standards can be OK sometimes, but something basic like this isn't good. Creating a document is quite easy, but adding content to it isn't. You can type just fine, but creating headers and sections is an exercise in frustration. To make something bold, italic, different size, or color you go into a Format pull-up menu. This is fine and all, but you can't edit the text underneath until you dismiss the menu or had made a selection already. So if you made an error in selection to edit pre-existing text, you have to dismiss the entire menu then get back into it again once you've made the correction. After 10 minutes of messing with it, I discovered a better workflow is to doing what I need to do on the phone in Evernote or something else that syncs documents then copying it into a Word document on the desktop, which defeats the purpose of Word on my phone. It's also missing a ton of features other note taking and word processing apps have had for years, such as inserting a photo...

Now looking at Excel, this worked pretty well. You're obviously not going to be doing anything intense on your phone, but it worked really well for creating quick lists of numbers and running some calculations on them. Some of the complicated spreadsheets I opened looked just fine as well. Kudos here.

Now with Powerpoint, you can't create new presentations but you can edit and view them. I'm not even going to go into editing them, because it's an utter mess. No formatting controls, and it looks horrible. You can't resize text blocks, which causes all sorts of problems since the text your entering just goes into Neverland. It works OK for viewing and perusing, but I could do that already without the app.

I'm not a Microsoft hater, I really like Office and really wanted to like this, but the app is totally lazy and worthless other than playing with Excel files. If this is their grand effort on iOS, it's embarrassing that they even put this out. If you want to include devices other than Win Phone or Surfaces in your Office ecosystem, you have to give them a solid experience. The iOS version fails hard at this, and is something I've already uninstalled from my phone.


Office for iOS is an embarrassing release for Microsoft, and really surprising considering how long they took to put something out. It seems like a weekend effort, and does nothing to bring in non-Windows Phone/Surface users into the Office ecosystem. If you're on an iPhone and curious, don't bother.