After years and years of rumors, Office for iPad is finally here. At a press event in San Francisco this morning, Microsoft Office general manager Julia White has unveiled the company’s latest mobile Office app. While Office for iPad was originally rumored for a release in 2012 and 2013, it's available as three separate applications (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) in Apple’s App Store today. Just like Office for iPhone, the iPad version will make use of Microsoft's Office 365 subscription for editing features and will be available to subscribers at no extra cost. However, the iPad version will be free for reading and presenting purposes. That's a significant change from the original iPhone version, and one that will allow millions of iPad users to make use of Office for viewing documents. At the same time, Office for iPhone is now being updated to make it free for home use.
Word, Excel, and PowerPoint will all be included with Office for iPad, with a ribbon interface that's similar to the Windows and Mac desktop versions. While Office for iPhone included some basic editing, the iPad version contains a lot more features. Microsoft is promising full file fidelity with the desktop versions, and Office for iPad includes support for re-flowing, formatting, and touch handles.
Office on iPad is powerful and usable
In a demonstration, White showed how text will automatically re-flow around a picture once it's inserted in a Word document, and it's just as intuitive in person. We added a picture from an iPad's camera roll, dragged it through loads of text, easily resized it and shrunk it with nice large touch handles, even added mirror images and drop shadows to the picture with just a few more touches. Re-flowing text around an image was a little jerky, clearly a hefty load for even the iPad Air's processor, but resizing and rotating images was pleasingly smooth.
Office on iPad feels powerful, personal, and usable for the most part, but you can't do absolutely everything on the go. We couldn't find a way to add a video to a PowerPoint presentation, for example. You'll need to use a Windows client. Presentations also mirror your entire screen, with no way to separately consult your notes. While we admired the ability to long-press on the screen during a slideshow to pull up a virtual laser pointer, we didn't always hit the tabs correctly in Word when switching between various editing modes. That might just require practice, but the touch targets feel a little small.
"This is definitely not the Windows app ported to the iPad."
Microsoft is using chart recommendations in the Excel app, with the ability to preview live renders of charts that automatically update from data within the spreadsheet cells. Excel also has a custom numeric Keyboard that loads up for easy adding of equations and formulas. "This is definitely not the Windows app ported to the iPad," says White. Each application is native to iOS, and will support documents from the device and Microsoft's OneDrive service. PowerPoint is also available, with support for editing slide decks and presenting direct from an iPad.
"It's a beautiful set of applications," says Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, while describing the vision for Office 365 across devices and the cloud. "That's our real commitment to Office 365, everywhere." It's clear Nadella sees Office 365 as Microsoft's cloud platform for taking Office from the desktop to every device, and Office for iPad is yet another step in that grand plan. Microsoft recently launched Office 365 Personal, a $6.99-per-month (or $69.99 a year) subscription service that provides access to the Office 2013 applications for Windows, and the ability to install and use the Mac and mobile versions of the application. 3.5 million people are subscribed to consumer versions of Office 365, a number that Microsoft obviously wants to improve upon with the introduction of Office for iPad today.