Microsoft is making some big improvements to its Office mobile apps today, starting with an entirely new iPhone app. When the original iPhone version debuted last year, it was basic and underwhelming. Today’s new iPhone app is a lot more similar to the iPad version, and that’s a good thing. After using the new app over the past several days I can’t imagine going back to the old Office Mobile solution. The entire codebase has been replaced with the iPad version, creating a universal app that brings all the features you’d expect.
The confusing interface is gone, replaced with easier editing options and the ability to shape and move photos and other elements in documents. There’s a special formula keyboard in Excel, a full screen view, and little optimizations for bigger iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus displays. On the PowerPoint side there’s also transition and animation support, the ability to play audio and video from slides, and the usual presentation view. Native Dropbox support is also available in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint for iPhone. Most importantly, it’s free to view and edit documents now, a big change Microsoft is unveiling across all of its mobile apps today.
Office for Android tablets is just like the iPad version
Microsoft is also accepting signups for an Android tablet version of Office today. It’s pretty much identical to the iPad version in terms of features, and it even looks similar. Office for Android will only support KitKat and above, and Microsoft plans to start distributing it to preview participants in December. "Our goal with this preview is to ensure that we get a broad representation of the vast array of form factors, device types, and operating system versions that the Android tablet install base represents, and make sure we can polish these apps," explains Microsoft’s head of Office marketing Michael Atalla.
The reason Microsoft has been able to keep both Android and iOS versions identical is thanks to a new cross-platform approach to the codebase of Office. "It has required us to be great at writing platform code for Android, code for iOS, and code for Windows," says Atalla. All of that effort has been put together into a single platform so Microsoft can share code across iOS, Android, and Windows. The benefit is faster updates and more features for Office users. "Over the past year, we’ve had 150 different updates to Office applications across all platforms," says Atalla. "We’re moving very very quickly in adding capability and adding functionality."
As Windows 10 progresses, so do touch-optimized versions of Office. "We continue to work on touch-optimized versions for Excel and Word for Windows 10," explains Atalla. "Those will be aligned with Windows 10." Microsoft isn’t providing any timing for those apps or their features, but it’s safe to assume they’ll be bundled into the tablet and phone version of Windows 10. Microsoft is expected to preview that version early next year, so expect to experiment with the touch versions of Office for Windows 10 very soon.