A common lament about Apple’s iPad in the enterprise is that
it’s primarily a content consumption device. The tablet excels at
web browsing and even document viewing, but should you need to make even a
minor edit to a Microsoft Office document, you’re out of luck without third-party software. All this changed recently as Microsoft released a long-rumored
version of Microsoft Office for iOS devices, Microsoft Office Mobile, continuing an interesting
precedent at the company and chipping away at the content
consumption argument against Apple tablets in the enterprise.

the laptop?

While Microsoft’s release of Office Mobile might seem like
great news for companies and individuals hoping to ditch their laptop and
perform all their computing tasks on a tablet, the first release of Office on
iOS has its fair share of caveats. The application is targeted to
the iPhone, and I was unable to even install it on my iPad 2, getting a cryptic
error about an autofocus camera being required. Apparently, you can install the software if you have a newer iPad, but it runs in a non-iPad optimized

The second major caveat is that the software requires a
subscription to Office 365. If your enterprise runs Office locally or you’ve
purchased boxed software, you’re currently out of luck on iOS. This eliminates
a rather large portion of the potential user base, and one can only wonder if
Microsoft is either intentionally limiting potential users to work the kinks
out of the application or using Office Mobile on iOS as another carrot to achieve its
stated objective of moving the majority of its Office users to the Office 365
cloud platform.

I was able to install Office Mobile on my iPhone and then view and edit Excel, PowerPoint, and Word documents. The
interface is very similar to Windows Phone, offering fairly rich viewing of
documents but rather limited editing. An Office aficionado will be a bit
flabbergasted when their usual ribbon to toolbars with dozens of buttons is
reduced to a few options and a menu or two. It would be difficult to generate a
complex document, but in the files I opened, most of the complex formatting was
preserved, and I could edit text and data with relative ease (the tasks you’d
be most likely to perform on an iPhone when dealing with an Office document).
This functionality would be a little thin on a tablet device like the iPad, where
one might connect an external keyboard and expect to do more than basic edits.

Like the Windows Phone version of Office Mobile, reviewing
functionality was limited to adding comments; there’s no equivalent to
“track changes,” a function that many business users in an enterprise environment
might find helpful, especially on a mobile device where you’re more likely to
be reviewing documents and adding comments than creating something from

The application does integrate well with Office 365 and
personal SkyDrive accounts, the latter being a bit of an odd addition, since
Office 365 is required to use the application. In both cases, you can specify a
destination for your file and create new versions of a document with “Save
as.” This is handy for creating templates with most of your formatting and
allowing you to deal primarily with text on a mobile device.

Many of the third-party Office-compatible mobile apps run
circles around the current incarnation of Mobile Office for iOS, allowing extensive
document formatting and access to a variety of cloud platforms, while
eliminating the requirement for Office 365 and SkyDrive. If you’re already an
Office 365 customer, Office Mobile is a nice freebie and provides basic
document editing capabilities to your iOS devices. It’s certainly not at a
point where laptops can be ditched, but it will work when you need to revise a
document in a pinch. If you’re not already an Office 365 subscriber, I
certainly wouldn’t enroll in the service primarily to get Office mobile access.

cold day…

Microsoft releasing its flagship offering on a competing
mobile OS might bring to mind some colorful weather-related quips, but it’s a
sensible strategy. Google has been dominating the mobile space as of late by
offering high quality versions of its applications on all major tablet and smartphone
platforms, exposing non-Android users to its offerings and generating eyeballs
for its advertising, even on non-Android devices.

Microsoft has operated in a similar vein for some of its major
products, offering access to Xbox-related services on iOS and releasing
SkyDrive clients for all major mobile platforms. Even Office, one of
Microsoft’s crown jewels, is available on Mac OS, a direct and longstanding
competitor of Microsoft’s OS business.

While Office Mobile may not be earth shattering, and the app comes with a list of caveats that nearly outweigh the limited feature set, it’s
refreshing to see that Microsoft is moving away from a walled
garden strategy with its Office franchise. With a functional iPad
application, and perhaps a move away from requiring Office 365, this can only
help keep Microsoft Office users in the fold despite increased
competition from the likes of Google Docs.