Microsoft Office remains the most popular productivity app suite in the world. However, for the owners of many iPhones, iPads, and Macs, Apple offers its iWork suite of apps for free. Pages, Numbers, and Keynote are more-than-servicable replacements for the venerable Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.
To compete, Microsoft offers iOS versions of its Office apps for free, with no subscription to Office 365 required. The apps are excellent, providing full compatibility with files created on other platforms and giving powerful editing features to users on the iPhone or iPad.
Both Apple and Microsoft offer excellent productivity suites, but that doesn't mean the companies are done adding new features.
Last week, Apple began offering access to its iWork for iCloud service to users who don't actually own any Apple products. The browser-based suite is meant to allow easy access to the full iWork suite of applications from any computer, Mac or PC, with online storage for files on Apple's iCloud Drive.
It's currently available only on Apple's iCloud Beta website, though it will likely be available on the main site soon. iWork for iCloud is something of a Google Docs competitor, offering nearly full-featured versions of Pages, Numbers, and Keynote in a browser. It does seem a bit unlikely that users will suddenly flock to iWork from Google Docs, but there's little reason for Apple to keep it locked down when its offering it to its own customers for free. It can only attract customers to the platform, particularly as it offers comprehensive collaboration tools that are silly to lock down behind what is effectively a device-based paywall.
Separately, Microsoft continues its years-delayed embrace of iOS. The company's iOS developers have added support for Apple's iCloud Drive to the iOS versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. iCloud Drive, like competitors Dropbox (which Microsoft began supporting in Office for iOS a few months back) and Microsoft's own OneDrive, allows users to back up files to cloud servers and access them on other computers.
Apple makes it easy for developers to integrate iCloud Drive into their apps, and Office for iOS users will be able to save and sync their files to the platform without a Microsoft Office 365 subscription, though there are a few file type restrictions that keep users from opening non-Office files in the apps.
I'm still a bit surprised that Microsoft has chosen to largely open up the Office for iOS applications to users for free, but I suppose that's where the mobile app world has gone. Desktop users still have to pay, but as more and more users take advantage of mobile, it could be problematic for Microsoft in the long-term if it keeps giving away its apps, especially with all the focus that Apple and IBM are putting on iPads in the enterprise.
Mobile users are certainly benefitting from all of the options for productivity apps, including free offerings from Apple, Google and Microsoft, plus more targeted apps like Byword.
Do you use productivity apps on your iPhone or iPad? Let us know which apps you prefer in the discussion thread below.
Jordan Golson is an Apple Columnist for TechRepublic. He also writes about technology and automobiles for WIRED and MacRumors. He has worked for Apple Retail twice and has been writing about technology since 2007.