Microsoft originally released Office for iPad earlier this year, but it only supported the viewing of documents unless you signed up for their paid Office 365 service. With an update released this week, however, Microsoft reversed their stance, allowing basic editing for free on both Apple iPhones and iPads, plus Dropbox integration for file syncing between all of your device.

Let’s take a look at how to open, edit, and sync your documents with Dropbox using the new updates. It’s a pretty nifty feature set that will make you question why you’re not using the Office apps on your iPad and iPhone for mobile document editing.

Downloading Office for iPad and iPhone

Office for iPad and iPhone is available from the iTunes App Store on your mobile device. Microsoft Office (Word, PowerPoint, and Excel individually) are available for free from the iTunes App Store. They are universal applications that will run on either the iPhone or the iPad, and they can be downloaded here:

Once you’ve got the apps downloaded and installed, let’s take a look at how you can create a document in Microsoft Word (the process is similar for all of the Office applications).

Creating and editing a document for free

To create a new document in Microsoft Word, perform the followings steps with the Word app opened on your iPad or iPhone:

  1. Tap the New button in the sidebar to open the Template chooser
  2. Tap New Blank Document (Figure A) to start a new document without a specific template

Figure A

Creating a document couldn’t be easier — and Word includes several templates that you can choose from when starting a new document.

After doing this, you’ll instantly be placed into editing mode (Figure B), where you can begin typing away and creating your document. We’re glad that Microsoft is allowing basic editing for free now — and most users won’t need more than what the free editing features provide.

Figure B

Editing works just like it does in a desktop-like Office environment, except you have fewer features available in the free version.

You’ll be alerted if you try to use features that require the paid upgrade.

Linking and saving Dropbox documents

The nice thing about the new versions of the Office applications is that you can now utilize a Dropbox syncing feature to open, edit, and save documents located in your Dropbox account. This is particularly convenient for users who don’t care about syncing documents using Microsoft’s 365 cloud and are already dedicated to using Dropbox.

When you first upgrade to the new versions of the Office apps, you’ll be prompted to link your Dropbox account. However, if you didn’t chose that option when upgrading, you can link your Dropbox account by performing these steps after the upgrade:

  1. Select Open in the sidebar
  2. Select Add a Place
  3. Select Dropbox in the dialog that appears (Figure C)
  4. This will redirect you to the Dropbox application or a Dropbox login page, where you will login and then tap the Allow button
  5. After authorizing, you’ll be redirected back to the Office application that you’ve requested for Dropbox authorization

Figure C

Syncing with Dropbox lets you integrate Office even better in your workflow if you’re already invested in that cloud platform.

Once you’ve linked your Dropbox account, you’ll see a full listing of your Dropbox folders and stored documents that the Microsoft Office apps can open and edit. Tapping any of these documents will open them for editing in the app.

When you’re ready to save a new document inside of your Dropbox account, you can do so easily by following these steps:

  1. Create a new document, and then edit the document
  2. When you’re ready to save, navigate back into the main application document listing and a Save dialog will appear, allowing you to select your save location
  3. Select Dropbox from the sidebar, and then enter a name for your document (Figure D)

Figure D

Microsoft makes saving documents to Dropbox — locally on the iPad or iPhone, or saving to Microsoft OneDrive — an easy process compared to other document editing apps.

This will save your document and make it available on all of your devices that have Dropbox support enabled.

Purchase more options

If you need more editing options (and the included online storage), you can purchase an Office 365 subscription. This subscription is paid monthly, and it includes the ability to use the full Microsoft Office suite of apps on one PC or Mac, one tablet, and one phone (for the Personal subscription). There are also other subscriptions available if you need to run the apps on more devices.

You can always upgrade by tapping the Go Premium button in the lower left-hand corner of the Office apps (Figure E). Sign into your Microsoft account, and choose one of the available plans:

  • Office 365 Personal ($6.99/mo)
  • Office 365 Home ($9.99/mo)

Figure E

Upgrading to the Premium version of Microsoft Office gives you full access to all features in the complete Office suite on iPad, Mac, and iPhone.

If you’ve previously purchased a subscription and need to restore it to a new device, you can do that from this screen as well by tapping the Restore Previous Purchase link on the bottom of the screen.

Do you use Microsoft Office apps on your mobile Apple devices? Share your experience in the discussion thread below.