The New Office for iOS: The Best Thing Microsoft Has Done All Year

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Excel for iPad

You probably saw the news last week: Microsoft unveiled new versions of its Office apps (Word, Excel and PowerPoint) for iOS. Notice I said “iOS” and not just “iPad,” because Microsoft now offers native Office apps for iPhone as well.

To me that’s not the big deal. Only a masochist would attempt to work with documents on an iPhone, even one as large as the 6 or 6 Plus. I suppose it’s nice that you can access, view and share Office files on the go, but you could pretty much do that before.

No, the big deal is Microsoft’s change in pricing: No longer must you subscribe to Office 365 if you want to actually edit documents on the go. Office for iOS is now free (except for some advanced features). Microsoft will even issue pro-rated refunds if you bought Office 365 subscriptions just for iOS access (you can request a refund from Microsoft support).

For any iPad owner who’s already toting a keyboard or anyone with laptop who’s been thinking seriously about ditching that system for a tablet, this is huge. It means you can migrate all your documents to Microsoft’s OneDrive cloud service (assuming they’re not there already), then actually work on your iPad — all free of charge.

(Android users will soon be able to get in on this action as well, but for the moment Microsoft has only an Office for Android tablet Preview.)

I’m really pleased to see this kind of largesse from Microsoft, a company I’ve dinged repeatedly for charging too much for its products. I mean, $130 for Windows? $70 annually for a single-user Office license? Come on.

With this new approach, Microsoft seems to finally get that tablet owners just want the basics: create Word documents, edit spreadsheets, maybe tweak a few PowerPoint slides. And they shouldn’t have to pay for the privilege, not when Apple, Google, WPS and other app makers offer it for free.

Word for iPad

Granted, a few quirky “freemium” limit each of the apps. In Word, for example, you can’t create columns in new documents, though can edit them if you receive a document that already has columns. And unless you’re a paying Office subscriber, you can’t use the incomparably handy track-changes feature (the exception being, again, inbound documents that already have it enabled). You can’t change cell colors in Excel, and you can’t sync with business accounts on OneDrive or Dropbox.

For most of us, though, these are far from deal breakers. Now that you can create new documents instead of just reviewing existing ones, Office for iPad holds a lot of appeal. It keeps you working within a familiar interface and offers seamless synchronization with both of the aforementioned cloud services.

And I must admit I love this use of the freemium model. Give everyone basic functionality for free, then let those who need more pay for it. Microsoft would be wise to adopt a similar model for desktop owners.

That might just happen. Word for iOS has held the top spot on the App Store’s Free-apps chart since the day it debuted last week. And I suspect once Microsoft gets a taste of that kind of success, it will want to repeat it.

In the meantime, it’s time to give greater consideration to chucking your laptop in favor of a tablet. Making the transition just got a lot easier.

Image credit: Microsoft

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