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Office Mobile for iPhone: What you need to know

Philip Michaels | June 17, 2013
Microsoft has come out with a mobile version of its Office productivity suite for iPhone users. We answer your questions about this new mobile app, including what it can and can't do.

A week that began with a flurry of Worldwide Developers Conference announcements from Apple is ending with its once-fiercest rival making a little news of its own. Microsoft on Friday announced a mobile version of its Office productivity suite for the iPhone. The software giant's move answers a longstanding demand for a version of the world's most widely used office software for one of the world's most popular mobile platforms—though there are a couple of big caveats that could limit just how widely this iOS-friendly version of Office gets adopted.

Microsoft's Office-for-iPhone announcement couldn't have been more low-key than if it had sent company representatives door to door to quietly spread the news. Microsoft broke the news on a Friday—that's the day in the news business when you typically let people know that you've been indicted, or that those rumors about you are true and that you and the intern hope everyone respects your privacy—posting the announcement in its Office 365 blog and not, say, at a high-profile press event. That's a significant choice by Microsoft.

It's also a lot to digest for iOS users, especially with our heads still swimming from iOS 7 previews and promised Siri announcements. Still, here's a quick breakdown of everything we know about Microsoft's new iOS offering so far.

What's the app called?
Office Mobile for iPhone, according to Microsoft's blog post. Office Mobile for Office 365 Subscribers, according to the app's listing in the App Store. Catchy, no?

What can I do with it?
Don't confuse Office Mobile for a full-featured version of Microsoft's Office suite. You can use the app to view and edit Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files. You can even create Word documents and Excel spreadsheets on your iPhone, though not PowerPoint presentations. Documents, spreadsheets, and presentations look on your phone like they do on your computer screen—though smaller, of course—thanks to the app's support for charts, animations, SmartArt Graphics, and shapes. You'll access those Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files from SkyDrive, SkyDrive Pro and Sharepoint.

Microsoft put in some nice touches aimed at mobile users. Word and Excel both feature Viewing Tools that let you jump to specific areas of documents and spreadsheets, saving you from an afternoon of unending scrolling. In PowerPoint, a Slide Navigator performs much the same feat.

(We'll have a more detailed hands-on with Office Mobile later; we'll update this story with a link once that article becomes available.)

How is this different from other iOS apps from Microsoft?
You're referring to the aptly named Microsoft OneNote, available in separate iPhone and iPad versions, that let you jot down notes and store them in the cloud for later access from a Mac or PC—and not much else. It certainly was never designed or marketed as a tool for business-strength writing or editing. Microsoft's SkyDrive app allowed you to access, manage, and share files, but it lacks any sort of editing capabilities. For all its limitations, Office Mobile is undeniably Microsoft's first serious attempt to make a version of Office for iOS users.


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