Written by Philip Magson
For years, Microsoft’s Office suite has left Android users out in the cold. This January, however, Microsoft released betas of several Office apps for tablet devices on the Google Play store. Android users have had to wait a long time for a functional Office app: is this latest move enough to make up for lost time – and can we expect more in the future?
Microsoft actually first released a mobile Office app over a year ago – with the catch that it was only available on smartphones, and to Office 365 subscribers. With such a limited release, it’s not surprising the app didn’t gain widespread popularity but, in November 2014, Microsoft took away many basic restrictions, allowing all users to create, edit and save Office files on their phones. More complex functionality was, however, still restricted to Office 365.
The latest tablet version of Office for Android was made available to all users in early January and included Word, Excel and Powerpoint. Like the previous smartphone version, the new software has basic functionality for creating and editing documents but, while it’s available for free, you’ll need Office 365 membership to do any more than that. I should point out that the Office app is a preview, which means you’ll only be able to run it on the Kitkat and Lollipop Android updates – and you should expect it to be buggy. Microsoft has openly stated that it’s looking for feedback before official release – which will be some point in the first half of 2015.
The bigger issue here, is why it’s taken Microsoft so long to release an Android version of flagship Office software. Most of my colleagues use an Android device – at work or at home – and research shows a massive 69% of mobile devices run the OS (compared to the 20% running iOS). Last year, Microsoft released a free version of Office for iOS with huge success – but its development for Android has continued to lag behind. With so many users, and so many potential subscriptions to Office 365, it’s strange that Android users have had to wait.
So, is the new, tablet-centric Office worth the wait? It’s not really fair to pass definitive judgement on a preview app, but first impressions suggest things are moving in the right direction. The app is intuitive and easy to use, with clear options for viewing, searching within, or editing your document. Other common tools (like bolding, underlining and italicising) are tucked into a format bar at the top of the screen – a welcome space-saver on a tablet device – and when you’re ready to save, there’s a handy button to connect your document with online cloud storage.
Personally, I’m looking forward to the flexibility the new Office is promising – if you have that all-important 365 subscription, of course. Office is still a component part of our work-day, but it doesn’t rule the roost anymore: cloud-based platforms, like Google Apps and even Dropbox (which now integrates on-the-go editing capability for Office documents), have been filling the gap Microsoft is so obviously aiming for on tablets and mobiles for some time now. And the landscape is getting crowded: LibreOffice just announced its own jump to Android, with Writer, Calc and Impress apps on the horizon.
Time will tell if the new Office app recaptures its former glories. With plenty of alternatives now waiting in the wings, Microsoft will certainly need to think carefully about testing Android users’ patience much longer…