Microsoft Wednesday added Android to the list of mobile operating systems now supported by Office Mobile. But Office Mobile for Android only covers phones, not tablets, limiting its utility.
The Android version, Office Mobile for Android, is also arguably the weakest of the bunch, in terms of compatibility with Microsoft Office. Microsoft is still tacitly encouraging users to buy Windows Phones, which come preloaded and activated with Windows Mobile and don’t require an Office 365 subscription to use. The problem is, within the Android world, there are a number of other office solutions that provide very good direct competition to Microsoft’s offering.
Nevertheless, Office Mobile for Android is free and downloadable from the Google Play Store. The only requirement is that your phone must contain Android 4.0 or higher, and you must already have purchased Office 365.
In a break with Office Mobile for iPhone, Microsoft doesn’t even offer the option to purchase Office 365 from within the app; instead, users must sign up outside the application itself. And without Office 365, Office Mobile for Android is virtually useless.
“The release of this app shows that we’re committed to keep providing additional value for Office 365 subscribers,” said Guy Gilbert, a senior product manager of the Office apps for Microsoft, in a blog post.
Qualifying Office 365 plans include Office 365 Home Premium, Office 365 Small Business Premium, Office 365 Midsize Business, Office 365 Enterprise E3 and E4, Office 365 Education A3 and A4, Office 365 ProPlus, and Office 365 University.
There are also Office 365 government plans that include Office Mobile. Users can also visit Office.com and sign up for a free 30-day trial, Microsoft said.
While Microsoft eventually intends to make Office Mobile for Android available across 33 languages and in 117 markets, it’s only currently available for the United States. That will change over the next few weeks, Microsoft said.
Users can create new documents, edit those that they’ve already created, and save, load, or edit files saved to Microsoft’s SkyDrive or SkyDrive Pro—which on Tuesday received a few upgrades, as well.
But the ability to create files only applies to Word and Excel; for now, you can review your PowerPoint slides and edit them, but not create a presentation from scratch.
Users can also open a document via email. Office Mobile includes a couple of handy features designed for the phone;
The software knows what documents you’ve recently accessed on your PC, and those are the first options presented when you choose to open a saved file.
A feature that Microsoft calls Rapid Resume also works like Amazon’s Kindle, ‘fast-forwarding” you to the portion of the document last viewed on your PC.
An “outline view” in Excel and Word allow you to quickly navigate through the document, and both apps allow annotations as well.
Within the three supported apps, Microsoft has made efforts to make editing a snap; in Word (shown at top of story), for example, tapping the pencil brings up the most common editing functions. Excel allows you to filter and sort data and create charts, using the local processor to calculate data.
Within PowerPoint, users can review slides and edit speaker notes, move and hide slides, and make text edits directly from the phone. Holding the phone in a portrait orientation allows edits to be made and includes a quick navigation bar; a landscape orientation serves as presentation mode.
In general, Office Mobile for Android and Office Mobile for iPhone should function quite similarly, with two exceptions: Android users can not sign up for Office 365 within the app itself, and Android users may need to fully qualify documents that are accessed via an on-premise SharePoint server.
Buy Windows Phone—or a Surface
To date, however, Microsoft has been keenly cognizant that productivity apps are the foundation of the Windows platform, and users who purchase a Windows Phone will have these benefits:
Office Mobile will be preinstalled and activated;
users will be able to save documents to the phone itself, as well as SkyDrive or email;
WP users will be able to filter and search for documents;
Users can also easily open documents with permissions attached to them.
Office 365 includes a license of up to five mobile devices—but Windows Phones don’t count against that limit.
The biggest annoyance, however, is that—like the iPad—tablets aren’t supported in either Office Mobile for the iPhone or the Android version, either. Those trying to hunt and peck at keys in the back of a jouncing taxi are likely to grit their teeth and muddle through; by doing so, however, Microsoft is tacitly encouraging customers in the direction of a Surface tablet—now at a new low, low, price—or even a full-fledged Windows 8 PC. (“Phablets” like the Samsung Galaxy Note II should still be supported, however.)
“If you have an iPad or Android tablet, we recommend using the Office Web Apps, which provide the best Office experience on a tablet,” a spokeswoman for Microsoft said via email. “We have made lots of enhancements to Office Web Apps including a touch experience for tablet users.”
Microsoft also has native apps for OneNote, Lync, and SharePoint, in addition to supporting Exchange Active Sync for email, calendar and contacts, she said.
”I’m not sure how many people are going to want to do a lot of Office work on a phone,” Michael Silver, an analyst at Gartner, said recently. “A tablet’s going to be a lot more important.”
Of course, there’s no reason that users have to live in the world that Microsoft has created. Plenty of Android office apps allow document creation or editing, both on a phone or tablet: Google Drive, of course, allows for Google’s own documents to be created; and Google’s own QuickOffice, Documents to Go, and OfficeSuite Pro 7 are all arguably as good or better choices than Microsoft’s offerings.
In one way, editing or creating an Office document on a mobile phone is counter-intuitive; too many people still append some sort of signature file on a mobile phone to explain away any typos or shorthand.
Within a business document, however, typos simply shouldn’t appear. Office Mobile can certainly stand in to enable last-minute changes while on the go, but they shouldn’t be considered as serious tools for document creation. And that’s exactly how Microsoft appears to want it.
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