Office for iPad First Look

Today Microsoft released Office for iPad. I have long said that Microsoft has squandered a huge opportunity as part of redefining itself as a “services and hardware” company. Before the release today, Microsoft had released two other applications that are part of the Office suite; OWA and OneNote. Those apps gave me some insight into where Microsoft might be going. In part, it was encouraging and in part it was very disappointing. I should also say that I look at this from an enterprise, not an individual consumer, perspective.

The part that was encouraging was that the apps provided the functionality I would hope for. First of all the apps were free but required an Office 365 subscription. That is perfectly understandable. Microsoft doesn’t want to give Apple a 30% cut of every subscription by making it an in-app purchase and Microsoft is trying to sell their product as well. The user experience was decidedly Microsoft. That was to be expected. OWA behaved as I would have expected. I pointed it to my work Office365 site and it returned the mail and calendar information as expected.

OneNote; however, was disappointing. When I pointed it to my work Office 365 site, it prompted for a Microsoft consumer account (hotmail, outlook, etc.) not my Office365 site credentials. It wouldn’t accept those or recognize the site. This rendered OneNote pretty useless from an enterprise perspective. I was able to enter my consumer account information and it found my personal, free, Office 365 site. Once I had done that I was able to link the work Office365 site. That was a step forward but still pretty useless from the enterprise perspective. Everything I had read about Microsoft’s strategy validated that they were planning to use the iOS apps as a gateway to Office 365….but that consumer account thing was disturbing.

Back to today’s release. Yesterday I had read an article that said the release was imminent and the target was the enterprise and consumers looking toward Google Docs and Apps. If this report was accurate, Microsoft would have to do away with the consumer account requirement. After installing the apps (which were featured in the Apple App Store) I held my breath as I started Word. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the login screen had, in fact, changed. It allowed for the use of a consumer account but also allowed for enterprise, small business and university accounts.

This was encouraging. I went on to enter my work Office 365 credentials and they were accepted. This is a huge step forward. When it finished validating the welcome screen indicated I would only have read access to my documents. We have an Office 365 subscription but have only enable Lync so getting an option that tells me I can only view documents is what I would expect.

When my wife saw this she pointed out that this will be confusing to some users. Those who are not familiar with the Office 365 approach will expect to be able to use Office as they always have on the desktop. They are likely to be frustrated by what will appear to be “cripple-ware”.

As it turns out, there is also an option for an Office 365 Home subscription. With that option as an in-app purchase Apple would get a 30% cut.

The opening screen looks very Microsoft-esque, showing the templates available and some options on the sidebar.

Since, for now, I’ve accepted that I will be reading documents because of my employer’s Office 365 subscription, I was interested in how I would be able to open documents. There are two primary sources for work documents on the iPad; SharePoint through the use of Infragistics’ Enterprise SharePlus app and e-mailed links. My expectation was that I would be able to go to either of these sources, tap on a document link to open the document in preview then open the document using the iOS “Open In…” feature. In both cases it behaved exactly as I would have expected.

Once the document is open in Word, it’s behavior produced mixed results. My initial look at document formatting was very good. I was, however, basing this on a very limited sample set. I will be exploring this more in the future. In cases where the iOS preview presented some odd formatting, Word presented as I would expect, including proper header and footer.

It’s overall file handling behavior was not as good. With a document open, if you select an option from the sidebar, the new screen is presented. An experience any iOS user would expect is that the new screen is essentially an overlay to the previous screen. Swiping will remove the active screen and return the user to the previous screen, in this case, the open document. What I found was that when the screen was opened from the sidebar, the document appeared to simply close. The only way I could find to return to the document was to open it again from it’s source.

Office for iPad is a big step in the right direction for Microsoft. The discussion I know I will have with our Microsoft Sales Representative will be what type of Office subscription will work best for our organization to satisfy both the traditional Windows user community and or new iPad-enabled field staff. Will converting our existing Enterprise Licenses to Office 365 give us both the on-site capabilities to support our desktop users and an Office 365 presence that is recognized by Office for iPad, or will we need to do something special? There will be more to come on this but the first look is encouraging. It will be interesting to see how the user experience for a Microsoft design app will be accepted by iOS users.