How might Microsoft’s Office for iPad stack up against free office suites from Apple, Google, DataViz, and Microsoft itself? The long-rumored iPad edition of Office is now widely anticipated to get an official rollout at a Microsoft press event on March 27, and it’s expected to require an Office 365 paid subscription.
In a cryptically worded press invitation, Microsoft said only that the event in San Francisco will focus on “the intersection of cloud and mobile computing.” But sites ranging from ZDNet to The Verge and Reuters have cited unnamed sources as saying that Microsoft will unveil an iPad app for Office at the press conference, the first to be hosted by Satya Nadella, who recently replaced Steve Ballmer as Microsoft’s CEO.
According to the rumor mill, in order to use the iPad app, people will need to buy Office 365 subscriptions, just as with Microsoft’s existing Office apps for the iPhone and Android phone. Supposedly, the iPad suite will be similar in look and feel to the iPhone app, which is designed to let users do things like open and edit Office files, share files via email, find and format text, and add, delete and display comments.
Yet in its help pages for Microsoft Office for iPhone, Microsoft acknowledges that many types of files can’t be edited on the phone, including those that are password-protected or digitally signed, or that have been saved as Office 97 or 2003 documents, for example.
On the App Store, users have complained about limitations such as integration with SkyDrive/OneDrive storage only and the inability to create bullets, numbered lists, and insert pictures.
Coming Up: Office 365 Personal
In any case, at this point, the only way to get Office 365 — unless you’re a college student, that is — is to buy a Home Premium package for $9.99 per month, covering installation on up to five Windows PCs or Macs. (College students can buy Office 365 University at pricing of $79.99 for four years.)
At some still unannounced time this spring, though, Microsoft plans to release a cheaper approach known as Office 365 Personal.
“It’s designed for an individual, allows for one PC or Mac and one tablet to be connected to the service and will be available for $69.99/year or $6.99 USD per month,” said Chris Schneider, a Microsoft senior marketing manager, in a blog post this week.
At the moment, “tablet” refers only to Windows tablets, although it could be that Microsoft will add iPads — and maybe even iPhones and Android phones — to the eligibility list for the Personal plan.
The current Home Premium package allows for installation of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Access and Publisher on PCs, for instance.
However, according to current speculation, the iPad app will include only Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and possibly OneNote.
Meanwhile, also this week, Microsoft released a free version of OneNote for the Mac, and it rose to the top of the download charts to become the top free app in the Mac App Store within a single day.
Will Users Pay $6.99 a Month?
Free is one thing, but will iPad users be willing to pay for Office 365, even at the lower pricing?
Assuming that all of the rumors are true, it’s still impossible to know yet exactly what users would be getting for their $6.99 a month. Untold numbers would at least give Microsoft’s new iPad app a try.
But on the other hand, Apple’s iWork suite, which is integrated with iCloud storage, is available free of charge to anyone who’s purchased an iOS device since October of last year.
Alternatively, users can also download either Google’s Quickoffice (integrated with Google Drive) or DataViz’ Documents To Go Standard Edition for free from the App Store.
Beyond that, for a one-time charge of $16.99, you can buy Docs To Go Premium, offering cloud storage access to not just SkyDrive but Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, and SugarSync.
Moreover, Microsoft now offers a free suite of its own. Microsoft’s recently released Office Online, a replacement for the company’s earlier Office Web Apps, includes web editions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, along with access to your Outlook.com email and contact lists.
Office Online will work with both the iPad and Android tablets, although Office Web Apps was inoperable on Android. The new suite is fairly feature-rich, supporting headers and footers, document comments, line spacing, custom indents, two page view, tables, custom page breaks, and hyperlinks, for example. Yet it lacks features such as a grammar checker and mail database merge.
Office Online certainly isn’t optimized for the iPad. But then again, it’s free — and free is a lot less costly than $69.99 per year.
For anyone who is budget-conscious, free can make a difference.