The introduction of Microsoft Office to Android is part of an important change in the design of this iconic productivity suite as it adapts to the increasing importance of tablets. How well did Microsoft do adapting this software to a new type of device? Read on to find out.
A New Focus
From its inception, Office was a group of PC applications designed to be used with a mouse and cursor, which allowed on-screen buttons to be quite small. The rise of tablets that are controlled with a fingertip required larger screen elements.
To its credit, Microsoft went into the redesign with a surprising amount of open-mindedness. It released a touch-friendly version of Office for iPad last year, and now follows up with the Android version before the Windows version has been introduced. This is part of a strategy to keep Word, Excel, and PowerPoint relevant in the business world, even though iOS and Android tablets are currently more popular than Windows-powered ones.
The main effect of this is that these apps will soon look and act the same no matter what OS is running it; if you have tried Office for iPad then you’re already seen the new layout for Android.
And the Windows versions will have the same look and operation. This is important because it shows that the Android and iPad versions of Office aren’t stripped-down “lite” editions. They are the full ones.
The other side of the coin is that this new version doesn’t add any features. The old features have just be rearranged and brought to a new platform.
Long-time users of the Windows version of Office shouldn’t be dismayed by the touch-friendly version. The design for Android Tablets still features the ribbon toolbar that has long been a part of Office, but it has been simplified so that only the most-used features are presented to the user, reducing what can sometimes seem an overwhelming array of controls in earlier versions.
The advantage is a cleaner look, with enough room between on-screen elements that it’s easy for a fingertip to hit just the desired one. And the more obscure features haven’t been deleted – their controls have been moved to windows that pop up when an icon is tapped.
Office has always used this arrangement; the new version of this software just uses it a lot more. Previously, Microsoft tried to reduce the amount of clicking required by squeezing as many control elements directly in the ribbon toolbar as possible. That bit of convenience is not possible in the fingertip-friendly apps.
There are other simplifications that reduce redundancy. For example, in Word for Windows 2013, selecting text with a mouse brings up a very complicated pop-up filled with tiny formatting controls that are duplicates of ones in the ribbon bar. The Android version has a simple pop-up with just cut, copy, and paste, as formatting is always done with the ribbon bar.
Android = Windows: Almost
The Office applications developed for Android tablet don’t look 100% like their iPad counterparts, but they are actually arranged more like the upcoming touch-friendly Windows versions than the iOS one. For example, both of these have a File menu in the Ribbon, something Apple apparently required Microsoft to come up with an alternative for.
This doesn’t affect the usefulness of any version, and all three are nearly identical to the point that switching back and forth from one to another isn’t confusing.
Using Office in an Office
Many of those who will use Word, Excel, and PowerPoint for Android will be doing so in a mixed-device environment where they will be sharing files with others using Windows and iOS, so it is important that when a file is edited on an Android tablet, the only things changed in the file are the edits.
In our tests, this new software handles this process seamlessly. A document was exchanged multiple times between Word running on Windows, iOS, and Android without any issues.
This process was handled with Microsoft’s OneDrive, which is integrated into Office, no matter the platform.
The release of full versions of Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint for Android tablets is a huge step forward for anyone who wants to replace their laptop with a more mobile computer. Almost gone are the days when Android tablet users should feel any need to apologize for not choosing a Windows device, because for many workgroups it simply won’t matter what type of tablet is someone is using, because they can run Office.
That said, anyone contemplating buying an Android tablet to run Office on it should check that it will meet their needs before they put their money down.
One final issue to be aware of is that this version of Office is for tablets, and can’t be loaded onto a phone, or even a phablet with a 6-inch screen – the display needs to be at least 7 inches in size. Those with smaller models must use Microsoft Office Mobile.