The new application is optimized for the iPhone 5, but will work on other iOS devices such as the iPad. Office Mobile for Office 365 lets iPhone users create, open and edit Office documents, including Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint.
The new mobile Office documents look and function similar to the way they do in Office for Microsoft's Windows Phone platform. The iOS app includes support for charts, shapes, animations and SmartArt, and formatting will remain intact. Within PowerPoint, iPhone owners can use the Slide Navigation tool to zoom through large presentations faster, and it offers speaker notes, too.
All three document types can be edited on the iPhone, but only Word and Excel documents can be created; it cannot be used to create new PowerPoint documents. Microsoft did not say why. Edits can be made offline, but thanks to Microsoft's SkyDrive and SharePoint services, changes made to documents on the iPhone are synced back to the online versions when a network connection becomes available again. That means you can work on documents when sitting on a plane for several hours and everything will sync up when you land.
[ Want hands-on info about switching to Office 365? See Google Apps To Microsoft Office 365: 10 Lessons. ]
Office Mobile supports collaboration, which is good news for businesses. It allows users to add and review comments in Word and Excel documents, as well as share documents via email, SkyDrive or SharePoint. It is not immediately clear if the documents can be printed easily, if at all, from the iPhone.
Office Mobile for Office 365 supports a number of languages, including English, Catalan, Chinese, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Malay, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Slovak, Spanish, Swedish, Turkish and Ukrainian.
In terms of device compatibility, it requires iOS 6.1 and up. It works well on the iPhone 5, 4S and 4 and on the iPod Touch 5th generation. It will also run on the iPad and iPad Mini, but make no mistake, this is an iPhone app. That means if used on an iPad, it will appear in shrunken form, in the middle of the screen. Microsoft Office 365 will perform better on an iPad when used directly from the browser.
While the app itself is free, Microsoft is really only offering it to Office 365 subscribers, which is Microsoft's Web-based productivity service. That means Microsoft expects its business customers, and not necessarily consumers, to adopt and use this software. Businesses are more apt to spend the money to keep their employees productive when on the go.
The new app also renews Microsoft's fight with Apple and Google over productivity. Google offers both online and offline document, spreadsheet and presentation editing via its Google Drive product. Google Drive is only available to Android and iOS devices, however, and not Microsoft's Windows Phone platform. Apple offers its own suite of productivity apps, with Pages, Numbers and Keynote. All three apps work on Mac computers and iOS devices, and the recently announced browser-based version of iWork can be used on Mac and Windows PCs.
Enterprises and consumers alike can now pick the service they like best from Apple, Google and Microsoft, though there are trade-offs and advantages with each. For example, Apple's mobile version of iWork is only compatible with the iPhone and iPad and not Android or Windows Phone.
The cost of an Office 365 subscription varies, as does the cost of storage in Microsoft's SkyDrive service.