Combined Office Mobile app coming to smartphones

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Microsoft is pushing out a new Office app for iPhone and Android devices however most Office users won’t need to bother with it.  Paid Office 365 subscribers already have better choices as part of their annual plan.

The new app is called ‘Microsoft Office Mobile’ and it’s a single app with the basic features of Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

combined office mobile app coming to smartphones microsoft office 31519 - Combined Office Mobile app coming to smartphones

It’s already available for some Samsung Galaxy devices.  The combined app is preloaded on newer Galaxy devices like the Note 10, instead of the main Office apps which Samsung has preloaded in the past.

We tried installing the app on a Galaxy S8+ only to be told ‘This content isn’t compatible with your phone’.

The app description is typical Microsoft pablum:

“ The trusted Microsoft Office apps that let you create, edit, view and share files are now available for download as a single convenient app. Office Mobile includes the complete Word, PowerPoint, and Excel apps to offer a convenient office experience on the go.

  • The Office Mobile app, work with your Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files anytime, from anywhere.
  • The convenient Office Mobile app keeps your recent work at your fingertips.
  • Familiar and powerful editing, formatting and management tools make it easy to work on files as you would on your desktop.
  • Create and share professional documents and presentations with charts, animations, and SmartArt graphics. “

As Mary Jo Foley reports, there’s a similar app coming for Apple iPhones.

The unified Office app is developed under the codename ‘Unity’, which isn’t so much a ‘code-name’ as a name.

 ‘Works’ for the 21st Century

The new app sounds a bit like the old ‘Microsoft Works’, a very scaled down version of the main Office apps in a single bundle.

combined office mobile app coming to smartphones microsoft office 31520 - Combined Office Mobile app coming to smartphones

Works was sold separately but mostly offered with new computers.  It went through many versions with varying extras like Digital Image, Streets & Trips, Encarta and Money programs.  There was even a short lived ‘advertising supported’ free versions of Works.

Switching to the ‘real’ Office apps

Users can install any of the Microsoft Office apps to replace or work alongside the unified app.

The Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook apps are still available, and Microsoft is continuing to develop them for Apple and Android.

Office 365 customers can use their Home/Personal/Uni/Business plan to get extra features out of the Office mobile apps.

Why bother?

Whatever Microsoft’s strategy is in making a unified app, it’s not to help customers.

Office 365 users would be better using the full apps than any scaled down unified program.

Microsoft calls it a “single convenient app” but convenient for whom?  Mobile apps are harder to switch between open documents within the app. The Outlook mobile app has that problem already. Having a single Office app is likely to be more clumsy that the separate Word, Excel and PowerPoint apps.

The ‘Unity’ app won’t have the specific features you need to work with a doc, workbook or deck. It’s a new instance of Murphy’s Law;

 “The more an Office feature is needed, the less likely it’ll be available in a mobile app.”

Any unified Office app might be handy for older devices which don’t have the CPU power or storage to work well with the more powerful full Office Mobile apps. However ‘Unity’ might not work on older Android or Apple operating systems.

What’s in it for Microsoft?

There are a few possibilities behind this ‘unified Office app’ for Microsoft’s benefit.

  • A unified app is a cheaper marketing tool than the separate apps which still encourages people buying an Office 365 plan.
  • The unified app becomes the default preinstalled option on new Android devices. It has a smaller footprint on the device which is something device makers may be asking for.
    • This is how Microsoft distributed Works. Works was often preinstalled on new computers with plenty of encouragement to upgrade to full Microsoft Office.
  • Being a single app with less features means Microsoft can negotiate a lower amount to pay device makers for the right to have the app preinstalled. When we’re talking about millions of devices that cost can add up.
  • ‘Unity’ could become the non-subscriber option for Office Mobile? Separate Word, Excel and PowerPoint apps could become Office 365 subscriber only or become less useful without the annual tithe to Microsoft.
  • The unified app keeps Office and Microsoft going in lower income markets where the cost of full Office 365 is beyond the reach of many millions. Better to keep those people using Office in some form than offer a market to a competitor.

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