Microsoft today launched Office for Android and iOS in general availability. The unified app means you no longer need to download, install, and switch between the individual Word, Excel, and PowerPoint apps.
The company today also announced new features coming to the app this spring: Word Dictation, Excel Cards View, and Outline to PowerPoint. You can download the app now for Android phones and tablets (limited support) from Google Play and for iOS from Apple’s App Store (iPhone-only, iPad support is coming later). You can use Office for free, and if you sign in with a Microsoft Account or connect a third-party storage service you can access and store documents in the cloud.
Microsoft has over 200 million monthly active Office 365 business users and over 37 million Office 365 consumer subscribers. When the company launched the new Office mobile app as a public preview in November, “tens of thousands of people” rushed to try it. Microsoft has found that most users and businesses want to use the Office app as a hub or starting point for all their document work. “The idea behind the Office app is to give our users a single place from which they can access all their relevant content,” Office product manager Nithya Sampathkumar told VentureBeat. But that’s not the only reason to adopt it — Microsoft’s push to roll out nifty AI features in Office is especially noticeable in this launch.
Between public preview and general availability, the Office app has gained several enhancements. On both Android and iOS, Office now includes templates to help you create new documents, spreadsheets, and presentations, as well as support for third-party cloud storage services Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, and iCloud. On iOS, you can now create a Presentation from images and use Dark Mode. On Android, Office gained a bunch of tablet optimizations.
The only functionality that the standalone Word, Excel, and PowerPoint mobile apps have that Office doesn’t yet have is optimized tablet support on Android and iOS. Other than that, all the functionality of the existing mobile apps is there. You can thus uninstall the other three apps if you’d like. After all, the Office app does take up less space than the three apps. Additionally, businesses now only need to deploy and update one app. We asked Microsoft 365 general manager Rob Howard if the three will be killed off, and he said no.
“There’s definitely no disruption we want to cause,” Howard said. “There are hundreds of millions of downloads of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint as individual apps on Android and iOS. We’re not getting rid of those, killing those, or telling people they need to change their workflow. If people are happy with those and excited about them, we absolutely want them to continue using them.”
We asked Microsoft for a full list of features in the Office app that aren’t available in the individual Word, Excel, and PowerPoint apps. If you do choose to install Office, here’s what you can expect.
First, there’s the Home screen, which has the following features:
- Recommended documents
- Files (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, PDF), media, and notes all in one place
- Search for files across your organization, cloud storage, and device
The AI-based recommended documents section is pretty powerful because it leverages the Microsoft Graph to serve up relevant suggestions. It takes into consideration which documents you’ve created that others have read or edited, which documents you have read and edited, how long you spent in a document, recency, frequency, sharing, and so on. “It’s taking all of that signal about all the different ways you collaborate and then building recommendations on what’s the content that I’m most likely to be interested in, and then looking at the activity of those documents and prioritizing them using machine learning,” Howard explained.
Best of all, the Office app tries to precache documents so you can open them quickly (or even offline).
New button and Actions
Next, there’s the New button, which includes:
- Sticky notes
- Lens (for digitally enhanced whiteboards, documents, and photos)
- Scan text — Take a picture of a document and turn it into an editable Word document
- Scan table — Take a picture of a table and turn it into an editable Excel spreadsheet
- Choose pictures — Get a jumpstart on a new presentation simply by choosing pictures from your device
Lens is worth calling out because it uses AI to convert images taken with your device’s camera into editable Word and Excel documents. Lens can also scan PDFs, capture whiteboards, and even automatically digitally enhance what was captured. The next three options also leverage AI to help make content creation in Office much more productive on mobile. “Lens is all about connecting the physical world and pulling into the digital word,” Howard said.
Finally, there are Actions, which represent common tasks people encounter on the go:
- Transfer files — Quickly share files between your phone and computer using a QR code
- Share nearby (Android only) — Share files to other nearby Android phones with the Office app
- Sign a PDF
- Scan to PDF
- Pictures to PDF
- Document to PDF
- Scan QR Code
- Image to Text
- Image to Table
Interestingly, almost all of these are mobile-only experiences. Again, Microsoft isn’t just porting over desktop features here.
Word Dictation, Excel Cards, and Outline to PowerPoint
Microsoft also shared what’s next for the Office app. Word, Excel, and PowerPoint help you view documents and maybe even do a little light editing. Office is meant to be for “more sophisticated work.”
“The big focus for us with Office on mobile is to help people not just consume content but also create content,” said Howard. “To help them really be productive on the phone.”
Microsoft plans to ship the next three features this spring.
Word Dictation will do exactly what you’d expect — it will use AI to turn your voice into written text. But that’s not all — you will be able to use voice commands (such as “numbered list” or “new line”) while still having access to toolbars and formatting options as you dictate.
Excel Cards View converts table rows to a more digestible card format so you do not have swipe back and forth across columns on your screen. It’s essentially an easier way to view and edit the data in an Excel row on mobile.
Outline to PowerPoint lets you write your presentation content as a simple outline. PowerPoint Designer, the AI-powered service that offers presentation suggestions, will then turn it into slides using styling, formatting, and iconography.
Beyond Word, Excel, and PowerPoint
These features will be coming to the new Office app first and will show up in the individual Word, Excel, and PowerPoint soon after. Howard explained that while the codebase is the same for all these apps, the testing they go through is different, resulting in a lag between the same feature landing in different apps.
Microsoft is also exploring whether to build more apps into the Office app, such as OneNote. “We are looking at ‘How do we add more capabilities?’” Sampathkumar said. “Users do tell us, ‘We see this as a content hub. We want to see OneNote here.’ We are looking at how we can add it while still keeping the size small. We don’t want the size of the app to bloat up. Because for users who do not use OneNote, they don’t want a bloated app.”