When Microsoft and Nokia announced Aug 12 that the software giant is bringing its Office Mobile application to Symbian OS, I immediately started wondering how it would work. When I heard that the Symbian version of Office Mobile will be designed with business users in mind, I was even more intrigued. Microsoft's Office Mobile app is an entry in a highly competitive market. And although it's a widely recognized product, its mobile implementation isn't nearly as appealing as it should be.
In my experience with Office Mobile, the application has failed to provide much benefit. Reading documents is extremely difficult on a Windows Mobile product. Thanks to the small screen sizes used by many Windows Mobile phones, most users find themselves scrolling from left to right on the screen just to get some work done.
It gets worse when it comes time to edit. Typing is fine, but finding the right place, cutting and pasting elements, and ensuring proper formatting is a nightmare. Spreadsheets are just as bad. And since most Windows Mobile smartphones simply don't provide the kind of power required by presentations, it's almost a waste of time to use Office Mobile for this business application.
That said, Office Mobile can be convenient for those who want to make a few quick changes to a document before it's shipped off to a client. Simply being able to read a document on a smartphone isn't enough. The option to edit it is a requirement. For all its troubles, that's one of the main reasons why Office Mobile still does provide some value.
But it can do so much more. And if Microsoft wants protect its position in the mobile business applications field as Google and Research In Motion start capturing mobile market share, it needs to do more soon.
Following Google's lead
Microsoft needs to consider Google as it develops Office Mobile. As Google has proven since it first announced Google Docs, simplicity is key. Google Docs can't match Office on the desktop for companies that need to do more, but it's that simplicity that will be coveted when workers go mobile.
The problem with Office Mobile is that Microsoft tries to do too much. I realize that because documents were created on desktops, many elements may not work with a mobile app unless they're specifically built in. But who cares?
For the most part, users of Office Mobile apps aren't trying to work as they would when they're on their notebooks. They're trying to perform some basic operations that slightly improve the document. They don't expect a workhorse. They expect greater usability on mobile devices.