Microsoft Chips Away at Office Mobile App Paywall

Users of the Office iPhone and iPad apps can now create and edit files without subscribing.

Microsoft Office Mobile Apps

Microsoft has removed a major restriction affecting its Office mobile apps.

Without an Office 365 subscription, Microsoft's mobile Office apps (Word, Excel and PowerPoint) are little more than Office file viewers. That changes today, according to John Case, corporate vice president of Microsoft Office.

"With Office on nearly every device, it's incredibly important to us that customers have a consistent experience and the ability to do more—anywhere and everywhere," said Case in a Nov. 6 announcement. "So, starting today, people can create and edit Office content on iPhones, iPads, and soon, Android tablets using Office apps without an Office 365 subscription."

On March 27, Microsoft finally launched the long-awaited Office apps for the iPad during a major press event—CEO Satya Nadella's first—in San Francisco. Soon after, the apps climbed the Apple App Store's rankings, but not without courting controversy.

A common complaint among users was that the apps required an Office 365 subscription to unlock its file creation and editing features. Now, users of the free apps are a big step closer to a full-featured Office experience.

"Anytime someone has an idea or an inspiration, we want to empower them to take action," said Case in a separate press statement. "With over a billion Office customers worldwide, and over 40 million downloads on the iPad, it's clear that Office applications are what people want to use to get things done," he said.

Some perks remain reserved for paying Office 365 customers, however. Case said subscribers are entitled to "advanced editing and collaboration capabilities, unlimited OneDrive storage, Dropbox integration and a number of other benefits."

The Redmond, Wash.-based software giant made waves earlier this week when it announced that it was teaming with Dropbox, a competitor in the cloud file storage market, to integrate their services. "In our mobile-first and cloud-first world, people need easier ways to create, share and collaborate regardless of their device or platform," Nadella said in a statement.

"Our partnership with Microsoft will make it easier than ever to collaborate seamlessly across these platforms, giving people the freedom to get more done," said Dropbox CEO and co-founder Drew Houston in a statement.

Microsoft also issued new Word, Excel and PowerPoint apps for the iPhone today (iOS 7.0 and up) that look and function like their iPad counterparts. Updates for the iPad version of the apps are also available, bringing new features like the ability to insert and customize charts in Excel.

Android users can sign up for a preview of the Office apps for tablets powered by version 4.4 ("KitKat") of Google's mobile operating system (OS). Office Apps for Android tablets are scheduled for a 2015 release.

While Windows 10 is still a ways off, the company is preparing Office apps for the upcoming OS. Case revealed that "new, touch-optimized Office apps for Windows 10 are in the works."

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...