Office Mobile Arrives for Android Phones

Android smartphone users now have a native Office app to call their own, but only if they are subscribed to Office 365. And there's no sign yet of a tablet edition.

After releasing the Office Mobile app for Apple's iPhone a month and a half ago, Microsoft announced on July 31 that a native version for smartphones running Google's Android mobile operating system is finally available on the Google Play Store as a free download.

A big caveat applies, however. As with Office Mobile for iPhone, the Android edition requires users to sign up for an Office 365 subscription. Eligible plans include Office 365 Home Premium, Small Business Premium, Midsize Business, ProPlus, University and a number of Enterprise and Education bundles.

And like the iOS app, the app is only designed to run on smartphones. Guy Gilbert, senior product manager for Microsoft Office apps, wrote in an Office 365 Blog post that his company "built Office Mobile for Android phones to ensure a great Office experience when using a small-screen device."

In short, Android tablets need not apply. "Therefore, you will not be able to download and install Office Mobile for Android phones on an Android tablet from the Google Play store," said Gilbert. He recommended that Android tablet users should point their browsers to the Office Web Apps.

Currently, Office Mobile for Android phones is only available in the United States. Microsoft Office General Manager Julia White revealed in a separate blog post that it will be made available to more countries "over the next several weeks." Office Mobile for Android phones will eventually be made available in 33 languages and will launch in 117 markets.

Office Mobile allows users to view and edit Word, Excel and PowerPoint files on their Android handsets, like Samsung's popular Galaxy S4, running Android OS 4.0 and up. It provides Office file storage and syncing over the cloud on the company's SkyDrive service. To help users seamlessly transition their workflows among devices, Office Mobile automatically surfaces recently opened files.

"When you're on your phone, you'll see the list of documents you recently opened on your computer in the Recent Documents panel--no searching needed. And of course, you can view and edit documents you receive in email," White said.

In most respects, both the iPhone and Android versions of Office Mobile are identical, but few differences exist. Chief among them, said Gilbert, is that the Android Office app only has a "sign in" option; users cannot sign up for an Office 365 subscription from within the app. Additionally, URLs to documents need "to be fully qualified for Office Mobile" when accessing files on an on-premise SharePoint server. For example, "https://contoso/monthlyreport.docx will not open, but will open in Office Mobile," he explained.

Over the years, Microsoft has weathered criticism for not releasing native Office apps for iOS and Android. Despite persistent rumors and leaks pointing to the development of mobile Office apps for the competition's mobile platforms—Microsoft is currently embroiled in a bruising mobile device push with its own Windows Phone 8 and tablet-friendly Windows 8 OS—the company had largely stayed mum on the topic until the June 14 release of Office Mobile app for the iPhone.

Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Holt estimated that Microsoft was passing up $2.5 billion a year in revenues by refusing to release a purchasable Office app for iOS, according to a Feb. 15 report in Forbes. Microsoft instead opted to tie its Office mobile apps to subscriptions of its cloud-enabled Office 365 offerings, sidestepping the revenue-sharing setups of its rivals' app marketplaces.

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...