Almost as old as the iPhone itself are the rumours that have persistently claimed that Microsoft would release a version of Office for Apple's smartphone. Time and again, the rumours have resurfaced, occasionally with images - and of course, the analyst community has frequently weighed in with its opinions on the matter too.
Today though, the dream has finally come true, with the launch of
Microsoft Office for iOS 'Office Mobile for Office 365 subscribers' - a rather verbose, if accurate, name for the new suite of apps. As the nomenclature makes clear, you'll need an Office 365 subscription to use the apps; if you don't have one, you won't be able to take advantage of the Word, Excel and PowerPoint functionality that the new suite offers.
That functionality is fairly basic at the moment, but covers the essentials that the majority of users will need on the move; in this sense, it's very much like the Office Mobile suite that's integrated into every Windows Phone. The cloud integration for today's connected devices is present, with the apps pulling in docs from SkyDrive and SharePoint, and once those files are on your device, Microsoft promises that they'll "look great on your phone, thanks to support for charts, animations, SmartArt Graphics, and shapes."
As with other smartphone productivity suites, you're unlikely to want to create any massive, complex documents with these apps; their real value comes in being able to quickly create docs to work on later, or edit existing files on the move. Word, Excel and PowerPoint files can all be opened and edited, with formatting and content remaining in tact.
'Resume Reading' support via SkyDrive reopens a Word document at the last place where you were reading or editing it. As in the Excel and PowerPoint apps, you can format, edit, add comments and save changes to documents, and while the UI certainly appears easy to use and interact with, it's unlikely that you'll want to spend too much time doing any of those things.
ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley noted comments by Microsoft officials regarding using the new suite of apps on an iPad; while it can be upscaled for used on the tablets' larger screens, Microsoft doesn't recommend that, instead directing those users to the browser-based Office Web Apps.
The deployment of Office Mobile for Office 365 subscribers is a significant one, and not only because of the launch on iOS. It also underlines Microsoft's commitment to moving away from one-off software purchases to providing software as a service, with subscription-based offerings.
Even more significant is the fact that Microsoft has apparently capitulated to Apple's demands over subscription fees. Alex Wilhelm over at The Next Web was able to confirm that not only is it possible to sign up for an Office 365 sub from within the apps on iOS, but that Apple will get a 30% slice of that fee. Back in December, we reported on disagreements between Apple and Microsoft over these fees, with Apple reportedly insisting on taking a cut of SkyDrive and Office subscriptions on its platform. It seems that Apple won the fight.
Microsoft isn't sharing any information about a version of the new apps for iPad just yet, nor whether it will make a version available for Android any time soon. But for now, if you've got any Apple handset more recent than an iPhone 4 or iPod Touch (5G) with iOS 6.1 or above, you can pick up the apps free via the App Store.
Images via Microsoft / Apple App Store