The firm, which first released versions of its Office programs on the iPad earlier this year, is expanding the number of free features it's offering to users through the app. It's also going to start testing versions of its programs on devices running Google's Android operating system.
John Case, Microsoft's corporate vice president for Office marketing, said that the new releases show Microsoft is focused on making its programs the go-to productivity apps on "all platforms, devices and properties."
The call to make Microsoft products work on all platforms is key to chief executive Satya Nadella's efforts to reboot the company in a mobile era. And Office is a big part of that strategy. Office properties on any mobile devices other than its own. But shortly after Nadella took over in February, the company released its first version of Office applications for Apple's iPad. And the move toward partnerships has only grown over the course of Nadella's tenure; this week, Microsoft struck a deal with the cloud-storage service Dropbox to store files for the tech giant's Office 365 subscription service.
The iOS apps have had 40 million downloads since their release, Case said. But to further encourage people to use Office apps on the iPhone and iPad, Microsoft will now offer all basic features to app users for free. Previously, the Word, Excel and PowerPoint apps for iOS only let users read files; now they will be able to create and edit documents without paying for a subscription to the full program. Users will have to sign in to their Microsoft account, however, to access these new free features. And they still will have to pay for more advanced features, such as some of the more complicated data analysis tools in Excel.
Existing users of the iOS Office apps will have to download the latest update to access the newly free features. Microsoft provided test copies of the iOS versions of the apps to The Washington Post late Wednesday, which have not been significantly changed. There were no problems creating and editing new apps for free in Word, PowerPoint or Excel.
Case said that Microsoft changed its paywall terms in response to user feedback, and hopes the changes will encourage more people to use its apps.
As for the Android universe, Microsoft is also announcing that it will start testing Office apps for those devices through an application-only testing process. Because Android devices are more varied than iOS products, Case said, the company wants to test its products widely before releasing them to the general market. He said Microsoft hopes to see the apps hit stores early next year -- depending on how the preview goes.
Users will be able to ask Microsoft for an invitation to the test group; Case said that Microsoft is looking to test the apps with "thousands of people." The apps, he said, have been designed to work with Android devices released in the past few years, though Case said they should work with older versions of Android as well.
Of course, Case was sure to note that all of the effort going into building Microsoft products for Apple and Google doesn't mean that Microsoft is neglecting its own products. He said that Microsoft is still working hard to develop versions of Office programs with a touchscreen in mind.
The programs in development are "more customized for smaller screens and for multiple things you do with Office," he said. He also stressed that the firm will still design the apps to work well with a mouse and keyboard, for the millions of Microsoft users who still mainly use its products on desktop computer -- mostly at work.
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