Microsoft Now Offers a Unified Office App for iPad

Mary Jo Foley, ZDNet:

Microsoft’s Office app — a single app combining Word, Excel and PowerPoint features — is available for iPads from the Apple App Store as of today, February 16. Microsoft officials said earlier this month to expect this app to show up in the App Store, but didn’t say when that would happen.


Microsoft’s goal in creating these lightweight, combined Office apps was to address the needs of users for whom full versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint on their mobile devices was overkill in terms of features and download size. Microsoft also integrated its Lens technology into this app to make it easier for users to convert images into Word and Excel documents, scan PDFs and capture whiteboards. The app also is meant to simplify the process of making quick notes, signing PDFs and transferring files between devices.

Many of Office’s features are available for iPad users free of charge, but iPad Pro users require a subscription to do anything.

More broadly, I am finding it difficult to adapt to increasingly unified applications on my Mac and iPad. I am not sure if this is an age and experience thing — I am used to switching between apps with multiple documents or windows open. Aside from web browsers and development environments, I use tabs infrequently within any apps because I am often juggling between many files. The advantages of thinking in an application-based model are outweighed, for me, by a document-based model.

This unified Office app has many of the same problems as, for example, Electron apps and web apps generally. Each document consumes the entire app. You can use the app in split screen, as Apple now requires, but it does not fully support multitasking within the app. So it is not possible to, for example, build a PowerPoint presentation based on a Word document outline, or reference one Excel spreadsheet while working in another.

Microsoft’s discrete Office apps do support document-based multitasking, so this is perhaps an oversight. But it is consistent with the way some of Microsoft’s other Office apps work. Teams, for example, is almost entirely a single-window Electron app on MacOS. The current meeting will open in a new window but, otherwise, it is an entirely single-window app. There is a built-in “Files” feature — for documents shared with your team members — but it is not possible to open multiple directories at once. Nor is it possible to see a chat window and a calendar at the same time.

Perhaps the way I see applications, windows, and documents is outdated and incompatible with the increasingly web-centric model. I may be failing to adapt. But many of these restrictions seem designed mostly to help companies churn out updates across different operating systems at breakneck pace, without requiring as much platform-specific development. The software-as-a-service model seems to incentivize frequent updates, quality be damned. Unified apps — like cross-platform frameworks and lowest common denominator codebases — are yet another way to reduce friction in development. This trend is worrisome.

Please know that I do not blame individual developers for this. They are merely working within a system that has been created around them.

See Also: A Step Back, something I wrote last year about many of Apple’s one-window apps.