Office for iPad:
Merging the Microsoft & iOS Experience
Everyone knows Microsoft Office. It’s a standard for students, corporations, and governments. And while it is popular for its well-known office suite, it has also been accused of being dysfunctional and frustrating to use. Whether you love it or hate it, though, you probably use Office for something almost every day.
Until recently, however, you were at a disadvantage if you were an Office user with an iPad, as the software didn’t run on iOS. This created a market for apps like QuickOffice, the now-demised Office emulator that was gutted after its acquisition by Google. Some turned to LogMeIn, CloudOn, or Parallels to access Office through an iOS app.
While Microsoft Office is still a household name—the software has roughly one billion users around the world, after all—its March release of Office for the iPad has been an important development in keeping the company relevant in the mobile marketplace.
Office for iPad is a well-designed set of touch-friendly apps that rival the best iOS has to offer, letting you view, create, edit, and print documents directly from your tablet. As for functionality, it doesn’t do everything traditional Office does, but it does offer feature-rich versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. You can download and view documents for free with each app, but you’ll need an Office 365 subscription, which costs $99 a year, to edit or create documents. The subscription gives you the ability to install the software on a handful of mobile devices, desktops, and laptops, and lets you store your documents in the cloud. After years of unsuccessful attempts at moving Office to mobile, Office 365 is finally beginning to look like an elegant, well-priced option.
Behind the Design
“Office for iPad’s design manager Han-Yi Shaw faced an interesting challenge: to create an app that was not only unmistakably Microsoft, but that also worked seamlessly with the iOS experience.”
I had the opportunity to talk with the design manager of Office for iPad, Han-Yi Shaw, who faced an interesting challenge: to create an app that was not only unmistakably Microsoft, but that also worked seamlessly with the iOS experience.
Shaw set design goals with his team to make Office for iPad so easy to use that it didn’t require a learning curve— even though it was on a completely different platform, with limited screen space and no keyboard, mouse, or ability to right-click. iPhone Life: How important is the success of Office for iPad to Microsoft's future as a company? Han-Yi Shaw: The importance of Office for iPad cannot be understated—it represents a groundbreaking product that is at the heart of our company’s mobilefirst and cloud-first strategy. Over one billion people use Office every day, and they want an authentic Office experience on their device of choice. Office for iPad exemplifies our ability to deliver this unmistakable Office experience that is reimagined for touch and optimized for iPad. iPL: What has been users’ response to the app? Shaw: Feedback from users and reviewers has been extremely positive. We’ve seen over 35 million downloads of the Office for iPad apps, so it’s clear that customers appreciate the touchoptimized productivity solution we’ve designed. This number is the driving force behind our faster-than-ever cadence of new updates. Speaking of which, Office for iPad represents another major shift in our product update strategy. No longer do users have to wait for years for updates. For example, in less than one month of our launch of Office for iPad, we delivered the most requested feature: printing. iPL: Why did Microsoft create separate apps for the iPad from Microsoft Office Mobile for iPhone? What are the differences between the apps? Shaw: Office for iPad represented a new product category. We could create a richer creation and editing experience with a bigger canvas. Office Mobile for iPhone, on the other hand, is optimized for easy file access and lightweight editing in a manner that is consistent across Windows Phone, Android, and iPhone. iPL: What features did you work the hardest to make available on Office for iPad? Shaw: These apps were built from the ground up for iPad. We worked hard to create real iPad apps that support Office file formats rather than delivering stripped down or migrated apps. Getting the user interface right was critical, as was designing the apps to dynamically adapt to constantly changing screen size and orientation. iPL: What were the biggest challenges you faced? Shaw: We had to balance customers’ expectations of Office on Windows or Mac with what we thought would be the best approach to delivering a touchoptimized tablet experience. Not worrying about legacy applications meant designing from scratch, which was exciting and challenging. iPL: You said you aimed to have no learning curve with the iPad apps. How did you achieve this, even though you were moving the software to a completely different platform? Shaw: If you look at the apps [Word, Excel, and PowerPoint], they retain the basic organization of Microsoft Office applications. The menus still feel familiar but remain intuitively iOS in nature (like the sharing feature). We think this balance helps users quickly adapt to Office for iPad. It’s about finding the sweet spot between being platformappropriate and unmistakably Microsoft. iPL: What features didn't make it to Office for iPad that you'd like to add in the future? Shaw: We can’t talk future features. What I can say is that as we continue to develop the product, we are closely listening to our customers to help us prioritize what comes next. I hope our fast sequence of updates demonstrates this commitment. As noted earlier, printing capability was missing from the initial release, and we delivered it one month later. In July, we released yet another big update, in which we added the ability to export files as PDFs in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. We also added new picture-editing tools as well as support for third-party fonts. In PowerPoint, we added Presenter View for projecting, as well as audio and video playback and the ability to insert media. In Excel, we improved the way you interact with data by enhancing pivot table interactivity. We also added new print and scaling options, enhanced external keyboard support, and implemented a new touch-first flick gesture which makes selecting data on your iPad much easier.