Office Mobile for the iPhone enters an already-crowded field

Here's a list of iOS apps that already offer the ability to view, create and edit Office documents

Microsoft released its first iOS version of Office on Friday. Officially dubbed Microsoft Office Mobile for Office 365 subscribers, the app is designed only for the iPhone, available only in the U.S., requires an Office 365 subscription (yours or your employer's) and has a very minimal feature set. The release came fast on the heels of Apple's announcement that it will be stepping into the ring with both Microsoft and Google by offering a cloud/web-based version of iWork productivity suite.

The Microsoft strategy here comes off as noncommittal, at best. It clearly wants to develop a mobile strategy beyond its own Windows Phone platform, but is fearful of lending any support to the iPad, which continues to dominate the enterprise mobility market. That dominance continues despite the launch of Windows RT and Windows 8 devices -- tablets, notebooks and hybrid devices -- where Microsoft hopes the ability to run Office is a selling point. (That strategy hasn't worked anywhere near as well as Microsoft probably hoped or expected.)

The problem with Microsoft's approach to Office for the iPhone is that a diverse range of alternative iOS apps and suites already exists. Apple and other developers have had years to create and refine products that deliver compatibility with Office file types, text and image formatting, spreadsheet functions, and even advanced collaborative features like comments, Track Changes, and version history. While none delivers a complete desktop Office experience, many come pretty close -- and pretty clearly outclass Microsoft's effort with Office Mobile. Several solutions also easily integrate with enterprise security and mobile management solutions as well as public and private cloud services designed for enterprise use like Box and Accellion.

Meet the app competition

Here's a list of iOS apps that already offer the ability to view, create and edit Office documents. Many include advanced features and each has a loyal user base. For many iPhone/iPad users, the choice between these comes down to personal preferences in terms of app design and/or the need for a specific Office feature support. Given that most are priced at less than $20, it's easy to build workflows that include multiple apps and still spend less than the $100 a year's subscription to Office 365 costs.

iWork -- Apple's iWork apps, which can be purchased independently, offer compatibility with Office features like Track Changes in Word, but require importing and exporting Office documents. That said, they're great companions to iWork for Mac (and eventually iWork for iCloud).

Quickoffice -- Now owned by Google, Quickoffice remains one of the most popular Office alternatives for iOS and it offers very good compatibility with formatting and features (including Track Changes and spreadsheet functions). While Quickoffice can function as a standalone Office alternative, being owned by Google means that it also integrates well with Google Drive.

Office2 -- One of the most feature-complete Office alternatives, Office2 was the first iOS app to offer compatibility with Word's Track Changes feature. It also continues to offer broad support for cloud storage services.

Documents to Go -- Another stalwart member of the mobile Office app world, Documents to Go offers integration and a variety of many, though its interface isn't quite as polished as some others.

Smart Office -- As a single universal app for iPhone and iPad, Smart Office offers good Office file compatibility and support for a handful of cloud services.

Documents Unlimited -- This is a full-featured suite that includes support for file formats native to desktop Office alternatives Open Office and LibreOffice.

Olive Office -- With a very user friendly interface, Olive Office focuses on formatting compatibility and features. It uses a freemium model that provides core features at no cost, with additional features like PDF export and remote display available as in-app purchase options.

Documents Writer Pro -- With an emphasis on user interface in a universal iPhone/iPad app, Documents Writer Pro offers the core Office file formats and comes with several document themes.

Assistant for Office -- While allowing for editing of core Office file formats, Assistant for Office focuses on document formatting and offers version history support.

If you're willing to work with a virtual desktop solution or cloud-hosted solution, you can also consider these apps.

OnLive Desktop -- OnLive Desktop provides a complete virtual Windows desktop that includes Office and Adobe Acrobat as well as 2GB of storage space for free. For 4.99 a month, you can also get accelerated web browsing (including Flash) access to web-based email attachments, and access to cloud storage services like Box or Dropbox.

CloudOn -- CloudOn offers access to virtual copies of Word, Excel and PowerPoint without requiring a full Windows desktop. The service doesn't include storage, but does offer a file manager that integrates with cloud storage providers including Box and Dropbox.

Zoho Office - Zoho is a cloud service that offers a non-Windows virtual desktop and a rather complete set of applications. Zoho Office provides access to the Office-equivalent apps and storage.

Options from (or for) Google

Google Drive - Provides access to Google storage and offers editing of Office documents in an integrated environment that mirrors Google Docs or Google Apps.

Go Docs and Touch Docs -- Both of these apps provide access to Google Drive/Apps and files using a native app interface.

Enterprise-focused options

A number of mobile management companies offer secure access to and editing of Office documents. Depending on the solution, this can include accessing (and editing) documents stored on an iOS device or in a cloud or via a hosted solution in a secure manner. Companies offering products and services in this area include Accellion and Bitzer Mobile

Other enterprise options from different mobile management vendors go further in terms of secure enterprise productivity. Good, MobileIron, Centrify,and Citrix all offer an enterprise SDK that app developers can use to integrate their apps with on-device secure storage container, data leak protection and enterprise IT policy management frameworks offered.

Using this approach yields a collection of mainstream apps that can be fully secured and managed, including Office-type apps and app suites.

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Ryan Faas

Computerworld (US)
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