For lawyers and many other professionals who work with Microsoft Word documents every day, one of the most-requested apps for the iPhone and iPad has been a version of Microsoft Office that is fully compatible with Office for the PC and Mac. Last week, Microsoft released Microsoft Office Mobile for the iPhone. Unfortunately, this version 1.0 of Microsoft Office Mobile is so lacking in features that it will not be the right solution for many lawyers. Microsoft Office Mobile works with Excel and PowerPoint documents, but this review is focused on Microsoft Word documents.
Viewing Microsoft Word files
The iPhone has the built-in ability to view Microsoft Word files, but the built-in viewer has limitations. For one thing, the text of a document is tiny using the iPhone's built-in viewer, and while you can pinch to zoom in, you have to then scroll back and forth so it is not very useful:
Microsoft Office Mobile reformats line breaks so that the text is larger, which makes a document easier to read. But unfortunately you cannot make adjustments. You cannot zoom out to see more words at one time, and if you zoom in you once again need to scroll back and forth, so it is not very useful:
I far prefer the way that Documents to Go views documents because you get the best of both worlds. You can zoom out to see more words at one time, or if you zoom in the line breaks reformat to fit the screen. Thus, you can pick the best compromise between the size of the text and the number of words you can see at one time on the screen:
Another problem with viewing documents in Microsoft Office Mobile for iPhone is that you don't see footnotes or track changes. The iPhone's built-in viewer has the same shortcomings, but other apps such as Documents to Go, Quickoffice, Pages and Office2 do show track changes, and Documents to Go, Pages and Office2 can show footnotes too. The track changes omission can be a trap for lawyers, so be careful. If a colleague sends you a document with tracked changes and you just look at the document in Microsoft Office Mobile, you won't know that the tracked changes are there. If you then forward the document to opposing counsel, you risk sharing your confidential work product or attorney-client communications. Ouch.
Fortunately you can see comments in Microsoft Office Mobile. Text with a comment is highlighted in blue and you can tap to read the comment:
It is also difficult to work with long Word documents in Microsoft Office Mobile — anything but they shortest of briefs — because you need to flick a million times. Other apps like Documents to Go have a handle along the right that you can drag to quickly move through a document. But fortunately there is a Find option so if you are looking for a specific word in a Word document, Microsoft Office Mobile will get you there.
Thus, as a viewer of Microsoft Word files, it is difficult to recommend Microsoft Office Mobile. It offers little over the built-in viewer beyond Find and the ability to see comments. The other third-party apps that can view Microsoft Word files can do far more, with Documents to Go being my favorite.
Editing Microsoft Word files
The iPhone's built in viewer is just that, a viewer. The only way to edit Word files is to get a third party app. Surprisingly, the Microsoft Office Mobile app has a drawback that I didn't expect to see; it cannot edit .doc files. It can only edit .docx files. Sure, .docx has been the default format for Word files since Word 2007 for Windows and Word 2008 for Mac, but I suspect that you probably have far more .doc than .docx files on your computer, and when other attorneys send me Word documents, they are in .doc format at least 50% of the time. If you try to edit a .doc file in Microsoft Office Mobile, this is what you see:
If you do have a .docx document, you switch from the view mode to the edit mode by tapping the middle icon at the top right. Upon doing so, you see a blinking cursor and a keyboard so you can type, and that middle icon changes to a formatting icon. Formatting options are limited. You do get bold, italic, underline and strike-through, which, to be honest, for many lawyers will be enough. You can change the font color, but only to red, yellow or green, and you can highlight text, but again only in red, yellow or green. You can also tap - or + to change the font size, although Microsoft Office Mobile doesn't tell you what font size you are using.
Any formatting more complicated than that cannot be done in Microsoft Office Mobile. You cannot change the font. You cannot change the formatting of paragraphs, even simple formatting like a bullet list or a numbered list. You cannot change the justification or the line spacing. You cannot change the left or right indent. You cannot view a word count.
I mentioned above that you cannot view track changes, and obviously that means that you cannot make them either. If you want to use track changes to edit a document on an iPhone, you need to use another app such as Pages, Quickoffice or Office2. (Documents to Go will show track changes but you cannot create redlines.)
You can create new documents, and you can open documents from a Microsoft SkyDrive or from SharePoint.
It is a shame that the Word document edit functions in Microsoft Office Mobile is so limited, but I will admit that in some circumstances it will be sufficient. If you just need to add a few words to a document and make a few simple formatting changes like put something in italics, then Microsoft Office Mobile will do the job. And although you cannot use a track changes mode to make your edits obvious, you can manually format your edits using bold, underline, one of the three font or highlight colors, etc. to make it obvious to someone else reading a document that you want to change something.
Moreover, in my tests, Microsoft Office Mobile does an excellent job of preserving the formatting of the original document. You might not be able to see footnotes or change the style of a paragraph, but all of that information remains in the file even when you make edits, so you can send the edited file to another person and then can work with it using Microsoft Word on a PC or Mac. This is one drawback of using the Pages app by Apple. It has a nice track changes feature, but whenever you use Pages your Word document is first converted to Pages format. You can convert back to Word, but I often see something lost in the Word-to-Page-to-Word process such as some of the document formatting. This is another reason that I like Documents to Go — it also does an excellent job of preserving the attributes of the original file when you edit a file.
Microsoft Office Mobile is either free or expensive, depending upon your perspective. The app itself is free to download, but you need to be an Office 365 subscriber to use the app. If you are already a subscriber, then the app is free. Otherwise, you need to purchase a subscription. From within the app itself you can purchase a one year subscription for $99.99. Or you can go to the Office page of the Microsoft website and select one of many different options including:
- $9.99/month or $99.99/year for the Home Premium plan which lets you install Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.) on up to 5 computers (PC or Mac).
- $15/month per user or $150/year per user for up to 25 users with the Office 365 Small Business Premium plan which includes lots of other features such as SharePoint internet sites
- $15/month with an annual commitment for the Office 365 Midsize Business plan for up to 300 users
Other plans are available. And if you sign up for a monthly plan on the Microsoft website (which is what I did), the first 30 days are free, enough time for you to kick the tires and see if the service and the app are right for you.
Office 365 subscribers get 27 GB of space on SkyDrive, Microsoft's cloud storage service. When you save files in Microsoft Office Mobile, the files are uploaded to SkyDrive (when you have Internet access) and local copies are kept on the device (so that you can still read a file on a plane).
I'm glad to see that we finally have a version of Microsoft Office for the iPhone, and my hope is that in the future we see more features added. For now, however, the version 1.0 of Microsoft Office Mobile is very limited. If you are already an Office 365 subscriber, you might as well get the app because it is free, and it gives you a quick way to perform the most simple of edits to a document. As Microsoft encourages its users to subscribe to Office 365 instead of purchasing software only once or twice a decade, perhaps one day many of us will already be Office 365 subscribers.
But if you do not subscribe to Office 365, for most people it will not be worth spending $100 each year just to use Microsoft Office Mobile. You can get Documents to Go or Pages for a one-time purchase of just $9.99. Office2 for iPhone is only $5.99, and Quickoffice Pro for iPhone is only $14.99. Heck, you can buy all of these apps for less than half of the annual subscription price for Microsoft Office Mobile. Even customers who just prefer to go "name brand" and who would normally buy the app sold by Microsoft over anything sold by a competitor, regardless of features, will probably pause before spending $100 a year for this app.
My critical review of this app is tempered by the knowledge that Microsoft traditionally releases limited 1.0 versions of software and then gradually improves the software over time. If Microsoft improves this app by adding support for the iPad, footnotes and track changes and adds a few more interface tweaks, I could see this app one day becoming the best way to edit Word documents in iOS. On the other hand, Microsoft does sell its own tablets and its own phones with the major selling point being that those devices can work with Microsoft Office documents. Will Microsoft keep its iOS apps limited to make Microsoft hardware look better? We'll see. Keep in mind that my favorite Word document viewer for the iPhone and iPad, Documents to Go, is made by DataViz, and while the DataViz doesn't advertise this fact on its website, DataViz is actually now owned by BlackBerry, an Apple competitor. And as of last year, Quickoffice is now owned by Google, which is of course makes Android and is another Apple competitor.
I'm not satisfied with the current 1.0 version of Microsoft Office Mobile, but if we see improvements in the future, perhaps one day this app will live up to its potential.
Click here to get Microsoft Office Mobile for iPhone (free, but subscription required):