Ever since I started publishing iPhone J.D. in November of 2008, the #1 question that lawyers have asked me is: what is the best way to view and edit Word documents on an iPhone? When DataViz released the Documents to Go app in June 0f 2009, it instantly became a must-have app for many attorneys because it did a decent job of working with Word files. In subsequent years we saw many other iPhone apps that could work with iPhone files, but they were always lacking something. In June of 2013, Microsoft released Microsoft Office Mobile for iPhone. After I recovered from the initial shock of seeing Microsoft software on an iPhone, I then started to try out the app, and I was incredibly disappointed. The app was clunky, didn't handle footnotes, couldn't work with track changes, and amazingly didn't even work with .doc files (only the newer .docx files). I couldn't recommend the app to other attorneys, but I did hope that it was a sign of better things to come.
It turns out that it was. In March of 2014, Microsoft released Word for iPad. As I noted in my review, it was a fantastic app that did not have any of the flaws of the Microsoft Office Mobile for iPhone app. Microsoft has been improving the app throughout this year, and with each update I wished more and more that Microsoft would release a version of the app that worked on the iPhone so that I could finally delete the disappointing Office Mobile app.
Yesterday, Microsoft did it. Microsoft updated the Word for iPad app. The new name is simply Microsoft Word, and it is now a universal app that works on both iPhones and iPads. I spent last night trying out all of the new features of the new version 1.2 of the app, and Microsoft did a great job. This is an app that should be downloaded by every single lawyer with an iPhone.
The Word app does a fantastic job of viewing Word documents on an iPhone, both the old .doc format and the new .docx format. In fact, it is even more powerful than Word on an iPad because you have two different ways to view a document. In the default Print Layout view, you see the document as it would appear when printed, with line breaks and page breaks in the correct location. Of course, on a small iPhone screen, this makes the text really hard to read, but it does let you see the overall look of the document. You can pinch to zoom, but when you do so, you only see part of a page at one time.
Second, the app includes a Reflow view, in which the text is larger and the line breaks occur wherever the text ends on your iPhone screen, not where it would end when printed out. You activate this view by tapping the Reflow icon at the top of the screen (the second button from the right). When you are in Reflow view, you can pinch to zoom, and that just changes the number of words that you can see at one time.
The Reflow view works great. Adjust the font size to whatever looks best for your eyes, and then you can review any Word document that someone emails to you.
And because this is the real Microsoft Word, you can view just about anything in a Word file. You can view tables. You can view footnotes when you are in Print Layout view. (In Reflow view, you see the main text of the document and the footnote number, but to read the footnote itself, switch to Print Layout view.) And if someone else has made redline edits to a document or added comments, you can view those as well.
The app also has a nice Find feature. To get to it, tap the three dots at the top right of the screen and then tap Find. When you search for a word, all instances of the word are highlighted in the document. You can tap back and forth arrows to go to each instances. Also, the place where you type your search term tells you the number of instances of that word. Tap the gear icon for advanced features like Find and Replace.
Editing documents works well in the Word app on an iPad with its larger screen. On the iPhone, everything is more cramped, but Microsoft still managed to fit everything in so that if you need to edit a Word document on your iPhone, you can do so. Just hold down your finger on some part of a document to make the cursor appear and the keyboard will come up from the bottom. You can edit in either the Print Layout or the Reflow view.
When you are done editing, tap Done at the top left to make the keyboard go away so that you can use the full iPhone screen to view the documents.
In the iPad version of Word, there are tabs across the top — Home, Insert, Layout, Review, View — that you tap to see a ribbon containing commands. The iPhone version doesn't show those tabs to save space, but you can get to them by tapping the Ribbon icon, which is the third from the right at the top, the one with the letter A with a pencil on it. Tapping that button brings up one of the ribbons, such as Layout, and you can tap the word Layout to switch to another ribbon.
Underneath the ribbon name is a scrollable list of all of the commands. For example, if you have activated the Premium features in the app (more on that below), you can change to the Review ribbon to turn on Track Changes to create redline edits to a document.
At the top of the screen in both Print Layout and Reflow view, there is an undo button that offers multiple levels of undo. You'll also find both an undo and a redo button when you bring up the ribbon.
You cannot create or edit Styles in the Word app, but if you are opening a file created on a computer that used Styles, those Styles are still contained in the document on the iPhone and iPad. Also, you can copy text that has formatting applied to it, then select another word (or sentence or paragraph etc.), and then Paste Format to apply the same formatting to the selected text.
The File menu
When you are looking at a document, the second icon brings up a File menu that contains lots of options. You can turn AutoSave on or off. You can Duplicate a file (similar to "Save as..." on a computer). You can even view documents properties and restore earlier versions of a file.
Working with files, including new Dropbox support
If someone emails a Word document to you, it is easy to open it in the Word app. First, hold down for a second or so on the attachment icon at the end of the email. This will bring up a menu that includes a list of apps that you can use to open the file. Tap Open in Word and the Word app will launch so that you can work with the document.
One of the major updates to the Word app yesterday, in addition to iPhone support, is that the app now also supports Dropbox. In my tests yesterday, the works really well. After you give the app permission to access your Dropbox account, you can see all of your files and folders on Dropbox. Tap a Word document to open it in the app and you can view or edit your document. And with the AutoSave feature turned on (the default setting), your changes will be saved to Dropbox as you work.
Thus, the Word app will now let you work with files that you save locally to your iPad or iPhone, documents in your Dropbox, documents in your OneDrive, and documents in your SharePoint if your law firm uses SharePoint. You can also move documents between those different locations; for example, you can take a document saved locally on your iPhone or iPad and then tell Word to move it to your Dropbox folder.
As before, the Word app gives you the option to email a document to someone else. On July 31, 2014, Microsoft added the option to send a file as a PDF file or a Word document. Thus, you now have the ability to use your iPhone or iPad to quickly convert any Word document to a PDF document, which can be useful if you want to share a document with opposing counsel in a format that isn't easily editable. Also, if your Word document is saved in Dropbox, you can now use the Word app to email someone a link to the file so that they can download the file from Dropbox.
As before, the Microsoft Word app is free. Before yesterday, you could use the free app to view a Word document, but if you wanted to edit a document you had to purchase a Microsoft 365 account.
With the new version of the app, when you first start the app you are asked to sign in to your Microsoft account or create a new one. If you instead tap Sign In Later, you can use the app to view documents, but you won't be able to edit them.
If you select Create an Account, Microsoft then asks for some basic personal information (name, email address, zip code, date of birth, sex, phone number) and then gives you a free Microsoft account. With this free account, you can use the app to both view and edit documents. For many attorneys, this will be sufficient.
[UPDATE 11/7/14: I'm not providing anyone with legal advice on your rights as a user of this app, but if you plan to use this app as a part of your law practice without paying for Office 365, I encourage you to read the License Agreement. You can read it in the App Store on your iOS device by searching for the app and then tapping "License Agreement." I think it says that anyone can use the app to view a document, but the free license only allows you to "create, edit or save documents for non-commercial purposes." Something to consider.]
To access the premium features in the Word app, you need to have an Office 365 account, which as I noted in September, currently costs $99 a year. The current Premium features in Word are:
- Insert section breaks
- Enable columns in page layout
- Customize headers and footers for different pages
- Change page orientation
- Track and review changes
- Add custom colors to shapes
- Insert and edit WordArt
- Add shadows and reflection styles to pictures
- Add and modify chart elements
- Highlight table cells with custom color shading
I suspect that most attorneys will only care about one of those features: track and review changes. While the free version of the new Word app can view redline edits that someone else has created, if you want to add your own redline edits, or if you want to review (accept or reject) redline changes that someone else made, then you need to have an Office 365 account.
$99 a year is a lot to pay just to have the ability to create and review redline edits on your iPhone or iPad. But of course, you get a lot more than that with an Office 365 account. That $99 gives you the premium features in the Excel and PowerPoint apps on up to five devices, and also gives you the full Office software (Microsoft Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, etc.) on up to five computers, plus other features, all of which is explained on the Microsoft website.
I am incredibly impressed with Microsoft's new Word app, and I think that every attorney using an iPhone or iPad should get it. Even if you never plan to edit a Word document on your iPhone, you should get this app just so that you can easily review any Word document that someone else emails to you. The Microsoft Word app is without a doubt the best way to look at a Word document on an iPhone or iPad.
With a free Microsoft account, you can also make edits to a document. And with an Office 365 account — which you may already have if you use the Office software on your computer in your office — you can access all of the premium features including full Track Changes access so that you can create redline edits to a document and can accept or reject someone else's redline edits.
Longtime iPhone users have been waiting a long time for this moment, but now we finally have an excellent way to work with Word files on an iPhone. If a client or colleague emails a Word document to you while you are out of the office, you can now easily read and edit the document on your iPhone. And if you have your iPad with you, you can take advantage of the larger screen to work with the document. Either way, the Word app lets you do many of the same things that you could do with a document using the full version of Word on a PC or Mac, and perhaps more importantly, the powerful Word app lets you do just about everything that you are ever likely to want to do on a mobile device.