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Hands-on with Office Mobile for iPhone

Jeffery Battersby | June 18, 2013
Microsoft's new iOS app does let you open and edit Office documents from your iPhone. But it doesn't let you do much with them.

By now, you've no doubt heard that Microsoft Office Mobile for iPhone is now available for iPhone. (Yup, you read that right: It's iPhone-only.) The question is: Should you care?

That depends largely on whether you're already a subscriber to Microsoft's Office 365 and Skydrive services, which (for personal use) cost from $100 to $120 annually. (If you want to give the app a test run, Microsoft offers a 30 day free trial of Office 365, which you can set up at the Office 365 website.) Because, really, Microsoft Office Mobile is a front-end to that service, not a standalone productivity suite.

Getting connected
Office Mobile does give you access to the three legs of the Microsoft Office suite: Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Each of the three iOS apps is able to read and edit documents created using their related PC, Mac, or Web applications; if you want to create new documents on the iPhone, Office Mobile lets you do so with Word and Excel, but not PowerPoint.

When you sign in with your Office 365 account from the mobile app, you should also have access to your SkyDrive folder and be able to see any of the files you have stored there. But, after installing the app on two different devices, I found that only one automatically connected to my SkyDrive. For the second install, I needed to use the app's Add a Place tool and choose SkyDrive. Add a Place is also the way you connect to your business' or school's Office 365 SharePoint.

Once connected, Office Mobile displays a file browser with buttons at the bottom which you tap to see your recently used documents, open existing documents, create new ones, or change the app's settings. To create new documents, you tap the app's New button and choose a starting template, either the blank one or one of the three templates provided for Word and Excel, and the app opens a fresh document based on your selection.

Oddly (and inconveniently) the app only lets you create documents; you can't create folders for organizing your documents. You can't add or save files to existing folders, either; they all go in the root directory of your SkyDrive. You can still manage documents using SkyDrive's Web-based interface or your Mac.

You'll be surprised to discover that Office Mobile eschews iOS' autosave features and expects you to save your documents manually—this despite the fact that every other iOS app since the beginning of iOS-time automatically saves anything you're working on. Also, when you do save changes, even on the smallest of documents, it can take several seconds before the SkyDrive save completes.

 

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