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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.

As noted earlier, you can not create PowerPoint presentations using Office Mobile, but you can edit any of your existing presentations and, if you connect your phone to a projector, display, or television, you can use the app as a presentation tool. Editing is limited to changing the order in which slides appear in your presentation and making changes to the content of text and comments that appear in existing slides and to your slide notes. You can not make changes to transitions, images, or create new text boxes. But, as a presentation tool, it works pretty well. It's the kind of app that, if you're in a pinch and have the necessary adapters, could save your bacon if something happens to your computer.

If you've used PowerPoint or any other presentation tool in the past, you know presentation files can be behemoths. Unfortunately, I found that my connection to SkyDrive consistently timed out when I tried to upload changed presentations. In many cases, that was because my phone went to sleep before the save finished. But even when I made sure the phone stayed awake, Office Mobile had difficulty getting large files from my phone to my SkyDrive.

SkyDrive integration
In my initial testing I found that the Office app's SkyDrive integration was spotty at best. (To be fair, this is also true of Microsoft's SkyDrive app.) Most documents created using the app or Microsoft's Web apps synchronized with SkyDrive, but depending on their size, uploading files from my phone, had those timeout issues.

Documents created on my Mac and saved in my Mac's SkyDrive folder often took hours to appear on my phone. This may be a limitation of SkyDrive on my Mac, but, if you're accustomed to Dropbox, which synchronizes immediately, it will be an unwelcome surprise to anyone who thinks the doc they just saved in SkyDrive will be available on their phone.

I also found that when saving changes to an existing document, SkyDrive often reported conflicts with an existing copy of the document on SkyDrive. This, despite the fact that I was the only one editing the document and only on my phone. Subsequent saves worked, but it almost never allowed me to save changes to documents the first time I tried.

Final impressions
While these are only initial impressions, and fuller use may turn up solutions to some of these problems, on first look this app does not impress. Yes, it's Microsoft Office on your iPhone, but it's Office in air quotes—which is to say that, while you can create and edit Office documents on your phone, there isn't much here in the way of added value and, in fact, may only introduce frustration to your daily grind. Also, the fact that it's an iPhone-only app seems like an unnecessary limitation on Microsoft's part. While it's possible to use the Web-based version of Office on your iPad, a native iPad app seems like a more obvious solution.


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