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Using the Latest Microsoft Office for iOS Apps

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Jason R. Rich takes a look at the latest editions of the Microsoft Office for iOS apps, which include Word, PowerPoint, Excel, OneNote, Outlook, Office Lens, and OneDrive, and introduces readers to some of the latest features, functions, and subscription options for these popular mobile apps.
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It’s been over one year since Microsoft released versions of its popular Office software for iOS mobile devices, and since those initial app releases, the selection of Office-related apps has expanded, while each app has been enhanced with additional features and functions. What’s also changed over the past year are the requirements for using some of the Office for iOS apps.

Microsoft Office’s Suite of iOS Mobile Applications Is Growing

Currently, the collection of Microsoft Office for iOS apps includes:

  • Microsoft Word - A full-featured word processor.
  • Microsoft Excel - A spreadsheet management and number-crunching tool.
  • Microsoft PowerPoint - A digital slide creation and presentation tool.
  • Microsoft OneNote - A comprehensive information-gathering and note-taking tool.
  • Microsoft Outlook - A contact management, email, and scheduling tool that can replace the need to use the Contacts, Calendar, and Mail apps that come bundled with iOS 8.
  • Microsoft Lens - A tool that allows smartphone and tablet users to utilize the camera that’s built into their mobile device in order to scan paper-based documents and import them directly into Office applications.
  • Microsoft Lync 2013 for iPad - For business users who use Lync on a PC, this free app extends the capabilities of Lync and Skype on the iPad, allowing for more seamless voice and video over wireless conversations, as well as instant messaging and adding calling features.
  • Microsoft OneDrive - A stand-alone app that allows users to access and manage files stored within their online-based OneDrive account. All of the other Office for iOS apps have OneDrive integration built in, but this app offers separate access to OneDrive content and files.

All of the Office for iOS apps are available from the App Store for free. However, to unlock and utilize all of the features and functions built into Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, that go beyond viewing, creating, and editing app-specific documents and files, a paid subscription to Office 365 continues to be required.

The Cost of Using Microsoft Office for iOS

Several Office 365 subscription plans are available, starting at $6.99 per month ($69.99 per year) for a Personal subscription. For $9.99 per month ($99.99 per year), an Office 365 Home subscription is available. A Personal plan allows unlimited access to all Microsoft Office apps on one computer (PC or Mac), and one tablet (or one smartphone), while the Home plan offers access to all Office apps on up to any combination of five computers, tablets, and/or other mobile devices.

The Office 365 subscription includes all software and mobile app updates, and allows for all apps to sync Office-related data, documents, and files between all versions of Office via an included Microsoft OneDrive account. This account includes 1TB of online storage. (Without a paid Office 365 account, a free OneDrive account includes 15GB of online storage.)

It’s important to understand that while apps that come preinstalled with iOS 8, such as Contacts, Calendar, Reminders, Notes, Safari, Mail, and Photos, have built in integration with Apple’s own iCloud service for syncing and sharing files, in order to sync and share Office for iOS data, documents, and files, a Microsoft OneDrive account must be utilized. These Office apps do not offer Apple iCloud integration, although files can manually be copied to iCloud Drive.

How OneDrive Integrates with Office for iOS Apps

If you plan to reply on Office for iOS apps to work with data, documents, and files while on the go, you’ll definitely want to create and utilize a free Microsoft OneDrive account. This is a cloud-based service that allows content that’s related to Office, for example, to be stored online (in the cloud), so it can automatically sync between all of your own computers and mobile devices.

As a result, once each of your own computers and mobile devices are linked to your OneDrive account, and has Internet access, anytime you create a Word document, for example, it will be automatically uploaded and stored online within your OneDrive account, and become almost instantly accessible from your other computers and mobile devices. This syncing process happens automatically, so you won’t have to remember to manually copy or transfer files.

You can begin working on a Word document on your PC or Mac and pick up exactly where you left off on your iPad or iPhone, for example. This applies to all Office applications. However, for the automatic syncing process to work, each of your computers and mobile devices must be linked to the same OneDrive account, plus have Internet access. You’ll also need to turn on the AutoSave option within each applicable Office for iOS app.

If you’re on an airplane, for example, with no Internet access, unless you pre-load the data, documents, or files you’ll need to work with onto your mobile device, the content stored within your OneDrive account will not be accessible until an Internet connection is re-established. Likewise, any updating you do to a document, spreadsheet, or presentation, for example, will not sync with your other computers and mobile devices until each has access to the Internet, and is able to download the updated files from OneDrive.

As a result, the Office for iOS apps also allow for app-specific data, documents, and files to be stored within the internal storage of your iPhone or iPad, as well as directly within your online-based OneDrive account. Also storing content within the internal storage of your mobile device is something that needs to be done manually, however, if you already have the OneDrive sync featured turned on.

Sharing Office Data, Documents. and Files with Others

It’s also possible to share Office-related data, documents, and files with others from the Office for iOS mobile app. As you’re working with a Word document, for example, access the screen that allows you to manage your app-specific files, and then tap on the familiar Share icon that’s associated with that document file. From the File menu, tap on the Share option. Next, choose between the Email as Link, Email as Attachment, or Copy Link option.

All of these options are available if the content has already been synced with your OneDrive account. However, if the document or file is only stored within your iPhone or iPad, the File menu offers just the Move to Cloud, and the Email as Attachment options.

When Office content is stored within your OneDrive account, using the Email as Link option allows you to send an email to the person or people you want to share the app-specific Office content with, by providing them with a link to your OneDrive account in order to access just that document or file. If you’d prefer to keep others out of your OneDrive account altogether, using the Email as Attachment option attaches the specific document or file you’ve selected to the outgoing email, which the recipient(s) will then receive and be able to use with their own version of the Office application the document or file is compatible with.

The Mobile Apps Are Very Much Like Their Windows and Mac Counterparts

It’s true that the Microsoft Office applications that are designed to run on an iPhone or iPad are somewhat scaled down compared to their Windows and Mac counterparts. However, as Microsoft releases each new version of the various apps, new features and functions are being added. That being said, each mobile app allows users to create documents or files that are fully compatible with the Windows or Mac version, and all versions of Office can exchange information freely via OneDrive.

While the location of menu options and command icons, for example, is vastly different than what you’d experience using any of the Office applications on your computer, the interface used within the mobile apps is both intuitive and synergistic. In other words, if you’re already familiar with how to use Microsoft Word on your PC or Mac, using the iOS version of Word will not require a significant learning curve, and the core features and functions that are typically used to create, view, edit, and share documents are readily available.

Likewise, all of the Office for iOS apps use a very similar interface. Thus, once you get acclimated with any one of these apps, the others will be very intuitive when it comes to creating, managing, viewing and working with app-specific files, documents, data, or content.

As with the PC or Mac versions of the Office applications, data can easily be transferred between mobile apps. For example, if you create a table or chart using Excel, that content can easily be copied and pasted into a Word document or PowerPoint digital slide through a series of on screen taps.

The Office for iOS apps also work with AirPrint-compatible printers, so data, documents, and files can easily be printed (wirelessly) directly from the iPhone or iPad. That same content can be saved as an industry-standard PDF file, or remain in its native Office file format so it can be shared with other Office users, or synced between all of your computers and mobile devices.

In terms of data and file compatibility, one potential issue relates to fonts and formatting. If you create a document on your PC or Mac that contains unusual fonts that are not installed on your mobile device (or vice versa), the Office application will attempt to replace the font with a similar one. This could, however, lead to formatting issues within your documents, spreadsheets, or digital slides. However, by sticking with core fonts that are installed on all of your computers or mobile devices, this won’t become an issue.

Microsoft Lens Transforms Your Mobile Device Into a Scanner

One of the more recent additions to the Office for iOS suite of mobile applications is called Microsoft Lens. It allows you to utilize the camera that’s built into your iPhone in order to scan paper-based documents and photos, and quickly transform text-based scanned content into editable Word, OneNote, or PowerPoint files.

For example, if you’re in a meeting, it’s possible to use this app to photograph (or scan) a whiteboard, and import the whiteboard’s content directly into your typed meeting notes created using Word or OneNote. Meanwhile, if you’re working with a printed document, such as a contract, this app can be used to scan each page of the document, and import it into Word, where it can then be viewed, edited, and ultimately shared while on the go. The app also works with paper-based photographs and graphics, which can be captured using the app and the camera that’s built into your mobile device, and then exported into a compatible Office mobile app.

As you scan content using this app, it can automatically be saved as a stand-alone file and stored within your OneDrive account, then later imported into an applicable Office application when it’s needed. Using OCR (optical character recognition), any text that appears within scanned content will become editable using the Office app you import the scanned content into.

Using the Microsoft Lens app in conjunction with the other Office for iOS apps allows you to easily eliminate paper-based clutter from your life, since this content can now be scanned, stored within your device or OneDrive account, and become easily accessible from your computer or mobile device at anytime.

Final Thoughts...

Many computer users already rely on Microsoft Office applications used on their PC or Mac in their everyday life. By installing and using the Office for iOS apps, access to all of your Office-related data, documents, and files becomes accessible from virtually anywhere your mobile device has Internet access. Plus, you can utilize your Office data, documents, and files while on the go, and stay productive without having to carry around your more cumbersome notebook computer (which probably has a shorter battery life than your iPad, for example).

When used in conjunction with Microsoft OneDrive, the automated data, file, and document syncing process ensures that the latest version of your work is accessible to you, regardless of which computer or mobile device you’re using.

As Microsoft prepares to release Office 2016 for PCs and Macs, the Office for iOS apps will no doubt continue to be updated in order to include an even more comprehensive array of features and functions that provide an authentic Office experience across all platforms.

For example, in a recent PowerPoint for iOS update, Apple Watch compatibility was added, allowing for digital slide presentations to be controlled remotely from the smartwatch.

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