Microsoft's new apps could give iPad owners a productivity boost. The Office for iPad suite — which includes Word, Excel and PowerPoint — launches today and will be available to download in the Apple App Store starting today (March 28) at 2 p.m. ET. The apps themselves are free, and must be downloaded individually, but only Office 365 subscribers have access to their full feature sets. Without a subscription, you can read existing documents and show presentations, but you can't edit documents or create new ones.
Subscribers, on the other hand, get access to mobile apps that closely mirror their desktop counterparts but are tailored for use on a touch screen. All three Office for iPad apps feature the same familiar ribbon at the top of the interface, which offers quick access to numerous formatting options. Most basic options — such as the ability to change fonts and colors, or insert tablets into documents — are available, but some features, such as the option to use custom bullet points in Word, are missing from the iPad app.
Other features, such as the ability to add revision marks and comments for collaborative editing, are fully supported by the iPad version of Word. The PowerPoint app also offers a full set of tools to build and display business presentations, while Excel lets you work with spreadsheets using a special touch-screen keyboard that gives you quick access to numbers, operators and symbols. Users can choose to save new and edited documents to their iPad's internal memory, or sync them to the cloud so they're accessible from any Web-connected device.
The new apps debut shortly after the announcement of a new, more affordable subscription option for Office 365, dubbed Office 365 Personal. It includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Publisher and more, and keeps your files backed up and synced across all your Web-connected devices, with 20GB of space on Microsoft's OneDrive cloud storage platform, plus 60 minutes of Skype calling each month. Microsoft is touting it as a good option for individual consumers who want to access the cloud-connected Office suite, but it could also really benefit small business owners who want access to the service without breaking the bank.