Microsoft today opened a public preview of the three core Office apps -- Excel, PowerPoint and Word -- for Android smartphones, following a similar sneak peak in January for Android-powered tablets.
The betas wrap up several rounds of apps designed for Microsoft's two fiercest platform rivals, Apple and Google --work that began more than a year ago when CEO Satya Nadella introduced Office for Apple's iPad.
Today's release for Android finalizes the first crack at those competitors, and was just barely beaten by Microsoft's own Windows 10: The first Office preview for Windows 10 Mobile -- the OS that will launch before the end of this year for smartphones and smaller tablets -- was only five days ago. (The touch-centric apps previewed on Windows 10 for desktops, 2-in-1s and larger tablets in early February.)
The apps for Android are similar if not identical to those that run on Apple's iPhone and the rougher-edged versions for Windows 10 Mobile. As with the Office apps on other devices, the final versions will be available to consumers free of charge for basic tasks, including viewing, creating and editing documents in non-commercial settings. Business customers and anyone who wants to utilize advanced features, however, will need a current Office 365 subscription.
During the preview, Office Mobile, the current hub-like app, will remain available and free to download. "We will disclose more about our plans for [Office Mobile] later in the year when we announce general availability of the new Office for Android phone apps," said Jared Spataro, who leads Office 365 marketing, in a short post to a Microsoft blog. Most expect that Microsoft will, in fact, dump Office Mobile.
To grab the previews of Excel, PowerPoint and Word for Android smartphones, users must first join a Google+ community, then the preview pool, then download the apps. Users may have to wait up to four hours for the preview permissions to propagate, Microsoft said.
JR Raphael, Computerworld's noted Android blogger, today took exception to the dual app approach -- as he did in February -- where Microsoft produces one app set for phones, another for tablets on the platform.
"Bear in mind that this is just their 'beta' thing, so this may or may not reflect their ultimate plan. But Microsoft has taken this approach thus far, with its Office Mobile app for phones and then the newer individual Word/Excel/PowerPoint apps for tablets," said Raphael. "One app should run and adapt its UI intelligently to any device -- small phone, 'phablet,' small tablet, huge tablet and so on."