Microsoft will make a preview version of the Office universal apps for Windows Phone available to Windows 10 testers by the end of the month, I was told this week. The apps will very closely resemble Office for iPhone and will require the latest build of Windows 10 Mobile for phones. Here’s how they fit within the expansive new Office lineup.
In a briefing earlier in this week, Microsoft general manager of Office Marketing Jared Spataro told me that this release of the Office universal apps for Windows Phone would effectively round out the software giant’s coming generation of Office offerings. This includes among other things new versions of its client solutions heading to Windows 10-based PCs, tablets and phones in the coming year.
Put simply, the Office universal apps for Windows Phone—Word, Excel and PowerPoint, plus Outlook and OneNote—provide a basic, touch-first experience that is tailored for phone and phablet form factors. “They address different productivity scenarios than we see on PCs, laptops, or tablets,” Spataro told me. “They’re designed for on the go, mobile productivity, where you’re reading, reviewing, or marking up documents.”
Spataro also confirmed these apps would look and work virtually identically to their iPhone counterparts. No surprise there, but as you can see from the shots, they do look pretty sharp.
The Office universal apps for Windows tablets are the next step up from the phone offerings. Microsoft announced these apps back in January, and they support the enhanced onscreen real estate found on those devices, plus unique capabilities like pen and digital ink and real-time collaboration where appropriate. They will basically look and work like the apps on Windows Phone, but of course will closely match what we see on iPad and Android tablets functionally.
Additionally, Microsoft is continuing its push on the Windows desktop with the full-featured Office 2016 suite, which will provide the most comprehensive tools on Windows and Mac (as well as access to additional Office applications on Windows). “The desktop apps will be around for a very long time,” Spataro said. “The universal apps don’t change that. They are designed for what we call the precision and control of mouse and keyboard. We are aiming these apps at professional content creation.”
Microsoft recently delivered an early preview of Office 2016 for Windows that was aimed at IT Pros and developers, and Spartaro said a broader preview would be available in “the coming weeks.” The firm also recently shipped a preview version of Office 2016 for Mac, which looks quite similar to the Windows version.
Indeed, Office 2016 does looks solid. But as I noted in Thinking About Free Office there are lots of choices now, and it’s reasonable to wonder why someone would pay when they can get basic Office functionality for free. So I asked Spataro if he was worried that the universal apps—which will be licensed under the new Office freemium model, where most individuals simply get most app functionality for free—would cannibalize sales of full Office for the desktop.
“No,” he told me. “There’s lots of free stuff out there already, from downloadable application suites to online services. I’m more worried about confusion. I want people to understand why there are two different versions of Office on Windows.”
As for licensing, there’s no news yet. But it’s fair to assume that the Office universal apps for Windows phones and tablets will follow the same freemium model we see on Android and iOS, since these apps line up almost exactly with their iPhone, iPad, and Android handset and tablet counterparts.
As for Office 2016, Microsoft did previously differentiate free/freemium from paid by screen size, with device with a screen 10.1 inches or smaller getting Office for free. Will desktop Office 2016 be made available for free on such devices? Spataro wouldn’t say, noting only that the licensing conversation was for the future.
I’m looking forward to all of these products, of course, but I’m particularly curious about the Office universal apps for Windows Phone, and will be comparing them head-to-head with the Android and iPhone versions to see how they really stack up.