Microsoft to Tailor Office Mobile Apps for Chromebooks

Posted on November 12, 2016 by Paul Thurrott in Mobile, Android, Office with 11 Comments

Microsoft to Tailor Office Mobile Apps for Chromebooks

Microsoft said this week that it was “partnering” with Google to ensure that its Office apps for Android will work with all compatible Chromebooks.

Microsoft also clarified how Office licensing will work on Chromebooks.

“Our strategy has not changed,” Microsoft told the 9to5Google website when asked about Office apps for Android on Chromebook. “Office for Android is supported on Chrome OS devices via the Google Play Store. While Google Play on Chrome OS is in beta, we are partnering with Google to deliver the best experience for Chromebook users and plan to make the apps available on all compatible devices by general availability.”

So there are a couple of things happening here.

Strictly speaking, there’s no such thing as third-party “native” apps on Android per se; before the arrival of Android app compatibility, Chromebook users could access a library of web-based apps only. Granted, many of these provide offline capabilities and other features one might associate with true native apps. And yes, Chrome OS of course offers in-box native apps for basic needs such as file system access, video playback, and the like.

But Android app compatibility changes things quite a bit for Chromebook users. And there’s an argument to be made that Android apps on Chromebook are, in effect, “native” apps. They are certainly local apps.

Point being, the arrival of Android apps on Chromebook means that Microsoft’s Office apps for Android will soon run natively—and locally—on Chromebook devices. For this to happen, however, Microsoft must specifically tailor those apps for Chromebooks, most of which do not support touch screens. And for specific Chromebook models, since each can provide its own unique functionality as well. So in a way, the Office apps for Android can be seen as native Chromebook apps, since they will soon be updated specifically for this usage.

Tied to this, too, is the notion of licensing. As you may recall, Microsoft makes the mobile versions of its Office apps available for free on devices with 10.1-inch screens and smaller. But those with devices with larger screens—i.e. most PCs, Macs, and now Chromebooks—will need a paid Office 365 subscription to use these apps.

That “strategy has not changed” comment addresses licensing: With Chromebook, the Office apps for Android will work as they do on Android. Meaning that those with Chromebooks with smaller (10.1 inches or smaller) screens will be able to use the Office apps for free. Most Chromebook users, of course, will need an Office 365 subscription.

Actually, it’s a bit more nuanced than that.

While basic functionality is indeed free on smaller mobile devices, users will still need an Office 365 subscription to access so-called “premium” Office app features.

“After signing in with a free Microsoft account, the core viewing, creating, editing and printing experience is free in Office apps for iOS, Android and Windows 10 Mobile, on devices 10.1-inches or smaller,” Microsoft says. “An Office 365 subscription enables scenarios where consumers want to do things that go beyond the basic freemium experience such as using track changes in Word, Pivot Tables in Excel or Presenter View in PowerPoint. On devices larger than 10.1-inches, an Office 365 subscription is required to unlock the ability to create, edit or print documents.”

Because Android app support for Chromebooks is currently beta, it’s not exactly clear which features will require a subscription on small-screen devices. But if Microsoft utilizes the same list of features as it does on Android tablets, this handy chart explains what it will look like.

In Microsoft Word, you will need an Office 365 subscription to track and review changes, change page orientation, insert page and section breaks, highlight table cells with custom color shading, enable columns in page layout, and customize headers and footers for different pages. In PowerPoint, features such as the ability to save ink annotations from slide shows, highlight table cells with custom color shading, and Presenter View require a subscription. And in Excel, you will need Office 365 to customize pivot tables styles and layouts, apply custom colors to shapes, insert and edit WordArt, and add shadows and reflection styles to pictures.

So, no real surprises. But it will be interesting to see how Office for Android evolves to accommodate unique Chromebook functionality and form factors. And whether it edges closer to the full-fledged Office apps on Windows and Mac.

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Comments (11)

11 responses to “Microsoft to Tailor Office Mobile Apps for Chromebooks”

  1. 4982

    Since you can run Android apps natively on linux, does this mean Microsoft is finally releasing Office for Linux?

  2. 1454

    This is the kind of cooperation that will keep Microsoft relevant and successful in a mobile world. Too bad Google or Apple can't do the same. 

  3. 2149

    Paul, I'm curious as to what you think about the screen size restriction on basic document creation and editing. I think its a huge mistake (and said so in another article) but its clear that other people feel its fair. What are your thoughts? I know Microsoft has to make money but does anyone actually pony up the money for an O365 subscription just to create a document in the Office Mobile apps? Google Docs is pretty popular.

  4. 1377

    Re Excel, the eyewash doesn't matter. Will it be possible to enter array formulas? Select cells by contents or values? Various other features the Excel web app lacks?

    Is this a sign MSFT is beginning to be worried about Google Docs getting too much use on Chromebooks? MSFT would prefer US school children use Office on Chromebooks than nothing from MSFT on Chromebooks?

  5. 289

    Probably a smart move by Microsoft. My first inclination would be to tell Google to F off, which would be less smart.

  6. 6014

    As much as Chromebooks send shivers of dread down my spine, this is good for Microsoft. They're sticking to their be-everywhere mantra, and I think that's great.

  7. 5530

    I would love to try a chromebook with Android apps and Office on it. Chromebook seems to shine at the low end, where Windows laptops chug and have terrible trackpads and battery, Chromebooks scream and have no trouble with display scaling and battery life at the same price. Chromebooks will have a huge advantage when ARM chips offer better performance than Intel at the low end with lower prices and better battery. Windows 10 is nowhere close to being viable to compete on ARM Chromebooks. Windows 10 Mobile doesn't count.

  8. 427

    This makes complete sense. Prior to the you can run android apps on Chromebook, aren't the people that buy these things as silly as the people that bought Windows RT.  Is there really much difference, other than the fact that RT had Internet Explorer of course.   I don't get how this is successful, and maybe its not, when this kind of idea of here is a machine with a web browser and that's about it, was proven to not work when Microsoft did it, but that is true of many of their past failures.  Anyway, Office everywhere makes sense for the Office team. I'm sure its coming to your tv, car, and your fridge next.

  9. 6064

    Great! Missing MS Office (or compatible apps) have been the only thing keeping me away from switching my mom (and, at least for mobile) myself.

    Now of course it remains to be seen what exact features Office on Chrome will actually offer. Haven't tried Office for Android enough to be sure of it. I don't need that many features, but I do need full compatibility, in particular round-trip compatibility (i.e. receiving a PC Word doc, changing it on Android / Chrome, and sending it back to someone with a PC or Mac without losing all the formatting.

  10. 3309

    This makes me wonder about devices offering Continuum ...  the device is smaller than 10 inches but is able to run like a traditional desktop on screens larger than 10 inches and with full keyboard and mouse.  Do they get the basic one for free.