Today The Verge is reporting that their sources inside Microsoft say that a version of the widely used Microsoft Office suite will be coming to iOS and Android devices in early 2013. Called Office Mobile, the apps will be free and will allow viewing of Word, PowerPoint, and Excel documents. In order to use Office Mobile, one will need to set up a Microsoft account. And to be able to edit documents, one will need to subscribe to Office 365 from within the apps. According to The Verge, the apps will work for basic editing, but certainly won't be as full featured as the desktop versions. The software is expected to arrive in late February or early March for iOS and in May for Android users.
Today's report meshes with other rumors that have circulated, including an apparent leak of a Microsoft press release a couple months ago. An earlier report in The Daily even included a photo of an iPad running Office.
Compatibility with Office documents is, of course, a desire held by many iPhone and iPad users. And there are several quite strong third-party apps already available in the App Store that let you edit Office documents, such as Documents To Go. Some of these are designed to work seamlessly with Dropbox. This is a powerful combination. That means that if you keep your working documents in your Dropbox folder on your desktop computer, they are always readily available and always up to date on your iOS device. And you can edit them on your iOS device and have those changes automatically synced to your desktop computer.
No doubt Office Mobile from Microsoft will work in a similar fashion. But given what's already available, it's not clear to me why the appearance of a mobile suite for the iPhone and iPad stirs such excitement. I guess the assumption is that it will have greater compatibility and functionality than the third-party suites.
In any case, if you're heavily invested in the Microsoft environment, it's often just simpler to uniformly use Microsoft products, given all the little glitches that can happen.
If you are interested in alternatives to Office Mobile, you can check out Apple's iWork suite, of course, as well as Quickoffice Pro HD, Documents to Go, Office2 HD, and Documents 2. They range in price from $4 to $20. There's also a free version of Documents 2.
You can find helpful comparative reviews of these office suites on GottaBeMobile and ZDNet. In these somewhat dated reviews, Apple's iWork generally gets the nod as being the best, but it's also most expensive. Both reviews favor Quickoffice Pro HD as a second, lower-cost choice, and Office2 HD as being a good choice in the lowest price range, at $7.99.
About.com has an excellent overview of office suites for iOS, and focuses it around which features are most important to you: integration with the cloud, depth of features, compatibility with MS Office, and the tradeoffs among free office suites and those that are medium and high priced.
It's great to see so many choices, and the imminent arrival of Microsoft's own suite.