October 22, 2012, 6:01 PM — An upgrade of Microsoft's Office Web Apps has been finalized, and a combination of enhancements makes this Web-hosted Office version work much better on iPads than previous iterations.
As a result, Microsoft, which has been reticent to create a full-featured Office version for iOS, may be able to at least appease unhappy users who want to use Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote on their iPads.
This new Office Web Apps version has "embraced" HTML5, has been optimized for tablets and smartphones, and has been further "fine tuned" for iOS 6 specifically, Microsoft said on Monday.
With the HTML5 enhancements, Office Web Apps runs in "virtually" all modern browsers, including Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox and Safari, without the need for plug-ins, according to Microsoft.
Moreover, as detailed in an August blog post, the new touch capabilities of the new Office Web Apps -- then in preview mode -- were designed "to bring the full-fledged capabilities of viewing and editing" to browsers and tablets such as IE on Windows 8 and mobile Safari on iOS.
At the time, Microsoft said its goals included letting users get up and running with touch-based Office Web Apps right away without learning a new user interface. In addition, Microsoft strived to offer users of touch-based devices the "full feature set of the Office Web Apps, including editing tools."
Microsoft declined to comment on the user experience of Office Web Apps now on iPads. A quick check by IDG News Service of Office Web Apps on an iOS 6 iPad using Safari indeed shows a marked improvement in the interface and user experience, compared with the prior version.
Although Microsoft has released iOS applications for OneNote and Lync, it hasn't ported the full-featured Office suite to Apple's mobile operating system, and it has been criticized for this.
Microsoft probably wants Office to be a selling point for the upcoming Windows 8 and Windows RT tablets, including Microsoft's own Surface device. However, critics point out that keeping Office away from iPads could end up hurting Microsoft more than Apple, since there is no shortage of vendors providing office productivity applications for iOS.
Thus, with this new Office Web Apps version, Microsoft could still protect the competitive edge of the new Windows 8 and RT tablets, while also meeting some of the demands of iPad users, many of whom use the Apple device for both personal and work tasks.