Office 365 on multiple device form factors - cartoon.

Microsoft Corp. has reversed course on its Office mobile strategy, making full-featured versions of its famous productivity software free for Android and iOS instead of requiring a paid subscription, the New York Times is reporting.

  • The shift in strategy shows Microsoft is recognizing the industry shift away from PCs and towards completing more tasks on mobile devices, where its Windows OS isn’t a major player. Consumer sales of Office have been declining in 2014.
  • Previously only paying subscribers to the Office 365 service could access premium Office features on their mobile device. Free versions of the apps allowed users to view documents, but not to edit them or to print them.
  • Microsoft is testing full-featured and free Office apps for Android tablets and will update its iPhone apps (Word, Excel, and PowerPoint) to allow editing and printing.
Word on the iPad currently requires an Office 365 subscription for features like editing and review.

Change may come just soon enough to keep Office relevant

Office users waited for years on Microsoft to release a mobile version of their preferred productivity suite. While Microsoft resisted in hopes of attracting users to its Windows platform by making Office exclusive, customers happily found free alternatives on iOS and Android devices.

In addition to the premium tools offered by Apple and Google, there are also third-party apps that effectively emulate the Office experience and even offer document compatibility with the desktop version. Now that Office will be free for mobile devices, those searching for it in app stores may actually choose to download Microsoft’s tool instead of one of those alternatives.

It may not be too late for Office to build its mobile user base. Even if many have found alternatives, the Office brand is a powerful one and is the standard in the business world.