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Office 365 apps for iPhone and Android not coming anytime soon

Lync Online, other Microsoft cloud services still limited.

By , Network World
June 29, 2011 04:10 PM ET

Network World - Microsoft launched Office 365 to the world this week, but the company's cloud product development is by no means complete.

Users can expect some functionality, including the ability to make phone calls from Lync Online to cell phones and landlines, to be added in the coming months. But for other tools, such as dedicated applications for the iPhone and Android, and a more complete browser-based experience for Office Web Apps, well, just keep waiting.

REMOTE OFFICE: Microsoft launches Office 365, glosses over cloud limitations

Network World discussed Microsoft's cloud roadmap with Eron Kelly, who runs product management for Office 365, at Microsoft's launch event Tuesday. While Microsoft says it will continually improve its new cloud service, the timeline for certain features remains hazy at best. Here's a look at what Kelly had to say on a number of topics.

What, no mobile apps for non-Windows phones?

Office 365 encompasses many pieces of cloud-based software: Exchange, SharePoint, the Lync unified communications suite, and the Office Web Apps including Word, PowerPoint, Excel and OneNote.

But mobile access to Office is limited unless you're the proud owner of a Windows Phone 7 device. Any smartphone, of course, can connect to email and calendars through Exchange ActiveSync and VPN software. But Microsoft only offers the full Office experience, including editing of Word, PowerPoint and Excel documents, to Windows Phone users.

There is a OneNote app available for the iPhone. But Microsoft hasn't developed any other Office apps for the iPhone or Android devices. This relegates users of the most popular systems to their mobile browsers.

Testing Office Web Apps on an iPhone, I was able to open and edit a OneNote document in the OneNote app, but not in the iPhone browser. In Safari, I was able to view a Microsoft Word document, but not edit it. Editing requires downloading the document and opening it in an app. While Microsoft doesn't supply any apps capable of editing Word documents on iPhones and Androids, third-party tools such as Quickoffice are able to do so, often for a fee.

Kelly says it was easier for Microsoft to build full Office functionality into Windows phones because the Office and mobile product teams can work closely together. He didn't rule out bringing a Word, PowerPoint and Excel application to iPhones and Androids, but didn't commit to doing so, either.

"We've done it with the OneNote on the iPhone," Kelly says. "That indicates direction on the kinds of investments we're working on moving forward."

"The experience on the Office hub [in Windows Phone 7] is better, it's cleaner," Kelly notes. "Because there is a local app, you can download the document and edit it, manipulate it more."

Even in a desktop browser on a Windows computer, Office Web Apps lacks auto-save functionality and the ability to have multiple users simultaneously edit Word and PowerPoint documents. Gartner analyst Matt Cain chalks this up to Microsoft intentionally limiting the capabilities of the browser versions of Office Web Apps to avoid cutting into revenue for Office software licenses.

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