Just a few days after it announced that a new version of Office for Mac will arrive in the second half of 2015, Microsoft has just made new versions of its Office apps for iPad and iPhone available for free.

The updates mean that both iPad and iPhone users can now access and edit Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents on their iPhones as well as their iPads, as there is no longer any need to have a Office 365 subscription to access the editing features.

The updated apps are available for all iOS devices capable running iOS 7 or higher. Android tablets merely get a new preview version of the Office apps.

Previously, there were different versions of Office for iOS devices, Office for iPhone introduced in June 2013, and separate Word, Excel, and PowerPoint apps for iPad, introduced in April 2014.

Word, Excel and Powerpoint for iPhone & iPad

When Office Mobile for iPhone arrived in June 2013 it was a single app that only allowed viewing of Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, and PowerPoint presentations.

The long absence of Office on the iPad lead to speculation that Microsoft was holding back on an iPad version of the app while it attempted to breathe life into it's Surface tablet hybrid. But eventually, in April 2014, Microsoft launched separate Word, Excel and PowerPoint apps for iPad.

By the time Microsoft launched the iPad apps in April 2014 there was a version of Office available on the Microsoft Surface. However, Microsoft bought the apps to the iPad before offering a version of Office for Android tablets or a version for touch-enabled Windows devices.

When they launched in April 2014 the iPad apps allowed you to edit the files - but only if you had an Office 365 subscription. Otherwise you could only view documents which were marked as read only - but at least there were separate apps with more features than the iPhone version offered.

Now Microsoft has made the individual Word, Excel and PowerPoint apps available for iPhone and iPad users. Whether you use them on your iPad or your iPhone, the apps will offer the same set of features, although there will be a slightly different user interface suited better to that device.

Microsoft says that the new versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint are built on the same codebase as the Office for iPad apps introduced back in April, but each is optimized for the device you're working on.

Office for iPad & iPhone: What does this mean for Microsoft?

When Microsoft introduced the Microsoft Office Mobile app for iPhone users in 2013, but left the iPad, which is naturally a better platform for document editing, unsupported, many concluded that Microsoft was intent on promoting its own Surface tablet instead. When Microsoft introduced the iPad apps in June 2014, some concluded it was a marketing ploy geared to sell more subscriptions to Office 365. Others concluded it was desperation - a last throw of the dice for a company that had taken mobile seriously too late and couldn't break into the iOS/Android duopoly?

News that the company appears to have thrown in the towel on requiring Office 365 subscriptions may be considered evidence that the subscription method isn't working out as well for Microsoft as they may have hoped. Although Microsoft's recent decision to release a new version of Outlook for Mac to Office 365 subscribers almost half a year before non-subscribers can expect to see it would suggest that the company isn't giving up on the subscriptions model yet. Read more about the new version of Outlook for Mac here.

Indeed, there are still incentives for purchasing an Office 365 subscription to go with your iPad and iPhone apps as you will gain advanced change tracking features, no limits on the ways you can use paragraph styles, and advanced chart, table, and picture formatting tools. Also, if you're planning on using OneDrive for business documents, you will be required to purchase an Office 365 account.

What does Office on iOS mean for Apple

The arrival of Word, PowerPoint and Excel on iPads and iPhones, with full editing features is certainly exciting news for iOS users, although the lack of Office software for so long means most have found alternative word processors by now - maybe Pages, maybe iA Writer. It also means that business users who had avoided iOS because of its lack of Office apps will now have no reason not to use their iOS devices.

But is it too late for Microsoft? While Microsoft was dawdling Apple has been innovating and the iWork apps: Pages, Keynote and Numbers have come on in leaps and bounds since the first poor Office app arrived on the iPhone. With Apple's iWork apps offering true continuity across all your devices, and iCloud storage, it seems that Microsoft's offering may be too little too late.

Given the fact that Apple gives away Pages, Numbers and Keynote for new iPad and iPhone users, Microsoft needed to pull out all the stops to make its apps as beautiful and easy to use as Apple's are, the question is, has it? We will be looking at the new apps soon and will feedback. In the meantime, read more about the iWork apps here.

One thing is for sure - for those that thought the iPad wasn't a serious work tool the arrival of fully editable Office apps on both devices indicates otherwise.

Back when the iPad versions launched in April, Mike Culver, vice president and general manager of mobility at Logitech, got in touch to offer his thoughts on the launch (Logitech is sure to see it as an opportunity, since it makes - among other things - iPad keyboards).

He told us: "Through the introduction of the iPad Air with iWork, Apple underscored that the iPad is not just for content consumption, but for content creation. The addition of Microsoft Office is a second endorsement of that.

"Adding Microsoft Office and a keyboard to the iPad creates the perfect combination for using the tablet as your productivity device on the go."

How to get Microsoft Office apps on the iPhone and iPad for free

The office apps are available to any iPhone or iPad user running iOS 7 or iOS 8. Visit the App Store on an iPad or iPhone and search for Word, PowerPoint or Excel - you want the versions with Microsoft Corporation listed as the developer.

Office for iPad and iPhone: Price

Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint for iPad and iPhone are free to download from the iTunes App Store.

If you have a subscription to Office 365 you will gain a few additional features that aren't available to other users including advanced change tracking features, no limits on the ways you can use paragraph styles, and advanced chart, table, and picture formatting tools. And if you're planning on using OneDrive for business documents, you will be required to purchase an Office 365 account.

For business users, an Office 365 subscription is available in a number of different packages. Small Business can sign up for £3.30 a month (£39.60 a year) but they won't gain the desktop versions of the apps. The Small Business Premium package costs £8.40 a month (£100.80 a year, 25 users, including desktop versions). Midsize Business can sign up for 9.80 a month (300 users, including desktop versions and Active Directory). There are also enterprise offerings for £2.60, £5.20 and £15 a month.

Home users can sign up for Office 365 Home Premium subscription at £7.99 per month or £79.99 a year and get access to the features, including being able to create and edit documents, as well as desktop versions of the Office apps.

Subscribing to Office 365

Wondering whether to get a subscription to Office 365? Here is what you get for your money.

Once you have a subscription to Office 365 you can edit documents or create new documents on your iPad. Users can also open existing documents stored on their OneDrive or any other SharePoint location.

What else do you get? Depending on the subscription you might get the Office apps for your Mac too. You also get 60 minutes of free Skype calls each month, and 20GB of SkyDrive cloud storage for each of up to five users.

Given that this is a yearly or monthly subscription, over the next few years you may end up paying more than you would have if you are currently running an ancient version of Office for Mac.

Apple on the other hand offers its suite of iWork apps for free on new iOS devices (and as a free update if you already own them).

Office for iPad: Syncing

Office for iPad integrates with a user's SkyDrive account, so users can create a document in the Office and then revise it on their iPad while commuting. The document will maintain its formatting even if the mobile version doesn't support that particular feature. 

The documents you have stored in OneDrive must be downloaded to your iPad before you can work on them. They are synced dynamically to the Microsoft Cloud at intervals. You can create and save documents on your iPad without saving them to OneDrive, handy if you are offline. However, it appears that it's not possible to move documents from OneDrive to your iPad if you want to work offline.

You can collaborate on documents, editing them at the same time as collegues - you need to tap a share button in the upper left of the toolbar to invite others to access the document. Note that it doens't update in realtime though, so you may refresh and find a paragraph you were working on has moved.

Apple iWork versus Office for iPad

Apple has its own office suite, called iWork. iWork is available for free with the purchase of an Apple iPad or iPhone, and it is also a free update to the previous version of iWork if you own them. Read more about how the apps in the iWork suite compare with Microsoft's apps here:

On the second page of this feature you can find out about the features in the original version of the iPad apps. We will update that section when we have spent more time with the new apps.