Towards the end of 2014 Microsoft announced that a new version of Office for Mac will arrive in the second half of 2015. At the same time it also updated the versions of its Office apps for iPad and iPhone, and made them available for free.

This means that both iPad and iPhone users can 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.

This is a big improvement: when Microsoft first unveiled versions of its Office apps for Mac and iOS devices these apps were quite limited, with the iPad version offering some editing features, but only to Office 365 subscribers, and the iPhone version read-only. However, with the November update the updated apps are now available for free and can be edited without having a Microsoft Office 365 account. Read on for more information about how to get Office apps on your iPhone and iPad for free, and how to make the most of their features.  

Microsoft Office for iPad & iPhone: Specs

The Office 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 unless the user subscribes to Office 365.

Read: Expert Office for iPad and iPhone tips

And: How to manage Macs on a Windows network 

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

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

You can use edit and view documents and spreadsheets in these apps for free, but to do so you will need a Microsoft ID.

After you have downloaded the app you will see a screen asking you to log on to Office 365. If you don’t have an Office 365 account, you can create a Microsoft ID and use that. The form isn’t overly complicated, though Microsoft does require a birth date and telephone number (we always lie about our phone number). Don’t worry, you won’t be signed up to Office 365 and you can opt out of receiving marketing material.

You will need to register for an account if you want to be able to edit documents. If all you want to do is read documents you can just tap Sign In Later and then View for Free.

Should I get a subscription to Office 365? Here is what you get for your money:

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.Users can also open existing documents stored on their OneDrive or any other SharePoint location.

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).

Read more about Apple's iWork apps here.

Office 365 pricing

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.

Office for iPad and iPhone: Syncing options

Office for iOS 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 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. 

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.

Read more about the new version of Outlook for Mac here.

Microsoft Excel for iPad vs Apple Numbers reviewMicrosoft Word for iPad vs Apple Pages reviewMicrosoft Powerpoint for iPad vs Keynote review

Word for iPad and iPhone

Microsoft Word for iPad

With Word for iOS you get substantial document creation and editing tools - as with the other iOS Office apps, you can now edit documents in the app regardless of whether you have a paid Office 365 account. Previously, without an Office 365 subscription, you had read-only access to docs.
creating documents?Presuming that you only with standard text formatting, including selecting and changing a document’s paragraph formatting or adding and making basic changes to tables, the free version will work perfectly for you.

Using Word for iOS on the iPhone suffers from the limitations of the screen size, but Microsoft has made some tweaks to the interface to make it easier to use on the iPhone, for example, streamlining the ‘Ribbon’ (the toolbar you’re used to using in every Office application) to maximise screen space while editing text.
There’s also a ‘Reflow’ button that resizes the text, wipes away unnecessary document elements, and floats tools above the text. This allows you to focus on the text you’re editing.

If you work in a business environment you may find that there are some limitations. The features that require an Office 365 subscription include some of the more in-depth layout and formatting tools, page orientation changes, additions or reductions to columns and page sections, Word Art, custom text colours, adding reflections or other image editing options, advanced table and chart editing, and change tracking.

Note that is change tracking is already turned on for a document, any changes you make will be tracked, even if you don’t have all the features of a subscription account – you just can’t accept or reject changes.

If you are likely to be accessing files stored in OneDrive or Dropbox for Business accounts, or on your own private Microsoft SharePoint, you’ll have to have a paid account. If you sign up for a free OneDrive account you can use the app for storing and accessing documents. Luckily Microsoft has added Dropbox integration, which means you’re able to add your Dropbox account to Word and open any Word documents you have stored there. You also get the option to simultaneously edit documents with others, with files stored in OneDrive or in your Dropbox able to be opened and edited at the same time.

Read more about Word for iOS here.

Excel for iPad and iPhone

Excel for iOS can now be used to create spreadsheets, as long as you register for a Microsoft ID. Once you have logged into your account you will have almost all the features that Office 365 subscribers have. Creating, modifying, saving, and printing, all worked well in the free version.

There is also Dropbox support, so you don’t need to use Microsoft OneDrive. One you have logged in to your Dropbox account, you will see a list of Places you can save and open things. You can then open, modify, and save any spreadsheets in DropBox. We’d like to see iCloud Drive here too.

The features only open to Office 365 users include: customising pivot table styles and layouts (you can’t create pivot tables in Excel for iOS anyway); add custom colours to shapes; insert and edit WordArt; add shadows and reflection styles to pictures; and add or modify chart elements.

Premium features are available with a Office 365 Personal account (one computer, one tablet, one phone) for £5.99 per month, or Office 365 Home (up to five of each device type) for £7.99 per month. You’ll also get one terabyte of OneDrive storage, which can be used both in Excel and as a general cloud storage drive. Unless you’re creating and editing graphs in Excel for iOS, you’ll probably find that the free version meets your needs.

There is no difference between the iPad and iPhone app - but we have to admit that using Excel on the iPad is a much better experience due to the bigger screen. The iPhone screen really is too small for all but the most basic of editing. We’d use it in an emergency, but if we were crafting a document or making significant edits we’d be reaching for the iPad.

For example, there’s no room for the ribbon on the iPhone’s screen; to call up the ribbon, you have to tap the Edit icon, which opens an edit area that takes up about a third of the screen, and then tap another pop-up to select, for instance, Formulas, and then scroll through the formula browser. On the iPad, the ribbon is always visible, and choosing a ribbon item only loses one line of the display.

As well as creating and editing spreadsheets you can also print. This feature works well and was introduced prior to the November update.

There are still a few things you can’t do in Excel for iOS, you can see and delete comments but not create or edit them; you can’t name cells or ranges, create conditional formatting rules, or enter array formulas. You also can’t insert images from OneDrive (or Dropbox) either, only from the iOS device’s photos. And Excel is a one-thing-at-a-time app – that means if you’re working with two or more spreadsheets, you will have to fully close one to open the other one.

Microsoft Excel for iPad

Complete guide to Microsoft Excel for iPad

Find out more about Excel for iOS here.

PowerPoint for iPad and iPhone

Just like Word and Excel for iOS, PowerPoint no longer requires a subscription to edit presentations.

There are a few other improvements on the previous version: you can add and edit animations; can crop images; and use a Presenter View; audio and video now play correctly; and you can add video (though not standalone audio) from your iOS device.

If you have an Office 365 subscription you get access to premium features including Presenter View; adding custom colours to shapes; adding and editing WordArt; applying reflections and shadows to graphics; adding and editing chart elements; and adjusting the shading of table cells, rows, and columns.

It’s no match for the desktop version of PowerPoint. For example, you have limited control over transitions; and you can’t create new themes, add SmartArt, or see your slides in Outline view. On an iPad, you can see comments added on a Mac or PC, but not edit them or add new comments; comments are entirely absent on the iPhone.

As with the other apps, Dropbox file storage is an alternative to Microsoft’s own OneDrive.

Microsoft PowerPoint for iPad

Microsoft PowerPoint for iPad

Read more about PowerPoint for iOS here.

Microsoft Office for iPad & iPhone: application history

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.

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.

During the almost a year-long wait for Office on the iPad there was 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.

So the situation was that there was a very limited app for iPhone users that allowed little more than viewing documents, while there were separate versions for iPad, but these were also limited, with  editing a feature only available to 365 subscribers.

Then in November 2014, Microsoft launched individual Word, Excel and PowerPoint apps for both 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 optimised for the device you're working on.

Read on to find out why Microsoft released a version of Office for iPad and iPhone, and what that means for Apple's iWork apps.