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Office for iPad: A conversation starter

Eric Wilfrid is Director of Program Management.

Hello from the Office for iPad® engineering team! In the first week since launch we’ve seen over 12 million app downloads and heard a lot of valuable feedback. We’re already incorporating that feedback into future updates, and starting today we’d like to invite all of you into a deeper ongoing conversation about the product. To kick things into high gear, tomorrow 4/8 at 9 a.m. PDT we’re hosting an Ask Me Anything (AMA)  session on Reddit. In your comments on this blog and on Reddit you can ask us anything, of course, but I’ve got a few suggestions. Let’s talk about…

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Engineering for the cloud

Office for iPad is part of the Microsoft vision for a cloud for everyone, on every device, and an integral part of the Office 365 service. From the very beginning, we realized that engineering for the cloud was essential (“Pri 0” in Microsoft-speak). Every architectural choice, every design, and every feature priority was made with cloud connections, sharing, and co-authoring in mind. For example, you can click the share icon in the top right of any Office for iPad app and instantly invite a co-worker to review or edit the document, including co-authoring in Word and PowerPoint.

To get that to work, we tuned the full “Cobalt” file I/O and co-authoring stack, the same one originally designed for Office for Windows, so that it works great with the particular network and memory characteristics of iOS and iPad.

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The way you buy the Office 365 service is inseparable from the service experience itself. We’ve heard a lot of feedback in the app store about unlocking full Office for iPad functionality solely through an Office 365 subscription, and we’ve especially heard feedback about the subscription we offer in the apps. We’re working on responding to that feedback by making it easier to buy Office 365 and by making it more clear what you’re buying. To be clear right now: for $99 per year (in the U.S.), Office 365 Home gets you Office on up to 5 PCs or Macs, plus 5 tablets (including iPad) and extra OneDrive storage. Here’s a pro tip: you don’t have to buy your subscription from within the apps. For the full range of options, including a 30 day trial, the best place to start is http://office365.com.

Optimizing for iPad

In order to earn your time and trust, Office for iPad needs to be a great iPad app, and so we invested a lot of time optimizing these apps for iOS 7 and iPad. Your files auto-save, just like you’d expect on iPad. The Office Ribbon is the Office signature user interface element, and it’s been re-engineered for touch, including pixel-perfect retina display, optimized graphics, and animations that convey meaning.

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We made some bold moves in performance-tuning Office applications for iPad. We changed how Excel draws the contents of spreadsheets, because the old way wasn’t fast enough. We modified Word to render documents on a background thread, because the tried-and-true way didn’t allow the kind of scrolling performance iPad users expect. And there’s my favorite demo: insert a picture in any of the apps, grab the rotation handle, and enjoy the way the OfficeArt graphics engine was re-engineered to take full advantage of hardware acceleration in iOS.  The monitor in the hallway outside my office has each day’s performance measurements on it. We’re still looking at performance every day, and we already have some ideas about how Office on your iPad can get even faster.

Being unmistakably Office

Over a billion people around the world use Office, and until last week none of them outside a small handful of Microsoft employees had used Office for iPad. To get this product right, we needed to make sure that everyone could pick up an iPad and instantly say, “Of course that’s Office.” Fortunately for our small team focused on Office for iPad, we’re standing on the shoulders of giants. We could not have succeeded without the help of dozens of other teams and thousands of engineers across Microsoft.

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Our first job was making sure your Office files show up exactly as you’d expect on an Office app—no compromises. That work alone separates our apps from the competition. But we didn’t stop at file fidelity. I already mentioned the Ribbon, the “Cobalt” file I/O code, and the OfficeArt graphics engine. Each of those, and many more examples, represents Office technology and design thinking that set the standard for the productivity experience. This is the real Office. And Office for iPad is not a “port”: it’s a new engineering approach that gets us ready for the mobile-plus-cloud future.

Building for people on the go

Office for iPad—what should that do? When we started the project this was a completely unanswered question. We had years of collective experience on the desktop Office for Windows and Mac. Should we just replicate that? No. It wouldn’t fit the device. An iPad is not a PC. The technical characteristics are different, people (including us) started using these devices in new ways, and we quickly realized we had to rethink how people would use Office on this new type of device.

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Now that we’ve launched, we no longer have to guess at how people are using Office on iPad. We have data! When you first launch any of the Office apps, please choose Send in the screen that asks “Would you like to send us information to help improve this product?” So far over two-thirds of Word documents have been opened in landscape mode. About half of your Excel workbooks have more than one sheet (be sure to check out the cool animation if you add another sheet). The laser pointer is by far the most popular slideshow tool, and the leading category in the Recent tab in the documents library is (not surprisingly) Today. We’re also tracking the top crashing bugs, the speed of cloud file upload by country, and many other items that will help us tune the product to work best for what you actually do today and for what you want to do next.

In the app store we’ve heard some great feedback already. Many of you are missing printing, Pivot Tables, and movie playback, to name a few. And we’d like to know more—what else would you love to do with Office for iPad?

One more thing…and then another, and another…

For me last week’s launch was the culmination of a long journey that started over 17 years ago when I joined the Office for Mac team (known as MacBU back then). As Steve Jobs famously said, “Real artists ship.” I’m so proud of this team and the product we’ve shipped. I’m lucky to have been able to say that before. In fact I’ve blogged about Office for Mac with the same sentiment.

But this release is not business as usual: Office for iPad is unlike any release in my career and unlike any Office release to date. The difference is that we’re just getting started. Being part of a cloud service drives us to continuous engineering, where updates and improvements just keep coming. We plan to ship again before you know it—in weeks, not years. We’ll be back here blogging about it when we do, listening to your feedback, putting in some more artistry, and then shipping again, and again, and again.

Please help us shape the future of Office for iPad. Say yes when the app asks you to send us information to help improve the product. Please comment on this and future blog posts, and join us on Reddit tomorrow. We’re all so excited to finally be able to share what we’ve been up to, and very much looking forward to the conversation!

– Eric Wilfrid

Join the conversation

5 comments
  1. Hi Eric,

    1st off I’m loving this app and so are my clients. There’s finally the nice and easy answer we have all been waiting for when it comes to Office on iPad!

    A great feature to add would be an easy way to save files to the iPad to work offline. If next to the file name there was a “take offline” option or something? I’ve only managed this with the duplicate option under save, then resave it back to the cloud after….Am I missing a trick??

    Thanks

    • Thanks for the feedback. There is a trick that might help: if you open a file in Office for iPad while connected to the network, then in your recent documents tab you’ll see “Downloaded” with a date/time under that file. If you then go offline (in a plane, for example), as long as your file is downloaded, you can edit your file while offline, and the next time you open that Office app with a connection, your changes will be synced back to the cloud. We’re working on making it even easier to work seamlessly when you’re sometimes not connected, so thanks again for your feedback.

      • Thanks for the reply Eric, that is nice and easy!

  2. What is really missing is support for hyphenation. This might not be an important feature for English texts, but it is definitely for texts in German. As nearly all texts in German use hyphenation the format of texts in Office for iPad is always changed after loading. So this is a huge issue.

    • Thanks for your feedback. We’ll take this into account as we prioritize improvements.

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