Microsoft's unified Office Mobile app: What it is and why it matters

MIcrosoft's unified Office Mobile app, codenamed 'Unity,' could be coming to more Android phones and iOS phones soon. But what will happen on Windows?
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Now that Microsoft is poised to become an Android phone maker, it's a good time to look at what's happening with Office on Android. While Microsoft has developed versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook and more productivity apps for Android and made them available in the Google Play Store, sometimes these apps can be overkill in terms of features and size.

Just ask Samsung. When Microsoft announced its expanded partnership with Samsung this past summer, the pair said they'd be offering various Microsoft apps and services preloaded on the Samsung Galaxy Note 10. Only those who asked (or read the fine print) may have realized that Samsung isn't preloading the existing (and oft-downloaded) Android versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint on these devices. Instead, Samsung is preloading something called "Microsoft Office Mobile."

Microsoft Office Mobile is a single app that Galaxy users can download from Samsung's store or access as a preloaded app on select Samsung devices. (Right now, it is not available for other Android devices from the Google Play Store.) This Office for Android app lets users view documents and edit Word, Excel and PowerPoint files.

Here's the Office Mobile app description from the Galaxy Store:

"The trusted Microsoft Office apps that let you create, edit, view and share files are now available for download as a single convenient app. Office Mobile includes the complete Word, PowerPoint, and Excel apps to offer a convenient office experience on the go. "

Using "the Office Mobile app, work with your Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files anytime, from anywhere. The convenient Office Mobile app keeps your recent work at your fingertips. Familiar and powerful editing, formatting and management tools make it easy to work on files as you would on your desktop. Create and share professional documents and presentations with charts, animations, and SmartArt graphics, the store description adds.

To get more advanced features, users can buy Office 365 subscriptions to get the fully-featured, separate Office apps for their Android devices, the app description notes.

This unified Office Mobile app, my contacts say, is codenamed "Unity." It was designed by a Microsoft team in India, I'm hearing. It's designed to be much smaller and more nimble than the individual Word, Excel and PowerPoint apps for Android which Microsoft offers in the Google Play Store.

I've heard an Apple-specific Office Mobile app will be coming to iOS devices, as well. And my bet is this new Office Mobile app will be what Microsoft preloads on the Android-based Surface Duo when it's available next holiday season.

Will Microsoft offer a unified Microsoft Office Mobile app for Windows, too, at some point? I'm not sure.

Microsoft officials acknowledged the existing Office Mobile apps for Windows are no longer being developed actively. At Ignite 2018, Microsoft officials said its mobile/touch-first/UWP Office Mobile for Windows apps would not be deprecated. But Microsoft's priority in the mobile space, going forward, would be their Office apps for iOS and Android, officials stated. On Windows, Microsoft execs said the priority would be Win 32 apps and the web versions of its Office apps.

Microsoft alternatively could opt to turn its existing web versions of its Office apps (the things formerly known as Word Online, Excel Online, PowerPoint Online, etc.) into progressive web apps (PWAs), as Thurrott.com's Paul Thurrott suggested a couple years ago. So far, that hasn't happened. But Microsoft did announce earlier this year that it was pulling the "Online" part of the name of these web apps and referring to them simply as Office, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc. even though they are web apps.

Currently, Microsoft does not offer a single unified Office app for Windows 10 devices. It did launch something in late 2018 that's somewhat comparable called the "Office app for Windows 10." This free app is a replacement for the Microsoft My Office app. It offers a landing-page-like experience designed to help users find the downloadable local Office apps, as well as their own files wherever they've stored them.
I'm betting we will hear more about Microsoft's unified Office Mobile app strategy in early November at Ignite. For now, Microsoft officials are not commenting about what's next in this space.

Editorial standards