Microsoft’s new Office app hints at the Surface Duo’s potential

This holiday season, Microsoft will release a dual-screen smartphone known as the Surface Duo. As a dual-screen device, you can stack your favorite apps side by side, span apps across the screen for a better view of your work, and generally do more while on the go.

That demands software and hardware work hand-in-hand, however, so the new Office app for iOS and Android is paving the way forward. It’ll make your phone a bit more useful for work — in Office apps, at least.

One hub for all things Office

You can already use the dedicated Word, Excel, and PowerPoint apps on your phone. With the new Office app, however, Microsoft is creating a one-stop hub for all things related to work. Word, Excel, and PowerPoint are all part of the Office app. Yet it’s lightweight, coming in at less than 100MB.

This is part of what Microsoft calls “mobile-first creation and workflow.”  In an interview with Digital Trends, Nithya Sampathkumar, a Principal Group Product Manager at Microsoft, explained what that means.

“The phone is known for [its camera] capabilities, why not put that to use and help in productivity scenarios,” said Sampathkumar. “The microphone and voice are something that people are comfortable using on the phone, so why not use that for content creation?”

As we sat down for a virtual demo, Sampathkumar showed us how. There’s a top hub in the Office app showing recent Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents, as well as documents you’ve collaborated on.  Offline and local documents that were shared through other apps will appear here, too. There’s even integration with the Windows 10 Sticky Notes app.

You’ll have the ability to use Office Lens to scan media and documents, without having to open another app. You can then edit whatever you scanned and turn it into a full-blown PowerPoint, Excel, or Word document.

That’s something Google hasn’t mastered. If you want to edit a Google Doc file, you’ll need to download a separate app for it. Want to edit the Google Sheets document too? You’ll need a separate app. Microsoft hopes to make mobile use less confusing by combining all these features into the new Office app.

Your phone and your PC get cozy

The Office app goes beyond Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. It has extra features that would otherwise be hard for users to find at a glance.  This includes signing PDFs, scanning QR codes, and transferring media or office files between devices.

“What we’ve done with this app, is we’ve looked through our own ecosystem and looked at what are all the content capabilities that make mobile productivity shine and brought them together,” said Sampathkumar. “Of course, there’s Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, and Office Lens all integrated into a single app for you.”

We experienced this in a live demo. Sampathkumar clicked the “Actions” areas of the app and showed how she could use her phone as a mobile content creation hub. She was able to take images saved from her phone and turn them into a PowerPoint. She also used the camera to snap a photo of a document, then converted it into a Word document.

We were shown how you could use the Office App to transfer files between a phone and computer, or even share a file to a nearby phone. There’s no need to email yourself or a colleague an important file. You can tap to send a file over, or visit transfer.office.com to move files between your phone and computer by scanning a QR code.

All this is available today, and Microsoft says more will come soon. We saw a preview of several features including Word Dictation, Excel Cards View, and Outline to PowerPoint.

Sampathkumar pulled up a Word document from within the app and started her dictation. Word was able to pick up and transcribe her exact words. She then pulled up an Excel Spreadsheet and turned a complex looking set of data into simple cards. Then, in PowerPoint, Sampathkumar created a list of quick points, which the Office app turned into a PowerPoint presentation.

Sampathkumar tells Digital Trends that Microsoft is planning new Action features, like the ability to transcribe or translate documents. It will even let administrators build and deploy specific actions to the “Action” section of the Office app.

The new Office app is available now

The Office app is available worldwide on Android and iOS. It is also available for download on Android tablets with limited support. The Office app for Android tablets offers a fully optimized tablet experience when working with Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents. Support for iPads is also coming, but the release is TBD. In a statement, Microsoft said it was committed to bringing a fully optimized tablet experience on Android as well as iOS soon.

The Office app is free to download and use, even without an Office 365 account. Signing in with a Microsoft Account, however, is recommended, as it will unlock various premium features, consistent with those in the current Word, Excel, and PowerPoint apps.