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PowerPoint for iPad hero
PowerPoint for iPad is one of the Office apps where Microsoft will now let users create and edit documents for free.

In a significant change for its flagship software applications, and a potentially risky move for its business, Microsoft will let users create and edit documents without a paid subscription in its Word, Excel and PowerPoint apps on iPhone, iPad and Android phones and tablets.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella

The change, announced this morning, makes Microsoft more competitive by eliminating one of the biggest criticisms of the Office apps for iPad — the requirement to pay for an annual Office 365 subscription of $69.99/year or $99.99/year for editing functionality.

Also this morning, the company rolled out the first preview version of its upcoming Office apps for Android tablets, and provided a first glimpse of its new touch-oriented Office apps for the upcoming Windows 10 operating system.

Word for iPhone hero
The updated Word app for iPhone

In addition, the company updated its Office apps for iPhone to adopt the user interface that was first rolled out for iPad.

The moves are part of Microsoft’s broader effort, under new CEO Satya Nadella, to boost the company’s presence across a variety of platforms — even those that compete with the flagship Windows operating system, which along with Office has fueled the company’s growth for decades.

Microsoft will still require an Office 365 subscription for advanced mobile editing such as fine-tuned customization of fonts charts, tables, and pictures in the Office apps, as well as business collaboration features. Office 365 subscriptions also come with large amounts of OneDrive storage. But the change puts a major chunk of Microsoft’s revenue at risk, by delivering free functionality that will be good enough for many users.

The company is betting that the shift will help its business in the long run by significantly increasing its overall base of users — expanding the number of people who use Office on a regular basis and might ultimately consider a subscription for advanced features.

“We’d like to broaden the funnel to include way more customers, as we continue to grow our subscription business,” said John Case, Microsoft Office vice president, in an interview with GeekWire this week at his office on Microsoft’s Redmond campus.

Microsoft Office VP John Case
Microsoft Office VP John Case

Case disclosed that Microsoft has seen 40 million downloads of its Office for iPad apps since their release in March. “But that’s still a fraction of all the customers that have ever bought an iPad,” he said. “I want as many of them as possible to be in an Office environment, whether that’s the free environment or the paid environment.”

So what about people who paid for an Office 365 subscription just to get editing functionality on the iPad? Case said the company’s customer service representatives will work with anyone who wants a refund to make sure they’re treated fairly.

“I don’t think that’s going to be common,” Case said, citing the advanced features of Office, cloud storage, Skype minutes and other aspects of a paid Office 365 subscription. “The hope is that most folks will look at that and say, that whole package is well worth it.”

In another surprise move, Microsoft earlier this week announced a partnership to integrate Office with Dropbox, one of the company’s primary rivals in the market for cloud storage and collaboration.

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