Office for iOS update adds new document collaboration tools

Word, PowerPoint and Excel for Apple mobile devices also get better Outlook integration.

PowerPoint for iPad

Microsoft’s Office suite for iOS picked up a host of new updates Thursday morning, including a few features designed to help people better share and collaborate on documents.

Word, Excel and PowerPoint for iPhone and iPad are now better integrated with Outlook for iOS. Users can now easily attach a document they’re working on inside one of those apps to an email message in Outlook, and directly edit documents attached to or linked from a message in Microsoft’s email app. The deeper integration is a good sign for the future of the company’s mobile email program, which came to Microsoft with its acquisition of Acompli last year.

In addition, users of the three updated apps will also be able to invite other people to view or edit a document and grant them permissions to do so within the app. That comes as Microsoft is placing an increased focus on document-sharing and collaboration in its next major update to the desktop version of Office, which includes support for real-time editing by multiple users.

The update also adds support for bi-directional text editing and complex scripts for Arabic, Hebrew and Thai. It’s a feature that will appeal to Microsoft’s users who have to write in those languages, and also meshes well with language changes that Apple is rolling out with the next version of iOS that cause text and interface elements to reflow if someone is using a right-to-left language.

Thursday’s changes also included previously announced support for viewing documents that were protected with Azure Rights Management. That feature lets users of Apple’s mobile devices look over documents that have been encrypted to prevent access except by a limited number of people. In the future, the apps will allow users to edit documents managed that way, assuming they have permission to do so.

Overall, the updates are another sign that Microsoft is forging ahead with its strategy of providing access to its services across a variety of devices—even those from a platform it doesn’t control.

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