Microsoft has updated its Office apps for the iPad and iPhone to support Apple's iCloud storage service, a move reminiscent of last year's decision to support Dropbox.
The changes are part of a larger move by Microsoft to open Office to third-party cloud storage providers, an initiative called the Cloud Storage Partner Program.
Microsoft added support for Apple's iCloud, apparently without Apple's assistance, which wasn't necessary since iOS developers can tie their apps to iCloud.
Excel, PowerPoint and Word -- the three core apps of Office for iPad -- were all updated Tuesday to add support for Apple's cloud-based storage and sync service. iCloud is a rival to Dropbox, and more importantly for Microsoft, the latter's OneDrive.
To retrieve documents from iCloud, users of the apps must tap the "More" button in each app's Open panel.
Microsoft added support for Dropbox last year after the two companies announced a partnership that let users connect to their Dropbox account from the Office mobile apps -- not only those on the iPad but also on the iPhone and Android-based smartphones and tablets -- and also allowed them to open documents directly from the Dropbox app on iOS and Android.
Today's implementation of iCloud support in the iOS Office apps is clumsier than for Dropbox. For example, there is no way to open a document stored on OneDrive then later save it to iCloud, nor was Computerworld able to save newly-created files to iCloud. Excel, PowerPoint and Word also did not offer iCloud as an option in their "Add a Place" pop-up dialogs, as they do Dropbox.
Documents already in iCloud can be opened and edited, then saved with changes back to Apple's service.
That fit with what Microsoft said on its Cloud Storage Partner Program website. There, Microsoft noted that it relied on iOS 8's App Extension API (application programming interface), but added support only for the "Open" functionality.
Other cloud providers will have to work under the same limitation, and will not be able to call on iOS 8's Document Provider API for other features within Office, including document importation, exportation and movement.
"Office for iOS integrates with the open operation," Microsoft said [emphasis added]. "When you create a Document Provider extension, your users can use the Document Picker to open and edit documents directly in Office without creating a duplicate copy of the file."
A second part of the Cloud Storage Partner Program will allow third-party services to integrate with Office Online -- the Web-based versions of Excel, OneNote, PowerPoint and Word -- with their own browser-based apps.
"This is a preview program.... Currently the experience only allows for a single editor at a time," Microsoft said, adding that it intended to work with partners to "extend the scope of Office Online integration to include more robust scenarios around sharing and collaboration over time."
Box, Citrix and Salesforce are working on integrating their cloud services with Office Online. Previously, Dropbox said it would tie its Web-based interface into Office Online in the first half of this year. Dropbox has yet to implement that, however.
Today's iCloud integration will affect only consumers, who can use most but not all Office for iPad and iPhone features free of charge. Business users, who must also be Office 365 subscribers to use the mobile apps for commercial purposes, will likely shy away from iCloud, if only because of its limited 5GB of free storage space. If enterprise customers use any cloud service, they'll turn to OneDrive for Business, the storage service linked to Office 365 that currently has a 1TB cap but will receive unlimited storage space later this year.
Third-party cloud storage support will be added to Office for Windows 10, the touch-enabled apps Microsoft has previewed for its impending operating system upgrade. Also on the blueprint: Similar support for Office for Android.
"In the future, no matter what device, platform or storage provider you're using, your Office documents will only be a tap away," promised Kirk Koenigsbauer, an executive on the Office team, in a blog post.
Koenigsbauer's pledge implied that the desktop versions of Office -- dubbed Office 2016 -- on Windows and OS X will also be able to access third-party storage, including iCloud. Office 2016 will launch in the second half of 2015, probably alongside Windows 10.
Image credit: Flickr/Nils Geylen