Touch Bar support for Microsoft Office was announced last fall at Apple’s MacBook Pro event and on Microsoft’s blog. Those features are beginning to appear in some of the apps in Microsoft’s Office suite through Office Insider, a public beta program that anyone can join. Touch Bar support is currently available in Word, Excel, and Powerpoint, and is expected to be added to Outlook and Skype later. Although the features are currently only available through the Office Insider program, they should be available to other users later this year. I updated to the latest Office beta and tried its new Touch Bar features.
In Word, Touch Bar support includes formatting, style application, and table editing buttons. A 'Focus Mode' has also been added to Word that eliminates all menus, controls and status bars from the app, leaving nothing but the document you are drafting on a black background. Focus Mode highlights one of the best use cases for the Touch Bar. By moving commonly-used controls onto the Touch Bar you get the best of both worlds: an uncluttered minimal writing environment in an app historically known for just the opposite, but with commonly used formatting tools close at hand.
Excel includes formatting buttons similar to Word but adds styling options specific to spreadsheets and quick access to common chart types. The style buttons are particularly nice because the Touch Bar's OLED display allows the buttons to provide a full-color preview of the formatting that they apply. Excel also shows equation search results in on the Touch Bar as you begin typing one into a cell.
PowerPoint users get a series of mini slide images in the Touch Bar in presentation mode that make it easy to jump to a specific part of a presentation. PowerPoint also includes buttons for adding slides, tables, and shapes. Word, Excel, and Powerpoint have a button that lets you access recent documents from the Touch Bar too.
The Touch Bar is a natural fit for the feature-rich apps in Microsoft’s Office Suite. It feels like there is even more that Microsoft can do with it in each app, but it’s still early in the testing phase, so I wouldn’t be surprised if more Touch Bar functions are added in the coming weeks. If you are interested in testing Office's Touch Bar support, you can sign up for the Office Insider program here.
Microsoft has added a new group scheduling tool for Office 365 subscribers and users of the latest version of Exchange. Microsoft's Outlook blog explains how it works:
Once you’ve created an event from your calendar and added your coworkers to the People field, tap the date picker. Times that work for everyone show in white, yellow indicates availability for one or more people in the group, and red indicates times with no availability. Next, tap the time picker and just drag and drop until it turns green—indicating everyone is available at that time.
After you have found a time that works for everyone and fill out any additional information about your event tapping the checkmark sends an invitation to each invitee and saves the event to your calendar.
Tom Warren, writing for The Verge:
Microsoft was quick to optimize its Office suite of apps for the iPad Pro and Apple's Pencil stylus, but the company held off on any inking support in Office for iPhone. Starting today, Microsoft is updating Word, Excel, and PowerPoint for iPhone to include a new drawing tab option. Just like the Windows and iPad variants, Office on iPhone will now let you use your finger to write, draw, and highlight documents.
Another great update for Word, Excel and PowerPoint on iOS.
Because space is limited on an iPhone screen, these drawing features are a little hidden. So in order to access these drawing features on the iPhone you'll need to tap the icon on the top navigational bar that looks like an A with a pencil cutting through it. That will trigger a pop-up on the bottom half of the screen. From there, on the top-left of the pop-up should be a drop-down menu, tap that and choose "Draw".
Back in April, Microsoft jumped into web service automation with the introduction of Flow, a business-oriented, Zapier and IFTTT-like service for creating workflows that connects disparate web services like Dropbox, Google Drive, Slack, Mailchimp, GitHub, Twitter, SharePoint, and Salesforce. Yesterday, Microsoft released an iOS app called Microsoft Flow that, according to the Microsoft blog, allows users to ‘manage, track, and explore your automated workflows anytime and anywhere.’
I have spent a little time with the Microsoft Flow app and it works as advertised, but is limited. Unlike IFTTT's iOS app, Flow does not let you create workflows, though Microsoft says that feature is will be added in the coming months. In addition, the complex workflows that are possible in Zapier are not possible with Flow. For now, Flow is limited to doing things like turning workflows on and off, reviewing history reports of workflows that have run, receiving workflow push notifications, and evaluating error messages for workflows that fail.
Flow has a long way to go before it approaches the power of Zapier or its app has the depth of IFTTT's, but it’s good to see Microsoft bring Flow to mobile devices and remains a service worth watching.
Microsoft Flow is available on the App Store as a free download.
Microsoft has entered the web automation space with Flow, a new service currently in public preview that aims to connect multiple web apps together. Microsoft describes Flow as a way to "create automated workflows between your favorite apps and services to get notifications, synchronize files, collect data, and more".
From the Microsoft blog:
Microsoft Flow makes it easy to mash-up two or more different services. Today, Microsoft Flow is publicly available as a preview, at no cost. We have connections to 35+ different services, including both Microsoft services like OneDrive and SharePoint, and public software services like Slack, Twitter and Salesforce.com, with more being added every week.
I took Flow for a quick spin today, and it looks, for now, like a less powerful, less intuitive Zapier targeted at business users. You can create multi-step flows with more than two apps, but Flow lacks the rich editor of Zapier; in my tests, the web interface crashed often on the iPad (I guess that's why they call it a preview); and, in general, 35 supported services pales in comparison to the hundreds of options offered by Zapier.
Still, it's good to see Microsoft joining this area and it makes sense for the new, cloud-oriented Microsoft to offer this kind of solution. Flow doesn't have the consumer features of IFTTT (such as support for home automation devices and iOS apps) or the power of Zapier (which I like and use every day), but I'll keep an eye on it.
Microsoft is on a roll with iOS keyboards. Just over two weeks ago, Microsoft’s Garage project released Hub, which has tight integrations with Office 365. Today, Microsoft Garage released another keyboard called Word Flow, which is based on the Windows Phone keyboard from Windows Phone 8.1. According to The Verge, Microsoft had promised a public beta period for Word Flow, but skipped that step.
There are multiple options for interacting with Word Flow. Once installed, you can use it in one-handed mode where the keyboard can be displayed in an arc on the left or right side of the keyboard area. Alternatively, you can use a traditional keyboard layout.
In either case, Word Flow accepts both swiping and tapping input and has a strong predictive algorithm that anticipates the words you intend to type. In my limited tests, the one-handed mode was helpful for typing on my iPhone 6s Plus one handed and the predictive input was solid, though it didn’t seem to recognize its own name, failing to capitalize ‘flow’ in the screenshots above. Of course, for the predictive feature to work, you need to grant Word Flow full access to your keyboard input, which not everyone will be comfortable doing.
Word Flow also lets you set backgrounds behind your keyboard, including ones that are built into the app or your own photos. Personally, I think the backgrounds are ugly and distracting, but fortunately you can use Word Flow without a background.
Microsoft Word Flow is available on the App Store for free.
Update: Microsoft Word Flow is a US English keyboard and is only available in the US App Store.
Microsoft has been on a roll on iOS lately. In addition to the news from the Outlook team that Sunrise integrations are coming back as Calendar Apps for Outlook on iOS, Microsoft Garage, its experimental apps project, launched an iOS keyboard called Hub.
Hub, which has a nice clean design, is tightly integrated with Microsoft Office 365. Hub has an extra row at the top of the keyboard that lets you paste from a clipboard history, your contacts, or your OneDrive and Sharepoint documents. Hub, which is a free download on the App Store, can also help you translate what you type into other languages.
Since Microsoft acquired Sunrise last year and began the process of integrating it with Outlook, I've been wondering when they'd bring back the popular third-party integrations of Sunrise. That became clear today with the launch of three Calendar Apps for Outlook on iOS – Wunderlist (obviously), Facebook, and Evernote.
Here's the Outlook team, writing on the company blog:
This is why we are launching Calendar Apps for Outlook on iOS and Android. With Calendar Apps, you can connect your apps—Wunderlist, Facebook and Evernote to start with—to see all your tasks, events and notes from your digital life in one place: your Outlook calendar. By connecting your calendar with a wide range of services, Outlook will be able to provide you with a far better view of your day, week and months ahead.
Those of you who use and love Sunrise will be familiar with this capability. Since the Sunrise team joined Outlook, we’ve been hard at work bringing all the goodness and extra features from their app directly into our calendar to give you a single, powerful app for managing your personal and professional life. Calendar Apps, along with a two-week mini-calendar, three-day view and iOS calendar widget, have already made it to Outlook, with Connected Calendars up next.
Smart move, and something I don't see Apple doing either. I hope they'll open up the platform to more services soon.
James Vincent, writing for The Verge:
Apple wants the iPad Pro to replace Windows, and to convince customers it's bringing in a familiar face or two: Microsoft's Office Suite. As part of the ordering process for the new iPad Pro, buyers are given the option of adding a subscription for Office 365 — the only non-Apple accessory to appear in the order form. Office 365 bundles in the mobile apps and full Mac versions of a number of old standbys, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. (You can also choose between the Home, Personal, and University tiers, each of which offers different features.)
The Microsoft Office apps for iOS are easily some of the best apps available, particularly for the iPad. Whilst they aren't yet at feature parity with their Windows and Mac counterparts, they are remarkably close in many respects. I've been using the Word, OneNote and Excel iPad apps extensively in the recent weeks, and I have been really happy with how they work.
It is worth noting that Microsoft Office is actually free to use on the 9.7" iPad Pro, but requires an Office 365 subscription if you want to edit documents on the 12.9" iPad Pro. This disparity is because of Microsoft's rather odd policy in which Office is free to use on any device with a display smaller than 10.1" - but for devices with a larger screen, an Office 365 subscription is required.