Microsoft will release the final version of Office for Android tablets, two months after issuing the first semi-public beta builds and just a few weeks after posting previews to the Google Play store. Microsoft says that the final apps should show up in Google Play sometime early this morning.
Unsurprisingly, the final apps don't differ much from the previews or from the iOS versions of the Office apps that launched early last year. We'll point you to those older previews to get an idea of exactly what these new apps have to offer, but the short version is that they're touch-optimized subsets of the flagship Office desktop applications. They don't support every one of Office's features, but they maintain the fidelity of documents you've created in the desktop versions of Office, and they offer most of the features that home users will need to get by.
As long as you have a Microsoft account, most features of the Word, Excel, and PowerPoint apps for Android tablets are free to use. A handful of things are locked behind an Office 365 paywall, but even with a free account you get a level of functionality that's more-or-less equivalent to the Office Web apps that come with a OneDrive subscription. Once you sign in you'll automatically be signed into OneDrive, so you can sync files between devices, but the apps also feature Dropbox integration if that's the file syncing solution you prefer.
The one thing the new Android version of Office lacks is support for phones, which are still stuck with the older, more limited Office Mobile. Improved versions of Office for the iPhone trailed the new iPad versions by a little over seven months, so there's still hope that Office Mobile for Android will be replaced eventually.
For now, the system requirements for the Office apps are the same as they were for the preview: it's optimized for ARM Android tablets between 7 and 10.1 inches in size that run Android 4.4 and include 1GB or more of RAM.
The KitKat requirement, at least, seems like more of a suggestion. Unlike earlier betas, we had no problem installing and running the Office apps on a tablet running Lollipop. Microsoft just wants you to know that the apps aren't yet "optimized" for Lollipop, but that support for Android 5.0 will be improved in a future update. Google's developer dashboard shows that as of January 5 KitKat is running on about 40 percent of active Android devices—it's too bad that the people still running Jelly Bean will be left in the cold, but if your tablet's manufacturer is at least reasonably prompt with updates you should be able to install the apps.
The processor and screen size requirements seem more hard-and-fast. Intel chips are making more frequent appearances in Android tablets these days, but Office won't support them out of the gate. Microsoft told us it was "committed to supporting Android devices with Intel chips via a native implementation that will be available within a quarter."
Android tablets above 10.1 inches in size will require an Office 365 subscription—there aren't a whole lot of these, but Samsung's Galaxy Tab Pro is probably the most common. This restriction is in line with Microsoft's licensing conventions for Windows tablets, which differ in price based mostly on screen size rather than other factors.
The iOS and Android Office apps are both products of Satya Nadella's Microsoft, even though the timing of their release makes it clear that development began under Steve Ballmer. A few years ago, Microsoft's approach to its software was "first-and-best on Windows." Today, iOS and Android users are enjoying native phone and tablet versions of Office, while Windows Phone users make do with a second-rate Office Mobile-esque app, and tablet users need to switch to the desktop and use Office 2013.
It's hard to blame Microsoft here—it's just going where the users are. Making it easier to use Office on any given device gives people fewer reasons to seek out alternatives to Office, which is good for Microsoft in the long term. Microsoft has also shown off universal Office apps for Windows 10 that run on both tablets and phones and strongly resemble the iOS versions of the apps. Relief is on its way. But in the future we hope Microsoft can go where the users are without leaving its biggest fans and early adopters out in the cold for months.