WWDC 2017

There's no Office free ride on Apple's new 10.5-in. iPad Pro

For work purposes, apps always require Office 365 subscription, no matter the screen size

apple pencil ipad pro notes

WWDC 2017

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When Apple expanded the iPad Pro's screen from 9.7-in. to 10.5-in., it simultaneously shrunk the pool of those who can run Microsoft's Office apps free of charge.

Like the 12.9-in. iPad Pro introduced in late 2015, the resized iPad Pro gets dumped into the iOS Office apps' pay-to-use bucket.

Microsoft relies on screen size to separate what it considers consumer-grade tablets from those it believes are business-suitable, with the line drawn at 10.1 inches. Owners of iOS devices with screens equal to or smaller than 10.1-in. are allowed to run the Office apps -- Excel, OneNote, Outlook, PowerPoint and Word -- for free as long as the resulting work is for "non-commercial purposes."

In other words, not at work or for work.

Devices with screens 10.1-in. or larger -- like the new 10.5-in. iPad Pro -- can only view and print existing documents unless the user has an Office 365 subscription with "mobile device rights," according to the Word app's license agreement.

To do more than that for a business purpose requires an Office 365 subscription. According to Microsoft's licensing, any use of any feature of any iOS Office app on any device -- whether iPhone, iPad or iPad Pro -- demands a small business- or enterprise-grade plan, like the $12.50-per-user-per-month Office 365 Business Premium or the $20-per-user-per-month Office 365 Enterprise E3.

A consumer-grade Office 365 Personal ($70 annually) or Office 365 Home ($100) subscription is required to legally run an Office app on a 10.5-in. iPad Pro, but -- and here's the catch -- only for non-work purposes.

Want to edit a work-related document in Word on the iPad Pro? A commercial Office 365 subscription is required. Want to view a work-related spreadsheet in Excel on the iPad Pro? Same. Show a PowerPoint slide on the job from the 10.5-in. display? Ditto.

Although these licensing rules have been in place since November 2014, they still manage to confuse both end users -- consumers and business workers alike -- and some IT administrators. In the enterprise, license confusion can be especially harmful, as it becomes an opening for errors, primarily under-licensing, that can cost a company when Microsoft asks for an audit.

They confuse because the "freemium" strategy Microsoft has deployed for Office is vague. Microsoft has repeatedly trumpeted the iOS Office app as "free," implying that that is so for everyone ... when in reality it is true for a subset of customers: Consumers, and then only when they're looking at a screen that's 10.1-in. or smaller.

Conducting business-related work in an Office app always requires that the user be covered by an employer-purchased Office 365 subscription. That's an important point to hammer home to workers and managers at all levels, especially in bring-your-own-device (BYOD) situations or instances where some devices are not managed.

It's possible that employees with a 10.5-in. iPad Pro will erroneously assume -- because of the "free" Microsoft's bandied about -- that they can slide under the radar as they did with their previous 9.7-in. iPad. When that's not possible, they'll likely approach IT and ask why.

Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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