How the cloud is failing mobile workers

Smartphones and iPads are made for use in the cloud, but the business cloud apps are unusable for mobile workers

Microsoft claims its forthcoming Office 365 cloud-based collaboration and productivity suite is aimed at mobile users, with "access to e-mail, documents, contacts and calendars on nearly any device." Google last week also made noise about updating Google Docs to work with iPhones and Android smartphones. Don't believe either of them -- my testing of both offerings shows they are not usable on iPads, iPhones, Android smartphones, or BlackBerrys.

What doesn't work in Office 365

For Office Web Apps (the cloud version of Office in Office 365), the practical result is that the iPhone's and iPad's mobile Safari browser can only view documents in Office Web Apps. iPhone and iPad users can download documents to the Preview app in iOS, then open them in an editing program like Apple Pages, Quickoffice, or Documents to Go, but they can't upload them back. You'll get the same limited access using Office Web Apps in BlackBerry OS 6 (the new OS that debuted in the BlackBerry Torch) and in Android 2.21; you must download the files to a local app but can't upload them back.

[ Learn how to manage iPhones, Androids, BlackBerrys, and other smartphones in InfoWorld's 20-page Mobile Management Deep Dive PDF special report. | Keep up on key mobile developments and insights with the Mobile Edge blog and Mobilize newsletter. ]

In iOS, for the SharePoint Online part of Office 365, I could view but not edit files. Additionally, I could download Excel files but not Word or PowerPoint documents. On my BlackBerry and Android devices, I kept getting connection errors, using the same credentials as on the desktop and on iOS; as a result, I couldn't work with SharePoint at all. The same thing happened when I tried to access SharePoint from an iOS app, and I've been unable to determine what's amiss.

Before you counter that Office 365 is still in beta, remember that its cloud-based version of Office is the existing Office Web Apps and the cloud-based version of SharePoint is the existing SharePoint Online service. When InfoWorld met with Microsoft on Friday to preview Office 365, it was clear that mobile compatibility hadn't been a consideration outside the iffy Windows Phone 7 platform. Don't count on anything changing on Microsoft's end.

What doesn't work in Google Docs

The updated Google Docs lets you edit raw text in iOS's mobile Safari, Android's mobile Chrome, and the BlackBerry WebKit browser, but with zero formatting control and only one paragraph at a time. Spreadsheet editing remains limited to the horrible per-cell environment that's impossibly difficult to use except for the most basic tables. Presentation editing is not supported at all.

Google has fixed some of the Google Calendar issues in mobile Safari, mobile Chrome, and the BlackBerry WebKit browser, so now you can see your full calendar. The previous version didn't allow scrolling in mobile Safari, forcing you to switch to agenda view to see the whole calendar. But in fixing the scrolling issue, Google Calendar has lost several useful calendar views.

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