Microsoft unveils new Office for iPad features on Apple's stage

Hell hasn't frozen over – but a Microsoft exec really demoed new Office features

office updates for the ipad 2

Word and PowerPoint running side by side on an iPad

Credit: Microsoft

In a surprise move, Microsoft sent a pair of representatives to Apple's big press event in San Francisco Wednesday morning to demonstrate new features in Office for iOS that are tailored for the new iPad Pro. 

Kirk Koenigsbauer, Microsoft's corporate vice president of Office 365 client applications, came on stage at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium to show new changes to the company's suite of apps for Apple's tablet, including the ability to draw freehand shapes on a Word or PowerPoint document, and then get them translated into shapes like arrows or circles. 

It's designed to take advantage of Apple's new Pencil stylus for the iPad Pro, a $99 accessory the company announced just ahead of Koenigsbauer's appearance on stage. Users can also draw annotations on documents, and have those annotations sync across Office apps on iOS and other platforms. Microsoft didn't say whether those inking features will require the iPad Pro and Pencil, or if they'll also be available to other iPad users. 

In addition, the apps can take advantage of the new iPad multitasking features in iOS 9 to let users copy and paste content across different Office apps running side by side. That means users can take a chart from an Excel spreadsheet that they're looking at on the right-hand side of an iPad Pro or iPad Air 2's screen, and copy it to a Word document that's taking up the left half of the device's screen real estate. 

Having Office on the iPad Pro should help Apple attract the interest of enterprise users who might consider purchasing its new tablet for use in the workplace. Apple is competing against Microsoft in that arena, partnering with IBM and Cisco to turn iPads into compelling business devices. Meanwhile, Dell, HP and others recently agreed to sell Surface Pro tablets as part of their enterprise sales efforts. 

Interestingly, Apple didn't show off its iWork productivity suite, which the company bundles with iOS devices. iWork's Pages, Numbers and Keynote apps compete directly with Word, Excel and PowerPoint, though Apple doesn't spend nearly as much time discussing and promoting them as Microsoft does with its Office suite.

When users search for information using the iPhone and iPad's Intelligent Search feature in iOS 9, it will also pull up notes stored in Microsoft OneNote, and emails from Outlook alongside relevant content from the Web and other sources. 

On top of all of the Office for iPad news, Microsoft also announced new features for two of its Apple Watch apps. Users of the Outlook app for iPhone and Apple Watch will be able to view appointment data as one of the complications on a watch face, and scroll through past and future events by rotating the digital crown.

The Microsoft Translator app can also bring key translated phrases to a user's watch face, and will adjust those phrases to match the location and time of day. That way, it will show how to say "good morning" first thing in the day and "good afternoon" as time moves on.

Koenigsbauer's appearance is another sign of Microsoft's new strategy under CEO Satya Nadella. The company has put significant effort into building apps for platforms it doesn't control, including versions of Office for iOS and Android. Cross-platform use even extends to Microsoft's executives: Koenigsbauer was conspicuously wearing an Apple Watch on stage, rather than one of Microsoft's Bands.

All of the updates the company announced today will be available when iOS 9 and watchOS 2 launch later this month.