If Acer’s $379 Iconia W3 is any indication, small Windows 8 slates will have a tough time competing on price with other cheap tablets. To compensate, Microsoft will include a free copy of Office Home and Student 2013 with “small screen” Windows 8 tablets.
The Acer Iconia W3 is the first tablet to take advantage. Other small slates will likely follow later this year, when Microsoft releases Windows 8.1. Only tablets with screens smaller than 10 inches will qualify for the free version of Office, Engadget notes.
While rumors had once hinted at a version of Office for iOS and Android, Microsoft now seems eager to use its productivity suite as an exclusive hook for Windows 8 and Windows RT. Microsoft’s own comparison of Windows tablets vs. Apple’s iPad touts Office as a key advantage, noting that the “only consumer Office app the iPad can run is OneNote.”
There’s just one problem: Office 2013 isn’t really designed for tablets, let alone tablets with 7- to 8-inch displays, where screen real estate is limited. It only runs within the desktop, which isn’t really optimized for touch, and its smaller buttons are trickier to tap with a finger. (Ars Technica has a helpful post from last year showing exactly where touch becomes troublesome in Office 2013.)
Although Office 2013 includes a “Touch Mode” that spreads out the spacing of buttons, it seems like a stopgap measure while Microsoft reportedly works on a proper modern-style version of its Office suite. At the moment, it’s unclear whether Office will become more tablet-friendly in time for Windows 8.1.
That’s not to say Office 2013 will be of no value to small tablets. Compared to other mobile productivity suites, the full feature set and document compatibility of Office could make the desktop interface worth grappling with. It’s just not going to be a killer app until a true small-screen version comes along.