The move is a potentially big deal; Microsoft's refusal to release an iPad-optimized version of Office has drawn ire from a number of analysts and shareholders who feel the company could reap billions with such a release. Microsoft has instead attempted to position Office as one of Windows 8 and Windows RT tablets' differentiating features. With iWork now filling a role that might have been filled by Office, Microsoft's options might be shrinking.
1. Many tablet users are interested in basic productivity. iWork caters to this interest.
PCs remain the preferred option for heavy-duty productivity, with tablets praised more for their content-consumption capabilities. Still, many tablet users want to do more than surf the Web, read email, watch videos and share photos on social media. A recent Forrester study found that almost two-thirds of knowledge workers want to use keyboards with their tablets, for example, which suggests a need for legitimate word-processing and project-creation capabilities. By offering iWork for free, Apple has only made the iPad that much more suitable for such demands.
Granted, Apple has left iPad keyboards mostly to third-party companies such as Logitech. But users haven't seemed deterred. As Forrester analyst David Johnson noted in an interview, "A lot of people are using keyboards on their iPads."
2. iWork could hurt Windows tablet sales.
Given the aforementioned Forrester study, it's curious that keyboard-centric Windows tablets such as the Surface Pro and Surface RT have sold so poorly. Windows 8.1 and Windows RT 8.1 tablet could still help Microsoft turn things around, but analysts expect iPads to hold their ground.
Even before the iWork announcement, experts were confident in the iPad line's continued popularity. In a July study, Gartner analyst Mark Cotner concluded Windows tablets will not displace iPads in the enterprise. He noted that users prefer the iOS experience, that iOS can be more productive in a multi-device workflow than some IT managers realize, and that employees will continue to bring their iPads into the office, even if corporate-owned Windows tablets are deployed.
A recent Forrester survey, meanwhile, found that 44% of enterprise tablet users prefer iOS, compared to only 14% who prefer Windows 8. These results are a dramatic shift from a similar Forrester study conducted with a different group of respondents last year, just before Windows 8 launched. In that report, almost one-third of participants were interested in a Windows tablet, with only 26% opting for iOS.
With iWork added to this strong base, the Pad will only grow more attractive, according to Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi. In an email, she said iWork should further enable iOS devices to integrate into the enterprise and could persuade users that they don't need Office for everyday productivity.
3. iWork pressures Microsoft not only to release Office for the iPad, but also to price it competitively.
According to ZDnet, Microsoft might wait until late 2014 to release Office for the iPad. With iWork now in the equation, such a timeline might not be tenable. Forrester analyst David Johnson said iWork could be a "disruptor" because "with so many iPads out there, and with iWork on each, people are going to get used to it."
Milanesi said iWork should influence not only when Microsoft releases an iPad-optimized Office suite, but also how the products are priced. If the versions of Office for the iPhone and Android-based smartphones are any indication, this pressure could throw a wrench into Microsoft's plans. Users need an Office 365 subscription to use those apps, but due to iWork, the same tactic might not work for an iPad release.