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10/9/2013
11:43 AM
Michael Endler
Michael Endler
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Microsoft Office For iPad Faces Many Challenges

Microsoft can still win with an iPad version of Office, but only if the touch interface is exceptional.

Google Apps To Microsoft Office 365: 10 Lessons
Google Apps To Microsoft Office 365: 10 Lessons
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
Retiring Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer confirmed this week during a talk at the Gartner Symposium that a native version of Microsoft Office is coming to the iPad. There's a legitimate argument that Microsoft has hurt itself by waiting this long. But with Ballmer promising a revamped, touch-oriented UI rather than the sort of simple port found in Windows RT, Microsoft could still win big with Office on the iPad -- as long as the new interface is exceptional.

In an email interview earlier this month, Forrester analyst David Johnson summarized the challenge Microsoft faces in arriving so late to the game: "Microsoft's strategy of not delivering a useful Office product on iOS, ostensibly to preserve the Windows franchise (but also probably because it's a significant engineering effort) is limiting the freedom of consumers to choose the devices and operating systems that they want."

Johnson added that because natively using Office on a tablet demands embracing Windows 8 or Windows RT, many are simply exploring Office alternatives.

These alternatives pose a limited but significant threat. Office will remain the enterprise productivity standard for the foreseeable future, so a large user base is sure to greet an iPad-optimized version, whenever it arrives. But consumer adoption, and thus BYOD implications, could be another story.

[ What's in store for iOS and Android fans of Office? Read Microsoft's Office For iOS, Android Dilemma. ]

Apple is now offering free downloads of its iWork suite with the purchase of new iOS devices, for example, a move that is surely increasing the Office competitor's market share by leaps and bounds. Analysts told InformationWeek last month that although iWork isn't an Office-killer, it could still disrupt Microsoft's monopoly; documents might originate in the workplace via Word or Excel, but as soon as an employee wants to peruse or modify those documents at home, they could easily end up in iWork.

Make no mistake, Microsoft still stands to earn billions from the eventual release. But by waiting, it also might have left billions on the table. If the company had already released an iPad-optimized version of Office, its market position would likely be unassailable across all platforms, from mobile to desktop to the cloud. Revenue from mobile-friendly Office 365, already increasing at an impressive clip, might also be higher, which could in turn feed Windows Azure and other emerging profit streams. Microsoft might have been forgiven for leaving these opportunities untapped had its Office strategy motivated sales of Windows tablets -- but that hasn't yet been the case.

The alpha variable is how good Office on the iPad will be. As Johnson noted, creating a touch-oriented Office UI is a significant engineering challenge. Ballmer lightly alluded to as much at Gartner's event.

For all the radical interface changes in Windows 8, much of Microsoft's sales pitch has involved treating tablets more like laptops, rather than -- like Apple -- treating them as a distinct tool. Excluding the obvious difference in screen size, using Office on a Surface tablet is basically the same as using it on a desktop. Microsoft should be farther into the process than it is, but it's still encouraging to hear Ballmer emphasize the importance of creating a new interaction model.

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Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
10/9/2013 | 4:39:49 PM
re: Microsoft Office For iPad Faces Many Challenges
If IT wants to enable Office on an iOS device, why wouldn't they use Office 365? What's the benefit of the app?
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
10/9/2013 | 5:03:29 PM
re: Microsoft Office For iPad Faces Many Challenges
If IT wants to enable Office on an iOS device right now, it can only do so natively on the iPhone, and that requires Office 365. You can use the app on an iPad, but that involves upsizing the iPhone-sized screen, which degrades image quality, or using only a tiny portion of the iPad screen, which isn't useful. The native iPad app will be beneficial to both IT and consumers in that it overcomes these problems without forcing people to use Microsoft's web apps, which are mostly fine but won't replace a native offering for a lot of users.

The app will no doubt still be included in Office 365 packages, and that alone might be good enough for some companies. But unless it's a great version of Office, consumers aren't going to be interested. Even if it is great, consumers might not be swayed if they have to sign up for a full 365 subscription. That's why I think Microsoft needs to not only have a realistic pricing model independent of Office 365 but also a UI that blows away free competitors. iPad users who want to use productivity software on their tablets are already getting used to Office alternatives; by the time Office for iPad rolls around, Apple will probably have had nearly a year to condition users toward iWork. Once people get used to something for free, they need a reason to start paying for something similar.
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
10/10/2013 | 12:43:40 AM
re: Microsoft Office For iPad Faces Many Challenges
I still can bring myself to write anything on an iPad. The keyboard and trackpad of a laptop just works better for text entry.
normcf
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normcf,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/10/2013 | 1:18:00 AM
re: Microsoft Office For iPad Faces Many Challenges
microsoft's Office apps not only need to be much better than all the free apps are now, but need to be much better than what the free apps will be when it comes out. It might be another year from now and Apple and Google aren't going to be sitting still. Every minute microsoft waits more consumers buy non-microsoft devices and learn that their limited needs are perfectly satisfied without Office. Getting them to switch back will be nigh on impossible.

Enterprise will be much slower to change, but BYOD makes it harder and harder for CIOs to force Office only on their workers. Already, employees are experimenting on their own with using non-Office software regardless of corporate policies. They're solving compatibility issues and finding workarounds, or just making their documents simpler. microsoft needs to hurry.
Greg MacSweeney
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Greg MacSweeney,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/10/2013 | 10:07:59 AM
re: Microsoft Office For iPad Faces Many Challenges
Microsoft's delay of getting an iPad version of Office out to market definitely has hurt. Users have turned to Google Drive and a number of other alternatives since they couldn't get MS Office. Now the question is: will users come back to MS Office and decouple workflows from the alternative solutions? Some will, some won't, I imagine.
Shane M. O'Neill
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Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
10/10/2013 | 2:31:16 PM
re: Microsoft Office For iPad Faces Many Challenges
Native Office on iPads is only a nice-to-have for consumers, but could be a game-changer on all iOS and Android tablets in the workplace if the UI is better than free alternatives and it truly makes Office apps tablet-friendly (no small feat). But looking at the big picture, it's a shame that Microsoft has been reduced to trying to be a mobile player through a productivity suite that was designed for desktops. Obviously, the way to the mobile A-list is through a killer OS, app ecosystem, modern hardware and great marketing, all of which Microsoft tried to do but the execution and the timing were off by about 100 miles. Now the company is really in a pickle.
rradina
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rradina,
User Rank: Ninja
10/10/2013 | 9:21:21 PM
re: Microsoft Office For iPad Faces Many Challenges
QUESTIONS

Will iPad Office and WinTablet Office look, feel and function the same or will Microsoft offer a crippled iPad version in an attempt to convert folks back to Windows?

Will they allow the iOS Office team to create a genuine native app that equals the WinTablet version or will it be a curmudgeon because of run-time translated Metro<->iOS API calls? (I have always assumed Apple did this with Windows iTunes? The app is bad on both platforms but nothing about it feels like a native Windows app. It feels like it's a Mac app that's been coaxed to run on Windows with a compatibility layer).
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
10/10/2013 | 10:01:57 PM
re: Microsoft Office For iPad Faces Many Challenges
It's a good question. But if Microsoft has already lost some of its ability to capitalize on the iPad's popularity, I think a crippled iOS app would get rid of a lot of what's left.
melgross
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melgross,
User Rank: Ninja
10/11/2013 | 2:07:42 PM
re: Microsoft Office For iPad Faces Many Challenges
Tim cook has already stated, and it's been said in articles elsewhere, the iWork is already the most popular suite for mobile, and the most popular Apple being bought by mobile business users, as well as consistently being at the top of Apple's App Store sales charts.

I know more than a de people in business who generat documents with iWork on an iPad.do they generat long documents? No. But as most business documents are short,I bork does just fine there. Keynote has been acknowledged as being the best present ion program around, and it works very well on the iPad.

The question for Microsoft is whether it is already too late for much market penetration. And they are currently saying that it will,arrive after the mid year introduction of the Windows versionGă÷by the end of 2014. That's a good year from now.

Meanwhile, in June, Apple announced that this fall iWork would see a major upgrade. And hen they will have the cloud version out. By the time Microsoft's app arrives, assuming it bill be on time, and with Microsoft, that s a 50/50 chance, Apple may have upgraded again.

And then we have that pricing issue. If tablets continue to generate more business documents, including spreadsheets without Office, then Microsoft may need to price it where it severely undercuts the desktop version, and how will that sit with their desktop users? Apple doesn't care as iWork has always just been there to sell the hardware. They are now taking a page out of Microsoft's book, which is to give away software that is critical to a major competitor. As the OS saying goes, "80% of Office users use 20% of the features, Microsoft might find itself overqualified at a high price.

If they give the software away for little, or for free, their pricing model ends up in tatters. I've always said the Windows is a leading indicator of what happens at Microsoft. As Windows sales continue to decline, Office sales will follow. As full priced office sales decline, and if Microsoft can't make up for it in mobile pricing and sales, their entire empire will begin to shrink.

It could very well be that Microsoft's window of opportunity is almost closed.
rradina
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rradina,
User Rank: Ninja
10/12/2013 | 3:23:27 PM
re: Microsoft Office For iPad Faces Many Challenges
Crippled was a poor choice of words on my part. I was trying to convey a state where iPad Office lacks features that Surface Office has either because of genuine Windows advantage or at least something Microsoft's marketing perspective fabricates.

For instance, if folks truly want iPad Office, they might want to do more printing. Unless there's an iOS-compatible printing infrastructure, it's going to be easier to achieve that on Windows Office. Likewise, any organization with a heavy investment in SharePoint may find iPad Office not as capable as Windows Office. Embedding things between Office apps may be a no show on iPad Office whereas that will be a given on Windows Office. Finally, Windows Office will offer an AD security context that's likely impossible with iPad Office. Combined with SharePoint challenges, that might the collaboration folks expect from desktop Windows Office a no show on iPad Office.
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