Software // Enterprise Applications
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2/22/2014
09:06 AM
Michael Endler
Michael Endler
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Microsoft Office For iPad: Do It Right

Microsoft can't just force old favorites onto a new user interface. Office apps for iPad must be more touchable.

7 Mistakes Microsoft Made In 2013
7 Mistakes Microsoft Made In 2013
(click image for larger view and slideshow)

Many commentators have debated if, when, and at what cost Microsoft should release Office for Apple's iPad. Though these issues are important, they overlook the most pressing concern: The apps need to be good -- really good.

Office is an excellent and often indispensable product. Many companies will purchase the iPad version, whenever it arrives, simply because of its inevitable manageability and document compatibility benefits. Its likely inclusion in Office 365 subscription plans should only hasten this kind of growth.

But those are IT-oriented appeals. Thanks to BYOD, employee preference matters too; iPads, the most widely-deployed tablets in the enterprise, are nothing if not poster children for workplace consumerization.

[Are you feeling the Windows XP fury? Read Windows XP Shutdown Outage: Users Boo Microsoft Blog.]

Some people prefer to treat iPads like highly portable laptops, using attachable third-party keyboards to type. But many use cases focus on the tablet line's touch UI, intuitive apps, and portability. That's where Office comes in. The software's success owes to its optimization for a desktop UI -- and as PC devotees are wont to point out, iPads don't work like desktops.

As a result, Microsoft can't merely force a mouse-and-keyboard UI onto a tablet form factor. It needs to devise a productive and engaging touch-first Office interaction model.

Microsoft Office needs a better touch-oriented user interface to succeed on tablets.
Microsoft Office needs a better touch-oriented user interface to succeed on tablets.

This urgency has been building for more than a year. In late 2012, Windows 8 was about to be released, and "tablet vs. PC" debates were reaching a fever pitch. During a conference speech that October, Gartner analyst Michael Silver said Office remained the most ubiquitous desktop software in the enterprise but called Microsoft's ability to create mobile versions of its Office suite a "wild card."

"What I want to do on my iPad to an Office doc is different than what I want to do with a mouse and keyboard," he said at the time. "[On the tablet] I want to mark it up, review it -- not write my life story."

He reiterated the point this week in an interview. "To some extent, I need two applications for each [interface] I use," Silver said, "a touch-friendly one, and then a desktop one for more detailed work."

With Office for the iPad, Microsoft "has an opportunity to launch something new and different that could show more innovation," Silver said. But "the trick" will be figuring out which existing features to include, reimagine, or discard.

Microsoft could follow the "less is more" ethos that has helped drive iPad adoption, suggests Forrester analyst David Johnson. "It doesn't need advanced features," he says of an iPad-oriented Office suite. "It needs to be strong in a few areas. What it does, it needs to do great."

Microsoft has ostensibly withheld an iPad-compatible version of Office for two reasons. First, it takes time to create such a product; remember, even Windows 8 doesn't yet offer a truly touch-first Office experience. Second, by making Office exclusive to Windows tablets, Microsoft hoped to catch up in the mobile device arena.

Despite this hope, Windows tablet sales have been modest -- and Apple just posted record iPad revenue. Demand for Office on a tablet (or at least on a tablet without a Live Tile UI) hasn't been as strong as Microsoft seems to have hoped.

Much of this disparity stems from consumer preference for the iOS ecosystem over the comparatively meager selection of touch apps in the Windows Store. But Microsoft might have fared better if some of those touch apps had been

Michael Endler joined InformationWeek as an associate editor in 2012. He previously worked in talent representation in the entertainment industry, as a freelance copywriter and photojournalist, and as a teacher. Michael earned a BA in English from Stanford University in 2005 ... View Full Bio

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jgherbert
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jgherbert,
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2/28/2014 | 11:24:21 PM
Windows 8 All Over Again
I love this comment from the analyst:

 

He reiterated the point this week in an interview. "To some extent, I need two applications for each [interface] I use," Silver said, "a touch-friendly one, and then a desktop one for more detailed work."


 

Doesn't that sound exactly like the problems that Windows 8 has been facing? "One operating system" but with two distinct interface needs.
jgherbert
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jgherbert,
User Rank: Ninja
2/28/2014 | 11:04:21 PM
Re: The biggest hurdle to iPad adoption
I think that the ipad is largely underrated as a creation tool. I know many people who use it to generate content, especially using bluetooth keyboards to go with them to make typing a more reasonable proposition. I'd hazard a guess (with no scientific basis for my claim) that the iPad is probably the tablet with the most creation done on it. Argue away :) 
J_Brandt
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J_Brandt,
User Rank: Ninja
2/27/2014 | 8:10:12 PM
Re: The biggest hurdle to iPad adoption
@ Stratustician, what makes you think MS Office can change the nature of the iPad?  I agree a great version of MS Office would help the iPad be better accepted and useful in the enterprise (without having to fill the gaps with some many third party products), standardized as you say (except that has already happened in many organizations).  You give MS Office way too much credit if you think it can change "iPad from being a consumption device to an actual creation tool."
jagibbons
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jagibbons,
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2/24/2014 | 7:46:59 PM
Re: The biggest hurdle to iPad adoption
I believe Microsoft can do it right with Office. They did a great job with OneNote for the iPad (and Android as well). While it doesn't contain everything that the Office version contains, it contains enough to make using OneNote on the iPad a good experience with notes that flow seamlessly from iOS to Windows. The rest of the suite might be more complicated, but OneNote for iOS tells me it's possible.
Stratustician
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Stratustician,
User Rank: Ninja
2/22/2014 | 2:14:08 PM
The biggest hurdle to iPad adoption
As much as I would have loved to see Microsoft Office remain off the iPad for competitive reasons, the reality is that there are more iPads in organizations than just about any other tablet.  Until now, I would see my colleagues kloogy presentations and documents together based on web-based tools and third party applications, but really it's not where it needs to be for business.  With Microsoft Office for iPad, it could be the final barrier to standardizing iPad as a solid business tablet (Sorry Microsoft), since it would change the iPad from being a consumption device to an actual creation tool.  Great news for productivity and mobile workers, and a great step in the movement towards BYOD/CYOD.  But yes, it has to be done right.
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