Yesterday there was been a lot of discussions around Microsoft reportedly building iPad versions of their Office suite of apps: Word, Excel and PowerPoint. The discussions stem from an article in The Daily that reports that the iPad apps are coming along with an update to the Office for Mac suite to better support OS X Lion. If the rumors are true, I can only say that it is about time.
There are plenty of reasons for Microsoft to make the Office for iPad apps without admitting defeat, sacrificing their own table ambitions with the upcoming Windows 8 release and meeting the needs of likely millions of iPad owners. And while pundits will suggest that these needs are covered with the iWorks suite from Apple, the install base for the Cupertino suite is only a fraction of that of Microsoft Office. The opportunity is ripe for Microsoft and it is time to make the move.
Building iPad apps admits defeat by Microsoft
One of the points that has been brought up by many scoffing the idea of Office apps for iPad have said that doing so would essentially be an admission of defeat by Microsoft in the tablet market. I couldn’t disagree with this more. First, let’s make one thing clear: There is no tablet market. There is an iPad market but there is not a table market. Ask HP. Ask Dell. Ask even HTC. The only one that seems to have a shot at making any sort of dent in the Apple stronghold on this market is Amazon with the Fire. But fundamentally they are different devices for different needs. The Amazon Fire is truly a consumption device while the iPad is a consumption and creation device.
The number of iPads entering the enterprise is staggering. Just a year ago as I walked around my corporate offices you saw an iPad here or there but nothing significant. In a meeting today there were 8 of us and 7 of us had iPads in the meeting. As I go around and look at people’s desks, there are iPads on nearly every one of them. All of these are individually purchased – my company doesn’t pay for them – yet we all bring them to work. But we are also an Office suite centric business. Regardless of if we are on a Mac or a PC, we all use Microsoft Office. That means that the 7 of us who had our iPads in this meeting today all went back to our desk, sync’d up Evernote (which all of us happened to be using), then copied our notes into Word so we could distribute them to our teams. It was an extra step that is unnecessary and I dare say that my company is not unique in this phenomenal influx of iPads into the work place.
Having Office for iPad would be an almost instant hit for anyone who uses Office at home or at work. It would save steps in getting content created and distributed and would allow for another platform for content to be edited while on-the-go. It is everything the iWorks suite wants to offer but can’t due to a smaller install base. But doing these apps is not an admission of defeat by Microsoft. It is being opportunistic. It is looking at the market as it is today and taking advantage of it today. Tomorrow, with Windows 8 on the horizon, the story could change but even then it would not be an admission of defeat.
Building these apps would sacrifice Microsoft’s Windows 8 Tablet Plans
Logically this makes no sense. How can releasing apps on a competitor platform effectively kill a product that has yet to hit the market? I have little doubt that Microsoft will produce a good platform for tablets in Windows 8 given that it has the Metro UI that is currently available in Windows Phone (which if you have not looked at you need to do. I personally feel it a much better UI than that of iOS). That UI was built for tablets and will make Microsoft a serious contender. Microsoft has made it clear they are going to get into the tablet market and frankly, building the Office apps for iPad would give them an advantage. They could build the apps, learn what they need to improve and make those improvements in the apps for their own tablet. For them, it is a win-win.
For Office on iPad to be successful Microsoft must to it right
If Microsoft is indeed planning on building the Office suite for iPad then they have to do it right the first time. They cannot afford to make these apps simply “readers”. They need to be full fledged Office apps with the ability to view and edit content with as much similarity to the desktop versions as possible. This is where I think Apple has done it right with the iWorks apps for iPad. Keynote for iPad for example is extremely powerful with almost all of the tools that I have in Keynote on my Mac. Microsoft needs to do this exact same thing. But they also need to go further. They need to make sure the ability to get information to and from the cloud via DropBox, SkyDrive, SharePoint and even iCloud is built in and available. If they make this an iTunes-only sync then they have missed the point.
As a Mac owner I have had to suffer through the failing of Outlook in Office for Mac 2011. It is so bad that frankly I don’t use it. I continue to use iCal and Mail for my calendar and email needs. For all the things Microsoft did right in the other Office for Mac apps, Outlook is the glaring example of not getting it right. They cannot afford this on Office for iPad.
The reasons Microsoft should get the Office for iPad apps out and available are clearly visible. Yes there is risk for Microsoft but some of that risk they can control. They need to make sure the apps work great from launch and learn on what improvements they need to make for their own versions in the upcoming Windows 8 tablets. They can almost immediately expect to gain revenue from the exploding iPad market and the opportunity is there for the taking. I for one cannot wait for the day that these apps show up in the iTunes App Store. It will save me and millions of other Office users time and effort in getting content from their iPad to their desktops.
Build them Microsoft. Build them now.