Microsoft Apps on the iPad and beyond…

I guess at first it sounds rather odd that the rumor mill is swirling with a pending release of Microsoft Office for the iPad.  I mean honestly for years Microsoft had been hell-bent on creating and owning the tablet market and now it sits at somewhere less than zero in the space.  Now it is reduced to playing Apple (and Google’s) game.  Granted we are being told great things will come with the release of Windows 8 somewhere later in the year, but in the mean time Apple is king and Google’s Android is the only thing making a run at that mountain.  In the meantime more reports are starting to surface that Microsoft Office is on the verge of releasing a version of Microsoft Office for the iPad.  It sounds a bit strange but we could make an argument for history repeating itself or we could see a battle ensuing between the two crown jewels of Microsoft: Windows vs Office.

When Steve Jobs launched the original Macintosh computer back in 1984 it ushered in the era of the graphical user interface (GUI).  He was not the first to do this as it was based on work done at XEROX PARC Labs, but he was the first to bring into to a mass audience.  One person saw the immediate impact and value of what the GUI would bring and set to learn all he could: Bill Gates.  Next his company, Microsoft, would start creating apps for the Mac, such as Word and Excel.  This is all, so far, common knowledge and those in the industry know the rest of the story.  But the question I put forth is “is Microsoft Office taking the same approach to Tablets as Microsoft did with the Mac”?   The reality is by the time Windows 8 ships it is pretty likely Apple will have sold another 25 million iPads.  I would also bet pretty strongly that when Windows 8 ships its initial year, it will not sell anywhere close to 25 million tablets (last quarter Apple sold 15.4 million iPads).  I am sure the Microsoft Office team, under the able leadership of Chris Capposella have had these discussions.  I am also sure that if they know those numbers they are asking,  “Are people buying tablets instead of PC’s and are we in danger of losing market share”?

The second thing, and  I can only speculate here, is that this type of development is not going down well with the Windows 8 team.  A release of Office on a tablet other than Windows, before Windows releases their tablet. There was a time that  Windows and Office seemed to work hand in hand.  Those days are long gone.  With Steve Sinofsky hard at work releasing Windows 8 and launching Microsoft into the tablet space (yet again).  I am sure they would love to launch the first version of Office for the tablet as a competitive edge.  But based on what the rumor mill is saying, it sounds like Office cannot wait for that train, they will be catching an earlier one.  The market will be over 100 million tablets when Windows 8 launches and the reality is the Office team cannot wait for its brother in arms to catch up as the train will have long since left the station.  The good news for Windows is that at least for now it is limited to iOS and there seems to be no plans for Android.  But unless Windows 8 makes substantial headway in a short amount of time, the temptation and reality for the Office team will be too much to ignore.

A final question would be the viability of desktop productivity applications in a Tablet, a device with no mouse and no keyboard.  Would I find myself using Excel to make pivot tables on my tablet?  How about animation slides with PowerPoint?   Probably not.  I would hope that the Office experience would have been rethought with the different type of interaction between human and technology with the tablet.  Technology is in an exciting phase where we are no longer confined to the desktop, but can access technology solutions wherever and whenever we would like.   For a long time Microsoft Office has been trying to be part of that experience.  Pocket Office for Windows Mobile anyone?  They are not wrong to try but maybe the challenge is they are trying to create a mass consumable experience that nobody really wants.  When I am hard at work on an important presentation or financial review , being at a desk in front of my desktop or laptop makes sense.  But when I am out one the town do I need Office with me?  When I am on my tablet am I doing business or browsing the web?  Playing games?   All questions that have answers.

Microsoft Office is the most successful productivity suite in the industries history.  But as technology changes so are people’s needs and understanding of technology.  A lot of the ninety percent market share can be attributed to people buying PC’s that came pre-installed with their purchase.  That did not necessarily mean that people were actively using Microsoft Office.    It reminds me of the days when Windows Mobile launched and there was a lot of bickering between Windows Mobile and MSN.  MSN was on mobile platforms such as Symbian and RIM, where as Microsoft Mobile felt they should be only supporting one; Windows Mobile.  The problem was that if MSN had done that it meant the prime competition at the time, AOL and Yahoo would east up the rest of the market share, which at the time was the other 85 percent of the market.  Moving forward it seems  one of those titanic shifts is taking place in technology that occurs every  five years. It is rethinking the boundaries of how we consume and experience technology.  A final point is any time you ship a device with Office, you add cost.  Yes Microsoft expects money for its service.  In an increasingly cost conscience environment is Office something we need so bad on our tablet?  As part of the Apple App store how many people will actively search for and pay for Microsoft Office?  The question for Microsoft Office, in order to maintain 90 percent market share does Windows have to be content with 50 percent

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann February 27, 2012

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