A lynchpin of Microsoft’s software reputation and notoriety, Microsoft Office, is set to come to Apple’s iPad platform today, with new CEO Satya Nadella unveiling the long-awaited product at a special launch event held in San Francisco.
The Office app, which could be based around the subscription model of Office 365, will allow iPad users to edit, create, and collaborate on Office Word, Excel, and Powerpoint documents, and is one of the first shows of bravado in Nadella’s ‘mobile first, cloud first’ strategy route that he is taking Microsoft down.
The move is heralded as an invigorating sign of a fresh Microsoft, willing to get down with co-opetition and succumb to Apple’s tablet dominance, for its own business software strategy.
However, to many users of iPads and critics of Microsoft, the move to capitalise on Apple’s lucrative platform comes too late. Microsoft dragged its feet over its own tablet devices for too long, giving Apple (and Android) the upper hand. In the years since the iPad’s release, many productivity competitors have arrived to the platform, from which it will now be very hard to pry away users. Apps like Quip, Smartsheet, Evernote, and even Apple’s own iWork suite, have more than done enough to pacify the needs of business and consumer productivity suite users, so much so that some of them admit they’d never use Office again.
Microsoft and Apple have a surprisingly long history of ‘working together’, dating right back to the ’80s. In recent years, collaboration has been usually aimed at competing with Google. Remember when Microsoft invested $150m into Apple in 1997, which resulted in the development of Office for Mac in the first place? Or just a few years ago in 2011, when Microsoft first rolled out OneNote and SkyDrive for iPad? With hindsight, it’s clear to see now that Microsoft was banking on its own tablets performing much better than they currently are.
It saw the availability of Microsoft Office for the Surface tablets as enough of a pull in itself, but with poor touchscreen functionality, and then clumsiness and user frustration of Windows 8, the Surface range of tablets have just not done enough for Microsoft.
The release of Office for iPad is the first hurdle, it would seem, in Microsoft’s new mobile strategy. With PC shipments down, and the expiration of Windows XP imminent, what was once a colossal revenue bringer for the software giant just can’t be what it used to be. Adapt or die.
Bret Taylor, ex-CTO Facebook and CEO of Quip, told CBR: "Since the iPhone was introduced in 2007, phones and tablets have transformed the way we interact with technology and each other. Smartphone sales have already overtaken PC sales, and tablet sales are predicted to pass PCs this year." He thinks that where Microsoft has gone wrong is in the innovation department: "The software we use to be productive and to get work done every day has not really changed in the last 30 years."
Once upon a time, everyone who bought a PC would buy Office (or it’d come pre-installed, still providing revenue), but as the global PC market judders to a halt, Office has literally nothing to fall back on now, apart from mobile devices. IDC reported that PC shipments took a 5.6% dive in Q4 2013, with only 82.2 millions units being sold. Compare that to the 50 million iPhone and 26 million iPad sales in Q1 of 2014 for Apple, and you start seeing the bigger picture.
Looking on the good side for Microsoft, the focus on a subscription based model has proved, and may well prove successful for Office on iPad yet. Office 365 currently has around 3.5 million subscribers, so with an expansion to iPads, new users may flock to using Office on their iPads as the de facto productivity suite, rather than competitors.
The move also highlights the fact that Microsoft is shifting its focus to individuals as well, not just businesses. Until recently, Office 365 was geared more towards small businesses buying multiple subscriptions, but now that Office is coming to the iPad, we can assume there will be higher focus on individual users. With the addition of Office 365 Personal, which is cheaper than the Office 365 Home Premium by $3 a month, this further shows Microsoft’s push to attract individual users.
"We recognise that there are households of all shapes and sizes and we’re committed to delivering the right Office for everyone – whether that be one person or an entire household," the company stated on its official blog.