Office on iPad: Why it matters to Microsoft, Apple, and us

Office on iPad: Why it matters of Microsoft, Apple, and us

Why would Microsoft make Office for iPad, and why would Apple want it?

There's been a bit of a brouhaha this week over the possibility of Microsoft Office coming to the iPad. It's been teased, denied, rumored for a keynote spot at the anticipated iPad 3 event, summarily dismissed and otherwise masterfully debated everywhere from blogs to social streams and back.

But does it even matter? Is it merely the significance and symbolism of the idea itself -- having Office on iPad -- that's important, or is anyone actually expecting killer software when years of Office on Mac still haven't provided a truly excellent, fully compatible experience?

Why would Microsoft make Office for iPad?

Microsoft is getting ready to finally ship their iPad competitor -- Windows 8 on tablets

While education has always been a stronghold of Apple's, and according to their Q1 2012 conference call, almost the entire Fortune 500 is testing or deploying iPads, for everyone from students to enterprise, having a real, compatible Microsoft Office suite on Windows 8 Tablets could very well sway consumer dollars in Microsoft's direction.

Why then would Microsoft want to release Office for iPad -- Word, Excel, and PowerPoint -- when making Office an exclusive for their upcoming Windows 8 tablets would boost Microsoft's own platform and give it a fighting chance against the Apple incumbent?

Because Microsoft is a software licensing company. It's what they do. Sure, they talk a good platform game, and they've succeeded in building platforms, but at their core they're the guys who licensed DOS and BASIC to the world.

Take Exchange ActiveSync as precedent. Exchange was Microsoft's attempt to displace BlackBerry from the enterprise. It was the crown jewel of Windows Mobile, the predecessor of Windows Phone. And Microsoft gave it to Apple, Google, and others.

They hurt -- badly hurt -- Windows Mobile to help -- really help -- Exchange ActiveSync. They chose software licensing over platform success. They chose beating BlackBerry over helping Apple and Google.

There are hundreds of millions of iOS devices on the market. The revenue that could be realized by selling Microsoft Office licenses at $30 a pop (assuming a price similar to what Apple charges for the full iWork suite) to those hundreds of millions of iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad users is compelling. Even if Microsoft begins solely with an iPad version of Office -- as Apple did with iWork -- tens of millions of licenses is nothing to sneeze at, not even for Microsoft. It might even make up for a lot of ~$15 Windows 8 Tablet licenses Office on iPad costs them. Software licensing over platform success.

And hey, if Office on iPad helps Microsoft compete against Google Docs, all the better.

Office on iPad could also be similar to Office on Mac -- a second class experience that leads users, and enterprise, dependent on Microsoft's software to switch over to Microsoft platform to get done what they desperately need to get done.

Of course, Microsoft doesn't make Halo for the PlayStation 3, so it's possible Office for tablets will be considered in the same way, but if iPads are really the mainstream consumer computing appliance of the future, Microsoft will want their software, and revenue stream, to be on it.

Why would Apple want Office on iPad?

Apple already offers iWork for iPad -- Pages word processor, Numbers spreadsheets, and Keynote presentations

Microsoft owned, utterly and completely owned, the last wave of personal computing from the operating system that still runs 9 out of 10 PCs to the Office software the powers a massive percentage of work and home productivity alike. Having Office on iPad could pull people away from Apple's existing iWork software and take money from their pockets.

Why then would Apple want Office released on iPad when it would eclipse Apple's own iWork suite -- Pages, Keynote, and Numbers -- with a far more established, more functional competitor on Apple's own platform?

Because Apple is a hardware company. It's what they want. They make razors and rely on compelling but convenient and commoditize razorblades to increase the attractiveness of their products. They're the guys who give iOS away for free and run iTunes and the App Store at just above cost.

Take Office on Mac as a precedent. Office on Mac mattered so much that, upon his return to Apple, Steve Jobs let Bill Gates dwarf him on the keynote stage to announce the deal that would keep Office on the Mac for years to come. It didn't matter that then, like now, Office on Mac wasn't great software (consider iTunes on Windows revenge) it only mattered that it was Office and it was on the Mac. It was good enough for most of the people most of the time. It checked a box and removed a barrier to purchase.

The same holds true for Office on iPad. There is a segment of the market, consumer and enterprise, who simply won't buy or use something that doesn't run Office. Put Office on it and that box gets checked, that barrier to purchase gets busted down.

Does any of that matter?

The Daily claims Office for iPad is ready to go but Microsoft says it's not so

If Microsoft can work a Windows 7-class miracle and make a fantastic multitouch version of Office, then absolutely it matters. It'd be a fantastic win for everyone. Microsoft's reputation for tablet software would grow, which would encourage consumers to give Microsoft's other offerings, including their platform, a chance. Apple would get more killer software to help them sell more iPads. And customers would get a really great Office suite to work with.

If Office is as middling as it is on Mac, Microsoft's reputation for poor off-platform software will persist, but Apple will still get a massive name on the App Store, and customers will get an app that may frustrate them but will still be familiar and somewhat comforting.

That's assuming Microsoft is even making Office for iPad.

The symmetry of an Office for iPad announcement at the iPad 3 event makes for compelling conjecture.

The last time Microsoft appeared on an Apple stage it was to rescue Apple from near bankruptcy and pledge Office to Apple's user base to mitigate Microsoft's anti-trust concerns. If Microsoft appears again, it would be to acknowledge Apple's unprecedented success in consumer electronics and offer Office to Apple's massive user base.

If it doesn't happen during the iPad 3 event, it could still happen by way of press release and sudden appearance on the App Store. I don't have any specific information one way or another, my guess is it will happen.

Microsoft is a software licensing company. Apple is a hardware company. It's what they do. It's what they want.

Feels like it's just a matter of time.

Update: Guy English has a smart take, and killer closing, on this as well on [Kicking Bear]

Have something to say about this story? Leave a comment! Need help with something else? Ask in our forums!

Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

Office on iPad: Why it matters to Microsoft, Apple, and us


I don't understand your logic at all. iTunes is on Windows and 25% of all Office sales come from the Mac. Having software on other platforms does have its advantages. It's just that neither MS and Apple are interested in making products for Android.

"They chose beating BlackBerry over helping Apple and Google."
Isn't that the same choice? besting BlackBerry was helping Apple and Google with ActiveSync, you said it yourself.
"They’re the guys who give iOS away for free and run iTunes and the App Store at just above cost."
iOS for free? are you really sure? I don't think all the money you pay for your iGadgets go to hardware costs alone. Besides, it's not like you can run iOS on something other than what they shove it in themselves.
And why is everyone going on and on that Microsoft is a "software" company and Apple is a "hardware" company. They are both money companies and will do whatever it takes to get more money.

but microsoft does make apps for other platforms. Not to mention i think Microsoft has made a version of word that runs on a mac since like 1984. Now if i was microsoft, yeah, i wouldn't release it on a ipads because it's a real differentiating app suite. But that's me. But point is since they've made mac versions of things for more then 25 years its not outrageous to think it's possible they'd make an ios version.
Another thing is skydrive is on ios, xbox live apps are on ios too. Maybe more stuff but those are the only ones i use from Microsoft.
Another thing to consider about the decision by apple to put itunes on windows is they did that specifically to move ipods on a bigger scale. That was the big way to get people to buy music and sync music. For Microsoft they have to decide if its more important to sell, a probably $10 or $20 software suite to millions or the possibility of leveraging Office to sell, from their perspective, hopefully millions of tablet licenses. I don't know if windows tablets will be a success but if office on ios cannibalizes the success of licensing windows 8 you probably don't do it. If it's a wash, you do do it.

MS has made other apps for mobile platforms. Yes, it has been for their own interests but that is what every company does. You're asking for MS to risk everything. What happens if Windows 8 ARM tablets don't succeed and they don't make Office for the iPad? MS risks losing everything. Businesses haven't stopped adopting the iPad just because it doesn't have Office.
MS still has leverage but the picture you're painting isn't very clear. MS is a software company. Office existed for the Mac before Windows and Office is still the primary money-making machine for MS.

I don't think anyone is wishing for M$ to make Office for the iPad for much other reason than a) the idea Rene talked about of removing a check-mark that holds some back, or b) if it is reasonably compatible, having it so you can deal more effectively when people send you Office files.
No one in their right mind would actually use Office over many of the other products ALREADY AVAILABLE for the iPad (with, the possible exception of Excel for some power-users). It's essentially an expensive translator and compatibility product... and probably much less expensive than it is on OSX. I've had it on my Mac for years. Not once have I used it to compose anything, but just to translate or interact with others that were using it when necessary.

"No one in their right mind would actually use Office over many of the other products ALREADY AVAILABLE for the iPad ... and compatibility product"
The last 3 words say it all... Most of the business world uses MS Office... The "compatibility" part of it is THE most important part! MS Office IS the standard.

I am not sure what version of Office for Mac this author has used, but the latest version is far better from a UI and usability perspective than the latest version on a PC. Further, the lack of tracked changes on the IPad for iWork is an epic fail. I am an attorney who works only on a Mac because Windows and Office thereon are very poor.
I am more bothered though by the fact that iWork on the Mac and iPad cannot even come close to the pet project of Office on the Mac. I just hope MSFT brings us a version that shows tracked changes and allows for them on the iPad and then I can actually work on my iPad. Even if I could just see the tracked changes in iWorks it would be enough, but no Apple strips them out for some assinine reasons. don't get me wrong windows is still crap, but this is one area that irks me,

I'm not really a Mac user, but I've heard that the latest version of Mac Office is as good as, or better than, the Windows version (which I do have experience with, and think it's awesome).
t's pretty obvious that Rene Ritchie has a bit of an agenda or is, at the very least, misinformed and overreaching, stating that the Mac Office experience is lacking...

I have no agenda other than wanting great software to use. I tried to write iPhone 4S Made Simple (you can find it on Amazon) in the latest version of Office for Mac and it was such a disaster I had to buy Office for Windows and run it in a virtual machine.
While casual users won't have any problems, I've heard nothing but complaints from hardcore power users about the problems that they face due to quirks and lack of real, deep compatibility. Some have even switched back to Windows computers because of it.
Claiming I'm biased or have an agenda is cheap and ultimately meaningless. All I want is fantastic software. I'm assuming that's what everyone here wants?

I am sorry for calling you biased. Yes, we all want great hardware and software that are simple to use, affordable and productive. I think the problem is you should provide more solid information, like, these are the facts. Just by calling something crap doesn’t necessary mean it’s the truth. You can say “these are the problems and everyone can try them out for themselves.”It will help people if you provide more information rather than accusations. I am sorry if I did hurt your feelings.

Nice article Rene. I agree except for the statement, "The last time Microsoft appeared on an Apple stage it was to rescue Apple from near bankruptcy and pledge Office to Apple’s user base to mitigate Microsoft’s anti-trust concerns."
I think it was more of the latter than the prior. It certainly did, as you say, help 'check the box' to prevent resistance to the Mac platform. That was all Apple really gained. M$ was the the one in more potential trouble IMO. The stock purchase was a token gesture (which M$ profited greatly from), as Apple had more cash on hand than nearly any other company in the US at the time. While things weren't looking excellent in their most bleak moments, they were far from 'going bankrupt.' If they had not corrected, I suppose eventually that could have happened, but they really weren't in as bad of shape as is often portrayed.

It is another interesting article- yet again a little bias. Microsoft will likely release an Office app for the iPad. Windows 8 is a full blown operation system designed to work on ‘touch and keyboard.’ The iPad has everything stripped down to basic functionality. The iPad has limited storage, limited connectivity. Most of the previously owned peripherals will not work on the iPad. But with Windows 8 you can use mostly all of your previously owned accessories in the past few years. Like your printers, external HDD’s, keyboards, Disc Media, etc. Then you have the ability to use your previously owned software’s, like Office 2007. You don’t want need to have a touch screen for everything. Sometimes a keyboard and mouse works just as well. Windows 8 has a lot more to offer on the OS side and I don’t see why Microsoft wouldn’t release an iPad office app. The ultimate success of the Windows 8 will be based on the designs, optimizations, and battery life. In real life comparison having a full OS is better than any stripped out version of anything.

Of course I'm biased. Every human being is biased. You're just as biased.
Throwing the word around makes conversation difficult if not impossible, however.
Microsoft has been making Windows Tablet PCs, with "full blown operating systems" for years, and struggled to find a market. They have another chance with Windows 8, but that's not this discussion.
This discussion is whether it benefits Apple, Microsoft, and us, the users, to have Office on iPad.

I am not biased; at least I like to believe I am not. I don’t have any personal interest in either of the companies. As long as there are good products with functionality, I am all for that. Those weren’t tablets, they were crap. There were bulky, unresponsive and the battery life sucked. The only thing they were good for was building your muscles. You make it sound like it is their only chance. Microsoft is too big of a company to just disappear.
Microsoft, will benefit from making an office app. The user will benefit in case it is a well made app with all PC functionality. If not, iWork works just as well. I don’t see any benefit for the Apple, they are selling iPad rather well and they can shove iWork down people’s throat rather successfully. Rene, here is a question for you. Let’s say “Windows 8 is as good as it seems and the hardware is tweaked and designed to work as well. The battery life is as good as the iPad.” What would you prefer IOS or Windows?

If this happens, I hope it'll provide better support for RTL languages than the current apps.
At the moment it seems that the best support is provided by Office2HD, but even this "best" is not so good.

I think most users who actually try the iWork apps will end up using the more than office. I know I did on MAC. I wish Apple would mat the iOs versions a little more user friendly.

Rene: How is Windows 8 a competitor to the iPad? The iPad has a very limited functionality. I don’t even see the comparison. The iPad is like extended portable limited version of PC; like, you have a Ferrari and you need Sat Nav, air conditioning, and maybe a rear spoiler. I would like to see you do a comparison. Hopefully, you be a less biased.

How is Windows 8 not a competitor to the iPad? Microsoft is making an ARM-based version with Metro interface targeted to tablets, and they hope people buy those rather than iPads.
By any definition, Windows 8 tablets are competitors to iPads.
"Bias" is an interesting word to throw around, but it ultimately makes any conversation difficult. Let's try to stick to the issues, okay?

Windows 8 is not a competitor to the iPad. It is designed for all kind of form factors. The OEM’s will decide what form factor is rather best and profitable for them. They are not going to be just ARM based tablets. The iPad’s are not as big of a threat to the PC industry as people trying to make it out to be. I think you rather write an article; do a fair comparison of the two. I would love to see your point of view on the both.

(First post did not show up, took out HTML link, excuse if both show up.)
The big issue for Microsoft is not protecting an eventual Windows 8; it is protecting the existing Office revenue stream. Microsoft charges $149-$499 per license for PC/Mac versions of Office. They would have to charge (and net) much less for an iOS version. If people buy iOS Office in addition to PC/Mac Office, that is a win for Microsoft. If they buy iOS Office instead of PC/Mac Office, it would be a disaster.
The counterargument is that, if you foresee that somebody is going to cannibalize your market, you had better make sure to do it yourself. Coke essentially killed Tab in the 1980s with Diet Coke; Apple similarly shrunk the iPod business with the iPhone. Both companies ended up in a far better place after they made the tough decision to hurt one business unit before a competitor did. Microsoft may be in the same scenario here.

I think it comes down to simple math. The best path would be to release Office on iOS with SkyDrive integration along with Office Win/Mac with the same SkyDrive features... meaning you can edit the same files on any device. Microsoft will sell a ton of Office Win/Mac (@$150+ each) and there are over 100M iOS users... with 10% saturation at $30 per iOS version will be a quick $300M for Microsoft... tie that with SkyDrive upgrades for your recurring revenue model and anyone can see that Office is the future.

Howdy, I do believe your web site could possibly be having web browser compatibility issues. When I look at your site in Safari, it looks fine however when opening in I.E., it has some overlapping issues. I merely wanted to provide you with a quick heads up! Apart from that, wonderful website!

Confusion is caused by adjusting settings after habits have become established. I question why Apple developers made the decision to disable such a function, causing one to dig for the solution.

You've used the "I have a bridge to sell you" line already, Allen. I won't use any numbers in here because clearly they mean little to you: