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Office For iPad: Why Would Microsoft Bother?

The strong suggestion — as yet unconfirmed by Microsoft itself — is that Microsoft Office For iPad is imminent. Presuming that the reports are accurate, it raises the question: Why would Microsoft port one of its key revenue sources to a competing platform? I can see a couple of reasons why it would make sense.

Tablets aren’t great for productivity purposes. They’re not totally woeful either; I do know journalists who have switched over to writing articles when they’re on the go solely on tablets, but when asked if they’d do everything on a tablet, most give me a shocked look. As such, I’m not expecting great things out of Microsoft Office for iPad, either in terms of overall functionality or overall price.

The tablet apps market emerged from the insanely price conscious smartphone market, and as such, if Microsoft slapped the kinds of prices it normally associates with Office onto Office for iPad, the outcry will be immense. Heck, even if they offer Office at the kinds of discount prices that are normally offered to educational institutions, I’d expect some folks to moan, simply because anything that isn’t free seems to be fodder for their inbuilt groaning mechanisms.

So Office for iPad is unlikely to be even a shadow of the money-spinner that Office for… well, Offices is. So why do it?

I can see two key advantages for Microsoft in developing an iPad version of Office. Firstly, there’s the obvious fact that the more people using Office on a portable device, the more people will use Office on the desktop, where all the big fat profit margins lie. Sure, in many cases that’s not a matter of choice — you’ll use whatever’s supplied by your employer in any case, and that’s most likely to be Office anyway. Office for iPad becomes something of a value-added proposition in that scenario.

It’s not as though Microsoft is a complete newcomer to the iOS productivity apps world; OneNote for iOS has been available for some time. Although in the case of OneNote, Australians had to endure a six month wait for it to become available for no readily apparent reason. Hopefully if the rumours of Office for iPad are true, we won’t have another half-year wait for it.

There’s another, more subtle reason why Office for iPad makes sense, and it’s to do with making Microsoft money, even if it’s not going to make much on the apps themselves. We know that ARM-based Windows 8 tablets are on the way, and Office is the one application that Microsoft’s said will be compatible with Windows 8 from day one. Indeed, the only time you’ll see the desktop on a Windows 8 tablet will be when you’re using Office applications.

Getting touch right for productivity applications is, as I stated in the introduction, a tricky affair, and one that can benefit from fine-tuning. What better way to make sure that the version of your productivity suite for your own tablets is as slick as possible than by releasing it for a competing platform and taking in all the user feedback to apply to your own version? To take that idea a slightly more Machiavellian direction, you could even use what you learn from the iPad version of Office to ensure that the Windows 8 tablet version is markedly better, making it a more attractive prospect.


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