Real Work on an iPad – What Does it Mean for Microsoft?

iPadWalt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal wrote a long piece yesterday about using an iPad for real work, not just as a media consumption device.  See Walt’s article here.

I’m really surprised that someone with the technical chops of Walt Mossberg would be writing this piece – and it is filled with old news.

I have been using my iPad to get real writing done for year or more.  I totally agree with pretty much everything that Walt writes.  Pages is an excellent word processor on the iPad (and an absolute steal for just $10!).  The biggest drawback is working with the virtual screen for typing (I solve that problem with the Logitech case, which includes an excellent bluetooth keyboard in addition to being an attractive aluminum case).

Nothing here is really new.  So why would he write this article now?

I believe that the key is when Walt writes “There’s a major gap, though: Microsoft Office. The software giant doesn’t yet offer a tablet-optimized version.”  The word on the street has been that Office for iPad was in the works and could appear in the App Store any time.  Then, suddenly, I recently began hearing that Office for iPad might be delayed until as late as Fall 2014 – over a year from now.  I think Walt has been hearing the same thing, and that led him to write about software that can do the job of the missing Office for iPad.

It could be that Microsoft’s legions of software developers (disclosure – I am related to someone among those legions, although nothing in any posts on this site reveal anything that I have discussed with that family member) are having problems translating Office to the iPad form factor and operating system.  It could meant that, but it really is not very likely.  Microsoft had no trouble translating Office to their new desktop OS, Windows 8 and also to both versions of the Surface.

Remember the Surface?  It was Microsoft’s attempt at a tablet after seeing how Apple made a successful tablet.  Of course, it must gall Microsoft to no end that they developed tablet after tablet for years – all of which were commercial failures – and then Apple waltzed into the market and produced a mega-hit on the first try.

I think that the reason for Office to be delayed is that Microsoft is hoping the delay might revive the Surface and slow the momentum of iPad.  By withholding Office from iPad, Microsoft might reason perhaps the rush of corporate workers to purchase iPads might be slowed.  People might begin to say that the iPad is nice and all, but it doesn’t run Office.

Bill Gates, who rarely says anything about Microsoft now that his focus is on doing good with his wealth (and kudos to him for what he and Melinda do!), talked up the Surface last week by saying that it ran Office and that iPad does not.  He failed to mention that the reason Office is not available for iPad is that Microsoft has not made it available for iPad.

This is an interesting hardball strategy for Microsoft to take.  They stand to lose a very valuable cash stream if people begin to realize that they don’t need to purchase or rent Office.  And anyone who reads all the way to the bottom of Walt’s column will see the following:  “Bottom line: None of these iPad office suites is perfect, but you can get basic work done on them that will translate to a computer with little or no effort.”

Little or no effort and free.  That is powerful ammunition against the hold that Office has on our corporate cultures.  Microsoft’s strategy of using Office as a weapon could well backfire on them.

Time will tell.

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