Opinion: Why Office for iPad is inevitable

New reports have surfaced that Microsoft is developing Office apps for iOS and Android. If true, it's a very smart move by Microsoft.

The rumor is back. There are new reports that Microsoft is developing a version of the Microsoft Office suite for Apple’s iOS operating system--and perhaps the Android mobile operating system as well. I don’t know if the latest speculation is accurate or not, but it makes sense because it’s in Microsoft’s best interests to do so.

No. Microsoft wouldn’t do that. Integration of the authentic Microsoft Office suite is one of the defining characteristics of Windows Phone smartphones, and the upcoming array of Windows 8 tablets. Microsoft has already revealed that Windows 8 RT tablets will come pre-loaded with Office. If Microsoft offers Office for iOS and Android, what incentive is left to lure customers to Microsoft’s platforms?

That is a very limited, and short-sighted strategy. On the contrary, Microsoft not only should be developing Office for iOS and Android--it must. The computing landscape has shifted, and Microsoft needs to adapt in order to both meet the needs of users and continue to maintain its dominance as the go-to productivity suite.

iOS and Android combined make up the lion’s share of the mobile device market right now, and mobile devices are outpacing traditional PC sales and usurping the role of primary computing device. In the absence of viable Microsoft Office apps for these platforms, users are forced to seek alternatives like Apple’s iWorks apps (Pages, Numbers, and Keynote), or Documents To Go, or QuickOffice.

The goal of using such apps generally revolves around Microsoft Office. Users need to be able to create, open, and edit files in Microsoft Office file formats. However, none of the apps is perfect. If users can’t get a true Office experience, they may just abandon the productivity suite altogether and seek out Web-based options like Google Docs.

When the rumours of Office for iPad first surfaced earlier this year Onuora Amobi of Windows8Update seemed confident that an iOS version of Office will eventually appear, but expressed strong feelings that Microsoft should launch its own tablets first. In a blog post he wrote, “If I was at the helm of MS, I would first release Office for Win8 right at launch. Give users a while to get used to Windows 8, and use Office as leverage to attract early adopters.”

Based on current projections, Windows 8 will launch in early fall, and Windows 8 tablets will hit the shelves by November. If the latest rumor from a Boy Genius Report source is correct, it seems like Microsoft may be releasing the iOS and Android versions of Office more or less in conjunction with the launch of Windows 8 tablets.

The bottom line is this—Microsoft’s virtual monopoly of the PC market is fading--and even if it’s wildly successful with smartphones and tablets--it will never have a dominant share of the mobile market. Ignoring iOS and Android means leaving millions of users without Microsoft Office, and eroding the relevance of the Microsoft productivity suite.

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Tony Bradley

PC World (US online)

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