There is a rumor swirling that Microsoft is hard at work developing a native iOS app version of its Microsoft Office productivity software to run on the iPad. If it turns out to be true, it could be awesome, but there are also some ways that Microsoft could really screw it up.
There is no official confirmation from Microsoft regarding the iPad speculation. The response I got from my Microsoft contact was, “We have nothing to share at this time.” That is often a coy way of saying, “Yes, but I can’t officially say that,” but it could simply mean there is no such project underway.
Microsoft Office on the iPad would be a huge win for Microsoft and for the Apple iPad. The iPad has been doing just fine on its own--selling 10 times more tablets in the last quarter than all competitors combined have sold year to date--and it has made significant inroads as a mobile business computing platform.
Still, there's no denying that Microsoft Office is one of the most widely-used tools in business computing, leaving iPad users scrambling to find compatible Band-Aids. A native Microsoft Office app on the iPad would be a crown jewel for the Apple tablet and validate the iPad as a bona fide business device.
On the Microsoft side of this deal, I have been screaming from the mountain tops for years that Microsoft needs to embrace and cater to alternative platforms. As far as I’m concerned, Microsoft Office on iOS is a no-brainer that is running years behind schedule already--followed by Microsoft Office for Android, Office for Linux, and Office for any other platform with a significant enough presence to make it worth the effort.
Microsoft has enjoyed success bordering on a monopoly of many areas of computing for years, including the operating system, the Web browser, and the office productivity suite. It still has a healthy dominance in these areas, but it is being slowly and steadily eroded. The advent of smartphones and tablets, and Microsoft’s trivial presence in that arena, make it even more imperative that Microsoft branch out beyond the walls of its own Microsoft-centric universe.
I have the Apple iWorks apps--Pages, Numbers, and Keynote--on my iPad, and I use them when I need to get productive work done. But, I save my files in Microsoft Office formats (DOC, XLS, PPT) because those are the file formats the world runs on. I have Documents To Go as well, and there are other Microsoft Office alternatives available for iOS. But, make no mistake--these are all just stand-ins for the real thing.
I've been anxiously waiting for Microsoft to offer something like Microsoft Office apps for the iPad, but even if Microsoft introduces such a thing it may still be a serious disappointment if Microsoft tries to paint users into a Microsoft-centric corner. Microsoft needs to embrace the iOS ecosystem and play by the iPad rules by allowing hooks into third-party file storage services like Box.
I hope the rumors are true, and I am looking forward to it. Just don’t screw it up, Microsoft.