Office on the iPad: A litmus test for the modern Microsoft

We know now that Microsoft is working on a touch-friendly version of Microsoft Office for Windows 8.

But here comes that age-old question, resurfacing once again: What about Microsoft Office on the iPad?

Veteran analyst Rick Sherlund, now with Nomura Research, threw some cold water on the possibility in a note to clients this morning. Wrote Sherlund, “If there were a tug of war of conflicting interest with the Office team on one end of the rope and Steve Sinofsky and Steve Ballmer on the other (chanting Windows, Windows, Windows), we would expect there would be no Office on iPad anytime soon.”

As noted by John Paczkowski of AllThingsD, Sherlund’s assessment conflicts with a report from last fall by Matt Hickey in The Daily, quoting anonymous sources saying that Microsoft “is actively working on adapting its popular software suite for Apple’s tablet.”

It’s worth watching this situation as it unfolds, because the decision will say a lot about Microsoft’s priorities in this new era. The company can give Windows 8 a boost if it makes Office exclusive to Windows-based tablets. But that’s also a risk. The iPad’s momentum not only in the home but in the workplace opens the door for Office alternatives to take hold on the Apple tablet, posing a challenge to Microsoft Office.

That said, I don’t think this is such a black-and-white issue. If I were betting on this, I’d wager that Microsoft will come out with a version of Office for iPad that’s not nearly as fully featured as the one for Windows 8 — using it as a point of differentiation for Windows tablets, without completely burying its head in the sand about the dominance of the Apple tablet.

There’s also the issue of pricing. Apple sells its productivity apps for iPad (including Pages at right) for a mere $9.99 each, a fraction of the price of full-fledged Microsoft Office for Windows or Mac. With that price as a comparison, Microsoft would almost be forced to offer a lightweight version of Office for iPad, if it offers one.

There’s precedent for this. It’s what Microsoft did with its Office Web Apps, offering lightweight versions of Office in web browsers with plenty of opportunities to upsell the users to the full-fledged Office software suite.

In a smaller way, it’s also what Microsoft has done with its My Xbox Live iPhone app, which gives the Xbox business a presence on iOS but doesn’t have the best feature of the Xbox app for Windows Phone — the ability to control the console with the app.

For now, at least, Microsoft is being extremely cagey about the situation. Here’s an exchange earlier this week at a Goldman Sachs conference between analyst Heather Bellini and Microsoft’s chief financial officer, Peter Klein.

HEATHER BELLINI:  Office on tablets, let’s chat.  There’s tons of people in the audience here, whether they’re working on an iPad, or an Android based tablet.  I think there’s probably not that many of those, but anyway, how do we think about getting Microsoft products into everybody’s hands?  How do we think about maximizing the value of (the Microsoft Business Division)?

PETER KLEIN:  The first I’ll say is, Office ‑‑ we have an awesome Office experience across all Windows devices.  So, that’s something that’s been cleared out, we talked about recently.  We’re super-excited about Office 15, whether it’s ARM devices or X86 devices, whether they’re tablets, desktops, laptops, you’ll have an amazing Office experience, which is it’s really one of the things people want.  Right.

The one thing we’ve learned over time, and certainly in the last couple of years, it’s the world’s best productivity tool and that’s what people want.  And Office is, has been, and will be where people do work and we have lots of examples of Office for Mac, and Office on phones, and Office on the web.  We deliver Office in the ways that people want it.  And where they do work.  And we’ll continue to do that.

HEATHER BELLINI:  So have you not been asked?  Is there feedback from users that you don’t need to have it on things like iOS on the iPad?  I mean are you not getting enough people saying, hey, we really want to have Office on here, and therefore …

PETER KLEIN:  We get a lot of feedback.  People love Office and I think they are looking for a great tablet experience with Office and they will get that for sure.

Lots of tea leaves to read in there, but nothing definitive.

Here’s the question: Would you want Microsoft Office on the iPad? And if so, how much would you pay for it?

  • Anonymous

    Office (or at least Word and Excel) started life as Macintosh applications, and have contributed significantly to the viability of the Macintosh platform, especially in the dark days prior to the iPhone. 

    Microsoft has never been afraid to go cross-platform out when it has been necessary to do so (for a while there were versions of IE on Unix and Mac OS, and now we have Linux on Windows Azure, and Bing, Hotmail and Xbox Live on iOS).

    That said, in the decision to bring “real” Windows to the mobile computing space (rather than scaling up a smartphone OS), I’m sure Office played a factor.

    I think Microsoft will have to bring some flavor of Office (beyond OneNote) to iOS sooner or later. The timing will be interesting to watch.

  • Anonymous

    As usual Microsoft is deaf. iPad is a major product with huge marketshare with business users. If they want us to use a Windows tablet, then Office will cease to be a standard.

    Balmer and Sinowsky are in denial. They are wearing blinders. We do not want Windows. MS has missed the switch to mobile devices. Ray Ozzie was so accurate with his last memo.

    Maybe we should run out and purchase the crippled Windows Phone 7? Oh, no encryption! It was designed for the consumer market? Too bad MS does not understand their customers. We call it the Kin II.

    As a former shareholder and multi-decade customer and fan, it is very disappointing that Microsoft is so far behind on tablets. How about an upgrade path for my Win XP Tablet edition? Nope, have to purchase new tablet. Who has the best tablet? Apple.without question.

    • http://www.mainstreetchatham.com/ JimmyFal

      Thank god then we will have Office on our Windows Slates because as badly as you don’t want Windows, us Windows guys REEAAALLYYY don’t want to use the IPAD. I’ll be using a thin light laptop with a touch screen anyway, Pads are so “feminine producty” anyway. :)

    • Calahas

      Duh!

      It is called ‘Who wants to be a winner’!

      Can I wait 6 months and get Office on ARM or x86 Windows Tabs and be productive as a consumer or an enterprise user? You bet I can! And I will win on productivity versus any of my neighbors at home or market or office or car!

      Can I not wait 6 months and get iPad and use Pages be productive as a consumer or an enterprise user? You bet I can! But I would be a loser on my productivity versus my neighbor who waited!

      People dont realize that Apple lost the 80s, 90s and early 00s because it lousy ROI.

      And I mean really lousy ROI!

      Gosh! So much money wasted from ATT, Verizon and Sprint onto Apple!
      So much money wasted from consumers onto Apple!

      Ultimately MSFT and GOOG or LINUX will win together like they exist together in the Server market!

      • Guest

        Android will probably pull ahead of iOS eventually, as they have in phones. MS’s chances are far less clear. Either way, Apple will enjoy a larger share of tablets than they ever did PCs.

    • Bob

      Who is “we”? You and your other aliases?

  • Anonymous

    With Windows 8 on ARM + Office 15 coming *why* on earth should I compromise with an ipad (aka oversized iphone)??

    • Guest

      The issue is for MS, not for you. iPads are the industry leader and crushing all previous sales records. W8 tablets, assuming they ever get here, have yet to demonstrate they can get any traction at all in the market, like previous Windows tablets. So MS can ignore iPad and lose more Office share on those devices, or provide Office in some fashion in an attempt to retain some of that share.

      Once again MS is having to react to Apple due to MS’s incompetent management and dearth of innovation.

    • Guest

      Forgetting for a moment that W8 ARM + Office 15 is a non-shipping unknown in terms of both final functionality and price, the main reason would be apps. With the success of iPhone and now MS taking so long to respond to iPad, Apple has the most extensive selection of apps and contents, much of it exclusive.

  • Anonymous

    absolutely disagree w/your comments that Microsoft can give windows 8 a boost by NOT creating it for the iPad. seriously, that’s ridiculous. This is the kind of thinking that got msft into trouble in the 90′s and it’s the same nonsense when you go to certain MSFT websites NOW and they will only work in Internet Explorer. They are losing customers in droves…they should be focused on keeping mac and ipad users engaged, not on being exclusionary. that approach does not work today! (it only “worked” when they had a monopoly to exploit…and they are far far behind in the tablet space…)

  • http://twitter.com/edyg023 Ed Glogowski

    I would love to have Office on my iPad.  I am a major Windows user, but I also have an iPad, since I am eagerly awaiting the new Windows Tablets.  I use my iPad all the time.  To be able to take it into a meeting with me and have all my documents synced to SkyDrive and accessible via my desktop, Windows Phone and iPad would rock!!

  • http://www.christopherbudd.com Christopher Budd

    If I were betting on this, I’d wager that Microsoft will come out with a version of Office for iPad that’s not nearly as fully featured as the one for Windows 8 — using it as a point of differentiation for Windows tablets, without completely burying its head in the sand about the dominance of the Apple tablet. [end]
    You almost certainly would win that bet. That’s standard practice at Microsoft regarding products on other platforms. They try to find the sweet spot of trying to give as much support to the other platform to keep people from dropping the product, but not so much that they give people a reason to switch from Windows. They want people to say just what said arcana112 said.

    Since the Win8 tablet is a make or break moment, they’re not going to change tactics in this regard. They want to drive as many people to Windows tablets as they can and no one will dare suggest Office have an equal value proposition on iOS or Android.

    What will be more interesting is what they do for Office 16. By that point the make or break moment will have come and gone. If Win 8 tablets are not dominant and the hampered features of Office on other platforms means they’re losing Office customers, they may have to accept Windows has a smaller place in the world moving forward and so decide to save Office by loosening the tie between it and Windows.If they do that, though, I would bet what they would do is make it as platform agnostic as they can using JavaScript, HTML 5, and Azure on the backend. They’d still give Windows some preferential treatment of course. But less than successful Win8 tablet sales would mean they’d have to readjust where that sweet spot is.

  • Chloe

    I don’t want any office apps on tablets or smartphones. I have tried them and it is a pain (namely Apple’s suite). And I do not need them because office documents can be viewed on iOS without any additional software. Creating them on tocuh-screen devices is so cumbersome that viewing them is more than enough.

  • Lpwuk

    I am a CIO who is currently thinking of moving our “platform” to .NET and MS. I am in two minds because of exactly this. I do not want to get burned by MS. I have the nastiest feeling that they will try to force people down the Windows route once again. 

  • Guest

    I hear a lot about this concept of the “modern MS”. What is that? It seems less about what MS has successfully evolved into versus what they’ve been left with following repeated competitive defeats.

  • Guest

    I hear a lot about this concept of the “modern MS”. What is that? It seems less about what MS has successfully evolved into versus what they’ve been left with following repeated competitive defeats.

  • Guest

    “Steve Ballmer on the other (chanting Windows, Windows, Windows),”

    Is even Sherlund finally losing respect for Ballmer? If so, it’s about time.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/2B7CL4V73PHVZPAB7O7C7JFHY4 Jerald

    Thanks to know about it 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_52T6CKJDHR7I6P7LYWGHD6VG5A Mark

    I have recently heard that Microsoft is merging with Nokia and produced a smart phones like Lumina.

  • Joshfritz561

    You shouldn’t run Office on an Ipad even once it’s available. Most https sites treat the ipad as a mobile device (big suprize) but that means that even if you close the web browser, if you put in the site BEHIND the login (use browsing history to go to your bank account or mailbox) you don’t have to log in.   Until apple is treated by secured websites like a real OS and not a mobile OS (like it is) you’re putting all your data at risk by even using an iOS device.

    • Joshfritz561

      Say you go to your sharepoint and download a file, then close the browser. viola.. if your device gets stolen within the next 8 hours, you just gave them your admin access to your company data. Let’s say you go to your companies public facing outlook virtual directory and check your mail. viola! you just gave them access to your mailbox for the next 8 hours.  GL explaining how it’s Apple’s fault and not yours when someone steals your iPAD and get’s all your data. Not to mention transfering all the funds out of your bank account… just by looking at your browsing history or autocomplete file….   no passwords needed

      • Joshfritz561

        Windows 7 phones and tablets get treated as a real OS (because they are) and time-out in 10 minutes, as well as actually logging out when you close the browser

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kathrine-Mya/100003635639109 Kathrine Mya

    Microsoft office applications are first and it is amazing always