Office for iOS may be coming, but does it really matter?

John Moltz
13 January, 2013
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Let’s turn back the clock to Macworld Expo Boston, 1997.

Not literally: It wouldn’t really serve any purpose and it would definitely take too long. Particularly if it’s an analogue clock.

But go back and watch the now-infamous Steve Jobs keynote (YouTube warning), and any number of things will jump out at you as ironic. For starters, you’ll see Steve Jobs talk about how great it was that Apple and Microsoft had just committed to cross-licensing their patents. Why was this great, according to the man who would a little over ten years later pledge to wage “thermonuclear war” against Android?

“Relationships that are destructive don’t help anybody in this industry,” Jobs said. “I’m extremely proud of these companies that they have resolved these differences in a very, very professional way.”

Through cross-licensing.


In fairness to Jobs (actually, in undue fairness to Jobs), a lot of the things he said carried expiration dates of his own determining. And it’s also possible that he thought destroying Android would foster a more productive relationship with Google.

(Hey, I said I was being unduly fair.)

Jobs also made two other big Microsoft-related announcements. One revealed Microsoft’s investment of US$150 million in Apple, which received cheers, but only after Jobs noted that it would be nonvoting stock. The bigger deal for Mac users, however, was the news that Microsoft had committed to shipping Office for the Mac for five years.

Microsoft, as Pirates of Silicon Valley will tell you, helped save Apple by committing to Office. In 1997, Microsoft Office for Mac was that important. As a Mac user in 1997, I remember this distinctly. Lack of Office would have killed the Mac.

But that was then.

Tablet manners

Now let’s fast-forward back to today. No, no, don’t rush to your clocks or your DVD players—it’s just a figure of speech, people. Rumour has it that Microsoft is pushing Apple to lower its 30 percent App Store cut in order to make Office for iOS a reality. If that’s true, I can’t imagine that Apple’s exactly rushing to satisfy Microsoft’s demands.

By most accounts, Apple still has more than half of the tablet market locked up. Most of the rest is taken by Android or Android derivatives, and Office isn’t available on that platform, either. Yet people keep buying tablets like they’re very much in style.

Microsoft still sells copies of Office hand over fist; but until the release of the Surface, the productivity suite was almost completely absent from a market that continues to increase in popularity every day. (The exception consisted of legacy Windows-based tablets, which don’t even register on the sales charts.) It’s not like the Surface has been a barn-burner, either. (Microsoft has not released figures on how many barns the Surface has burned down.)

Microsoft’s Surface, the only tablet that carries a native version of Office, is selling like, well, who knows?

In the last 15 years, Microsoft Office has gone from a must-have product to largely irrelevant to the success of the biggest product category in technology: mobile computing. Derek Kessler believes that, by shipping Office for iOS, Microsoft could have furthered the impression that the suite is essential, but I think the shift is more fundamental.

Office politics

A word-processing application was necessary back when printing was a daily activity. Heck, we’d print all kinds of ridiculous things in the ’90s: résumés, term papers, holiday letters, dungeon master’s character sheets … uh, I mean, résumés. Résumés.


But eventually I, like many others, simply stopped needing to print. Everything I wrote I transmitted electronically or put on a webpage. And really, good riddance to printing. Printing is horrible. Printers are horrible. Printing software is what people in Dante’s Ninth circle of Hell are condemned to use over and over. A pox on you if you ask me to print something these days; a plague on you and your house if you ask me to fax something. A good text editor—BBEdit, or any of the dozens of excellent Dropbox and iCloud-based iOS editors—is now my writing tool of choice. Memorise a few pieces of Markdown syntax and kiss a “word processor” goodbye.

Having exorcised the word processor, we’re left with the Tito and Jermaine of traditional office suites: the spreadsheet and the presentation application. Personally, I only use a spreadsheet when I’m running low on money. I still need one, because I frequently run low on money, but for US$20.99 Numbers offers more than I need. As for presentation software, do I look like I enjoy public speaking? With a chin like this?

It’s not that Apple’s iWork is much beloved, but at just $63 for all three applications—compared to $189 for a home and student license of Office—Mac users can put up with it. Apple clearly doesn’t place a huge amount of importance on its productivity suite: The last major revision to the bundle was iWork ’09—as in the year 2009. My handy $20.99 spreadsheet program informs me that that’s four years ago. After updating the software fairly frequently early in its life, Apple has left the programs to languish. And I don’t blame the company a bit.

I’m not claiming that office applications are going to die out—that would be a stupid argument to make. But I do find them to be an anachronism. Mobile platforms and the Web have taught us the flip side of that old saw: If you hate something, let it go. If it doesn’t come back, good riddance.


2 people were compelled to have their say. We encourage you to do the same..

  1. Jkgrosh says:

    Your view so so off base. Sure, little businesses and blogs can get away without using Office and storing their documents in a public cloud solution, but big business is where MS lives. Any large enterprise company is going to be using Office, and if they have any sort of Infosec team they won’t be allowed to store docs on Dropbox or iCloud. If office comes out on the iPad it would be a huge win for both companies. While most big companies are piloting iPads or or looking at MDM solutions not many have any real deployment. It would allow Apple to sell millions more iPads and MS to sell millions more copies of Office. So yes, it does matter.

    Word is probably the least important of the Office apps to be on iOS. Text entry and viewing word attachments isn’t hard. MS has tested the waters with OneNote and Lync, two very underutilized apps. OneNote works well and syncs and proves you they can enter text and make docs. The bigger wins will be PowerPoint, Excel, and Outlook. In an exchange based environment Outlook is necessary for a good experience. Yes you can get your inbox through Mail, but sub folders, online archive, free/busy info, and all the other outlook features would make the iPad a real tool. It wouldn’t be just a toy for taking notes and checking your inbox before running back to a desktop with full Office to get real work done.

  2. Terry says:

    Big business will continue to use an “office suite” – but I think you are right to raise the point on whether they are totally necessary. One thing that must be said of Apple ( and made them so successful ) – is that they capitalized/started ( not sure which) – the aspect of “I just want to do it/produce it now – I don’t care how it works”. For many years we have been told of “how powerful ” a program is and the majority of us ( even in business) use only 10% of the programs potential and get very frustrated trying to find our way around it.
    Even my own secretary I am forever showing her ways of doing things in Word. She is lucky to use a small percentage of its capability.
    Personally – I love and use Pages. Granted , not as “powerful” (that word again) as Word. But easy to learn , does 95% of what I need and I just get it done. No wasting time trying to work out how a particular function works ! I have been a hell of a lot more productive with it. Just get in and do what I need. Also saves to Word or PDF if needed ( everything I do I save as PDF – so suites my needs).

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