Office for iPad: big deal, or big yawn?

Steven Vaughan-Nichols
25 March, 2014
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It looks like Microsoft Office really is coming to the Apple iPad. Well, actually, it will most likely be a version of Office 365, but why quibble?

That’s great, right? At long last, the world’s most popular office suite will be available on the most popular tabletMicrosoft will get more customers, life will be grand for Microsoft stockholders, and Apple may even sell a few more iPads. But it’s also possible that no will give a hoot.

No, sorry; that’s not right. There are people who will give a hoot. Unfortunately for Microsoft, those people are its own most loyal customers, the folks who bought Surface phablets because they can’t live without Office and knew that was the only way to get Office on a tablet.

This isn’t a case of your friendly neighbourhood tech columnist taking a contrarian stand. There’s real disagreement among industry watchers about how Office on non-Surface tablets will be received. Some say Office for iPad is two years too late to matterGartner’s Michael Silver thinks it’s possible that “no one will care”. But Bob O’Donnell, then an analyst at IDC, famously proclaimed in January 2013, “The day they introduce Office for iOS and Android, they’ll start printing money.”

So which is it going to be?

Well, let’s think about what we know about the tablet market. For starters, iPads are everywhere in business. Even back in 2012, when people were still confusing BYOD with BYOB, IDG found that 91 percent of corporate users with iPads were using them for work. The top uses? Seventy-six percent used them to read web content, 73 percent used them to read or view news; over 54 percent used them for work communications, while social media, personal communication and entertainment followed with 44 percent, 42 percent and 31 percent, respectively.

You see what’s missing, don’t you? Document creation and editing, spreadsheets, presentation creators – you know, office suite stuff. And it’s not as if users couldn’t do those things because of the absence of Office; there are a lot of office suites available for the iPad: iWorks, DataViz Documents to Go and QuickOffice. None of them is exactly burning up the iTunes Store sales charts.

Could it just possibly be that, while the iPad is great for simple data entry or for consuming words, it’s not that great for creating them? Truth is, not many people want to type much more than an email on a touchscreen keyboard.

Sure, you can add a physical keyboard and even a mouse to your iPad to make it easier to write or enter data, but do you know what you have once you’ve added those? A laptop.

So here’s how I see the odds for Office on the iPad. Will it be a big deal? 1 in 10. Will it just sell decently? Two in 10, because I can foresee Microsoft-besotted IT managers buying hundreds or thousands of licences, regardless of whether anyone will want to use them. Will it be a lemon along the lines of the mostly forgotten Kin? Seven in 10.

Sorry, Microsoft. Though some people adore tablets for document creation, I think those folks constitute a niche audience. For most of us, tablets are for document and spreadsheet consumption, not creation. Which means that for the vast majority of tablet users, Office is an expensive tool of limited utility.

by Steven J Vaughan-Nichols, Computerworld

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