There’s been another round of rumors about Microsoft Office apps for iOS and Android, but the evidence is still shaky. Microsoft still hasn’t officially announced anything or even publicly acknowledged that they’re planning to bring “real” Office apps to these platforms. Of course that won’t keep us from talking about what will happen when it does come to pass. The big question is whether Microsoft will want to fully support extending the Office experience to native apps on other non-Windows devices, or if instead they’ll put all their effort into driving people towards Windows-based tablets.
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Office for iOS and Android: so much potential
There are all sorts of reasons why Office for iOS and Android would be so awesome. First of all, since it’s “real” Office, it could dominate all of the other mobile document products by this virtue alone. With all the development around Office 365, Office web apps, Lync, Azure, SkyDrive, SharePoint, and other elements, the only big hole left is native support for Android and iOS. Filling that hole would also create another very compelling story for Microsoft: enterprise mobility management.
Microsoft doesn’t really have much in the MDM or MAM space right now—their answer for device management is to use Exchange ActiveSync, and for app management Windows Intune can act as a corporate app store. But if Microsoft was committed to the idea, a suite of mobile apps—including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, SkyDrive for mobile file-syncing, something for SharePoint access, maybe Lync or Yammer, and some sort of email app—could be the ultimate dual-persona mobile app management product. With these types of products, corporate apps on users’ mobile devices can communicate with each other and be closely managed, while the themselves are free to be unmanaged. This market is still emerging, with strong showings from Good, Citrix, and several other vendors, but there would still be time for Microsoft to swoop in and be a large presence in this space, if they did everything correctly.
How Microsoft will screw things up
Office for iOS and Android sounds great: Office, along with Office 365, SharePoint, Azure, and all that stuff would get a big boost by having native mobile clients, and then everybody would be happy. That is, everybody except people who want Windows-based tablets to succeed. Apparently they think that if people can get “real” Office on their existing iOS and Android tablets, then there will be less of a reason for people to buy Windows-based tablets.
I don’t think Office for iOS and Android would cannibalise Windows tablets sales, but it looks like Microsoft does. According to the rumors going around, the iOS and Android Office apps will have very limited functionality—possibly being just read-only—in an effort to drive users to Windows-based tablets. Ugh! Does anybody really think that people will buy Windows tablets for the sole reason of getting “real” Office? My guess is no. They’ll just buy QuickOffice on their iPad for twenty dollars, deal with any issues the same ways they have been for the past two years, and be on their way.
And on top of all this, Microsoft doesn’t even have a real touch-based version of Office. Do you think someone that’s been using QuickOffice for a year is going to be happy with the very touch-unfriendly Office interface that’s on Windows RT and 8? No way! So until Microsoft makes a real touch-based version of Office, it’s not even a legitimate replacement for QuickOffice or other native iOS or Android apps anyway.
There are even more reasons why Microsoft is making a mistake:
Look at the other major closed system: iOS and iCloud. Apple can get away with keeping these locked together for two reasons: first, iPads are...well...iPads, and second, nobody’s trying to do real work with iCloud anyway. Microsoft can’t try to lock touch-based Office to Windows tablets because of the obvious lack of market share.
Now let’s compare Office to Google Drive. By acquiring QuickOffice, Google has shown a commitment to native tablet apps for Google Drive, and overall, experience across all platforms is getting better all the time. On the other side, Microsoft is clearly going in that direction, too, considering all the great things they’re doing with Office Web Apps and Office 365. But then they’re just going to say “screw you” to iOS and Android tablet users? So close!
And I’ll probably have to accept that Office for iOS and Android as the ultimate dual-persona MAM product is a pipe dream, too. Just look at Windows Phone 8: with the recent release, Microsoft introduced real mobile device management for the platform. It’s great that this is available now, but Microsoft is still mostly ignoring MDM and MAM for Android and iOS.
Which way will they go?
Of course, all this is based on rumors for right now, so until Microsoft makes a big announcement about what Office for iOS and Android will actually be like (or if it even exists at all) we don’t know anything for sure. We do know, however, that Office for iOS and Android has a lot of potential. It’s just a shame that Microsoft is apparently going to mostly ignore it.