"If I just had Microsoft Office on the iPad, I'd be all set!" How many times have you heard that? That, in a nutshell, is how Microsoft hopes to sell lots and lots of the Surface tablets, especially the ARM version that will be priced and spec'ed similarly to the iPad.
If you think about it, Microsoft has to push the value of Office (which is included for free). Why else would someone buy a Surface tablet? There are hundreds of thousands of apps for iOS and Android tablets, but when the surface is released, there will be how many apps for it? Hundreds? Single-digit thousands?
From a competitive standpoint, a tablet is a tablet. The hardware is basically the same. The UI isn't different enough that a consumer is going to buy one tablet over another. (Can you imagine a consumer thinking, "ahh… the Microsoft squares are bigger than the iPad icons.. YES! I will buy a surface because of that." No way. When it comes to consumers, it's about the apps.)
The same is also true for businesses. Because Windows RT can't be domain joined, it will be managed with MDM or MAM software—just like an iPad or Android tablet—so there's no "automatic" win for Microsoft there. It's also going to come down to the apps.
And this brings us to Microsoft Office. Some have argued that "real" Microsoft Office is the big thing that's missing from iOS and Android. And certainly Microsoft is playing that up as an advantage to Windows-based tablets—both Windows RT and Windows 8 Pro editions. But is the Office brand strong enough to carry an entire tablet line?
The word "brand" is critical. Microsoft owns the Office brand, but they don't own exclusivity to Office-like software for tablets. QuickOffice is the best example. QuickOffice is as close as you can get to Microsoft Office on iOS or Android without actually having Microsoft Office. It's what Microsoft Office would look like if Microsoft had built it for those platforms. And it's the answer to the "I want Microsoft Office on my iPad" statement. (While QuickOffice might not be Microsoft Office, people who use QuickOffice aren't as quick to dismiss their non-Microsoft tablet for not having "real" Office.)
What's also interesting about QuickOffice is that Google bought them a few weeks ago. So imagine what would happen if Google poured millions of dollars into QuickOffice in the next few months to make it as good as any office suite could be on a tablet? If QuickOffice were as good as Microsoft Office could be, would that take out one of Microsoft's core pillars for Surface?
Of course there are several other things to factor into this, like:
- This is assuming that any improvements to QuickOffice also worked for iPads. While Google might not be big on helping the iPad, if QuickOffice is evolved to become a full featured client for Google Apps and Google Drive, then Google might be okay with all that happening on the iPad too.
- Regardless of how good QuickOffice becomes, it will always have the stink of not being "real" Microsoft Office.
- No one has seen Microsoft Office on Windows RT on the ARM-based surface. Who knows how many corners and features Microsoft had to cut to get it to perform well. And who knows if they'll even be able to support the myriad of macros and plug-ins in that make people want "real" Office anyway. (In other words, "real Office" on Windows RT might not be that "real" after all.)