Office for iOS and Android Embodies Microsoft’s Strategic Failings [Updated]

John Kirk / October 10th, 2012

Microsoft product manager Petr Bobek has confirmed that (Microsoft) is planning to release native iOS and Android versions of Office 2013 next year. Speaking at a press event in the Czech Republic earlier today, Bobek told Czech site IHNED that native apps will be made available from March 2013. ~ via The Verge

— Office for iOS will be introduced almost 5 full years after apps for iOS were introduced in April of 2008.
— Office for iOS will be introduced over three full years after the iPad was introduced in January of 2010.

Those gaps in time embody the lapses in Microsoft’s strategic thinking. Either Microsoft should have made Office available or they shouldn’t. And if they were going to make Office available, they should have done so at the earliest possible moment. The fact that it took Microsoft five full years to make up its mind and implement its policy is emblematic of why Microsoft has gone from the most valuable computing company in the world to a company that is being out-profited by a single device (the iPhone).

UPDATE: Microsoft today disavowed comments made by its Czech subsidiary that the company will roll out iOS and Android apps of its Office suite early next year.

“The information shared by our Czech subsidiary is not accurate. We do not have anything further to share at this time,” a company spokesman said in an email Wednesday. ~ via Macworld

Mea culpa. I usually don’t comment on rumors and this is one of the reasons why. However, this one seemed rock solid. I’ll refrain from building my analysis on rumors in the future.

John Kirk

John R. Kirk is a recovering attorney. He has also worked as a financial advisor and a business coach. His love affair with computing started with his purchase of the original Mac in 1985. His primary interest is the field of personal computing (which includes phones, tablets, notebooks and desktops) and his primary focus is on long-term business strategies: What makes a company unique; How do those unique qualities aid or inhibit the success of the company; and why don’t (or can’t) other companies adopt the successful attributes of their competitors?
  • if they made their platform available for the iPad right from the start, it would be like giving a hand to iPad’s adoption. Doing this now means they can simply ride the existing adoption of the iPad.

    • FalKirk

      “… it would be like giving a hand to iPad’s adoption.” – Max

      If that’s their thinking, they why would they want to enhance the position of other platforms just at the very moment that they are finally entering the tablet market themselves?

      • They are hedging their bets because they’re not that confident about Windows 8. Should Windows 8 be a flop, their office product line can still grow on other platforms. Overall revenue will be impacted less.

        • FalKirk

          “They are hedging their bets…” – Max

          Hedging one’s bets is not a business strategy. It’s the abdication of a business strategy.

          • Couldn’t agree more. Microsoft has no vision whatsoever. That’s why they’ve sat on the fence with all new technologies. They’ve got their stashed billions, and that affords them to buy time, and be indecisive #toobigtofail

          • capnbob67

            MS are in a pickle BUT
            They have a vision – Win8 Everywhere (which you may not like)
            Sitting on the fence is a strategy (and often saves your bacon)
            Being decisive is not a strategy (and often gets you killed)
            Just saying…

          • ‘Windows 8 everywhere’ is not a vision. Vision is an audacious statement about improving people’s lives. Example: ‘a PC on every desk’.

          • capnbob67

            Max – that is just your semantic tap dance. You don’t like their vision – don’t deny that it is one. “Windows (8) on every device” sounds a lot like your example.
            Corporate Visions are not glib feelgood soundbites.
            One could claim that Apple’s vision is “to be the most profitable tech company in the world”. It does this by leveraging simple user experience, mass market content ecosystems and direct-to-consumer sales & marketing approaches. Nothing esoteric or world enhancing, just wildly effective.

          • capnbob67

            John, don’t confuse not having a gung-ho, “winning”, disruptive strategy as a lack of strategy. Most companies in the world do very well with an explicit strategy of hedging, following, copying, etc. We are spoiled looking at Apple and Google today and cannot hold everyone to those aggressive standards.
            MS was the warrior upstart when it disrupted IBM. Now it is a slow, lumbering federation trying to hold itself together but they have a strategy (Win8 everywhere) and they would be foolish not to hedge in the one SBU that is sub-optimized by that strategy.

          • FalKirk

            “don’t confuse not having a gung-ho, “winning”, disruptive strategy as a lack of strategy.” – capnbob67

            Tablets are crucial to Microsoft’s future. If they don’t make it in tablets, they’ll be shut out of the future of computing.

            Microsoft can’t afford to hedge. They either want to make money by selling Office or they want to withhold Office in order to sell their tablets. Waiting five years and then changing their mind is the worst possible strategy. They’ve allow Office alternatives to blossom and then, just when withholding Office makes sense – they cave and start to sell it.

          • capnbob67

            Enterprises successfully hedge all the time.

            Office is a $20Bn+ business with the best margins in the company. RT is already hurting that SBU with giving Office RT away, something has to be done if you are the head of Office. They have been working on this for a couple of years so this has been the plan for a while and they can still withhold it if they want to.
            Office alternatives have barely budded let alone blossomed.There is no meaningful uptake of Pages etc. that would prevent massive Office sales. iOS Office could easily sell 20 million copies at $50 in a quarter. Their tablet strategy is in full swing, Surface is being marketed hard, the OEMs are pushing competitively priced RT and Win8 models before Christmas and Office is free on RT. Why give up a few $billion for an uncertain and possibly marginal impact on your tablet sales. MS is living in the real world, not theoretical strategy land.

      • capnbob67

        They have a few months headstart with Surface and every other RT slate which comes with Office built in. They are not committed to release iOS Office if they find RT Office is a major reason people buy RT slates, but they may find it has little/no impact on WinRT sales and a big upside for the Office SBU.

        Why not in 2008 – small market on the wrong device. Why not in 2010 – no-one saw iPad’s success coming. Why now… because it took them 2+ years to make it?

        • FalKirk

          “Why now… because it took them 2+ years to make it?”

          You really have to wonder. Just how long does it take from Microsoft to move Office to iOS and Android?

  • capnbob67

    I know this was a little throw-away paragraph masquerading as an article but I think “Strategic Failings” is a little too harsh when relating to this instance. It is at best indicative of the strategic challenges or dilemmas MS faces today.
    We all know that MS has a huge quandary when faced with a fundamental challenge to its business model from others that it has no strength in. For years, the software only approach was the only real money maker in the tech industry. Once PC’s commoditized, MS stood head, shoulders and torso above almost all other tech companies. Oracle and SAP’s success only compounded the issue that SW was king. Then Apple and Google both demonstrated alternative models that also (as a side effect) negatively impacted MS success. Both models (hardware or ad-driven) devalue software/apps/OS, as profit sources since they are now the user experience freebies given away with hardware or ads/data collection. Nobody really saw this coming until it was already here. MS has been trying to respond for 5 years but the supertanker takes time to turn and the captain is a bit of a buffoon.

    As to this particular action, MS are damned if they do and damned if they don’t with Office. Sell it for other OS’s – you are hurting adoption of your OS. Don’t sell it, you are leaving billions of $s on the table.
    They have various divisions that have divergent needs, typically either inclusive or exclusive. Windows group wants to maximize OS sales which come at the expense of other OS’s – Exclusive. Office group wants to maximize Office sales across all OS for which the sales justify the development expense – Inclusive. Enterprise solutions want to sell licenses to all the MS OS/Comms/Collaboration crapware usually at the expense of other platforms – Exclusive. MS has conflicting priorities across successful businesses.
    To call this a failing is unfair – it is just where they are based on years of success. The strategic failure is in not realizing that they could be disrupted and failing to disrupt themselves until too late (e.g. separate the SBUs, improve mobile more quickly, evolve business models, etc.)
    Selling Office on iOS/Android is the best option they have now. Office group have probably been working on it since the iPad took them (and lets face it, almost everyone) by surprise as a wildly successful consumer and enterprise tool. Their Win8 everywhere strategy is their proper response to iOS/Android/PC commoditization conundrum. We’ll see how that works in the coming months and years (I think not well).

    • FalKirk

      “I think “Strategic Failings” is a little too harsh when relating to this instance. It is at best indicative of the strategic challenges or dilemmas MS faces today.”

      You may be right, but I feel the other way. This decision by itself means little. But what it represents in terms of Microsoft’s inability to make decisive long-term strategic decisions means everything.

      • capnbob67

        So you mean that you neither like nor respect their strategy or their execution. We can agree on that.
        That is still not the same as having no strategy or abdicating.
        Nokia now has a very decisive strategy of going all in with MS and adding value to that platform. Clear, well signaled to the market (too well?) and executed as well as they know how (which is pretty well). How is that working?
        I said it above… MS (and Nokia) is in real trouble because it didn’t foresee the staggering impact of iPhone/iPad and how rapidly Google would fill the OEM void. Who did? They have been moving since 2008 but seemingly slowly, which is inherent in their model. They have rearchitected their core OS with both backwards compatibility and comparability to mobile-only OSs. They have been feverishly working on this for years.
        You can’t catch up to competitors by copying them when they use other models you can’t easily emulate. MS are trying to compete with the model they have, which is high-value software with a vast army of OEMs and ISVs. They are playing catch up and are trying to move this increasingly weak and slow federation with the Win8 everywhere strategy. Everyone seems to agree it is a big and decisive gamble. If Win8 on mobile (WP8/WinRT) doesn’t work, MS is in big trouble.
        MS have a long term strategy and are executing against it. You just don’t think it is a very good strategy (and nor do I). You are criticizing their delay in acting (somewhat true) but also seem to be implying that they should have foreseen how the iPhone and iPad would so rapidly revolutionize the market. That is a lot of 20:20 hindsight. They have been moving the ship for a long time now, at least since 2008. They are slow and encumbered by a 3rd-party dependent business model but not without a clear strategy that they have been executing for at least 4-5yrs.

  • Rich

    It’s simple. The advancement of technology waits for no one, and you either keep moving ahead or you fall behind your competition. Microsoft, probably through a combination of blindness and confusion is now trailing Apple and Google, and unless MS can conceive something really brilliant I don’t know when they’ll ever catch up.

  • Defendor

    Does this mean they will have a native Metro version then as well? The current Win-RT version is the Win32 desktop version with its own desktop support system.

  • AdamChew

    MS make most of their money from software and we can see them updating their softwares annually whereas their OS is updated every few years and if they are not making their Office available for iOS devices then they are doing a disfavor to their shareholders that is denying them revenue from a very massive user base.

  • anonome

    ” The fact that it took Microsoft five full years to make up its mind and implement its policy is emblematic of…”

    Not at all – – it’s emblematic that the usage of the tablet as a replacement for the business PC is still undetermined. IMO, the tablet *might be* fitted for a sales person’s dog-n-pony show, but still to be seen if you can perform daily business tasks (eg: write business letters, update inventories, actually DO accounting chores and/or manipulate spreadsheets).

    Jury is still out (even IF MS proceeds with a tablet office suite).

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