Office for iPad: A Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing

John Kirk / March 27th, 2014

Microsoft finally appears ready to launch a version of Office for iPad. A wolf among the sheep? Or a sheep in wolf’s clothing?

Plan A: Ignore The iPad

REALITY

  1. The iPad goes on sale, April 2010.

MICROSOFT’S REASONING

  1. There is nothing to fear from the iPad.

It’s not like I sit there and feel the same way I did with iPhone, where I say, ‘Oh my God, Microsoft didn’t aim high enough.’ It’s a nice reader, but there’s nothing on the iPad I look at and say, ‘Oh, I wish Microsoft had done it. ~ Bill Gates

  1. The iPad doesn’t even run Office.

Without Office, there would be darkness and chaos.

  1. Stay calm and carry on.

Never underestimate our ability to ignore the obvious. ~ Po Bronson

  1. All will be well.

Cheer up, the worst is yet to come. ~ Philander Johnson

Plan B: The Surface

REALITY

  1. Okay, okay, that iPad thingie is selling pretty well.

Nothing is more humiliating than to see idiots succeed in enterprises we have failed in. ~ Gustave Flaubert

MICROSOFT’S REASONING

  1. We need our own tablet alternative.

Change is not made without inconvenience, even from worse to better. ~ Richard Hooker

  1. The iPad is just a toy.

Microsoft is very clever but sometimes they let their brains go to their head.

  1. Apple has sold millions upon millions of iPads, but clearly they’re doing it all wrong. What people REALLY want is a tablet that runs like a desktop and a desktop that runs like a tablet. The two operating systems shouldn’t be separate, they should run side-by-side!

Don’t ever take a fence down until you know why it was put up. ~ Robert Frost

  1. What people REALLY want is a 2-in-1 computer that can run Windows and do “real work.”

A patient was at her doctor’s office after undergoing a complete physical exam. The doctor said, “I have some very grave news for you. You only have six months to live.” The patient asked, “Oh doctor, what should I do?” The doctor replied, “Buy a Microsoft Surface Computer with Office.” “Will that make me live longer?” asked the patient. “No,” said the doctor, “but it will SEEM longer.”

  1. We’ll throw in Microsoft Office too. That will make up for the one million missing applications.

It is what we think we know already that often prevents us from learning. ~ Claude Bernard

Plan C: Office For iPhone

REALITY

  1. Surface sales seriously suck.

MICROSOFT’S REASONING

  1. I don’t get it. If customer’s can’t live without Office, then why aren’t they dead?

If brains were gas, you wouldn’t have enough to power a scooter around the inside of a Froot Loop.

  1. I know! Customer’s DO want Office but they also want iPads.

Face reality as it is, not as it was or as you wish it to be. ~ Jack Welch

  1. The Surface is the problem. No, BALLMER is the problem! Cut Windows loose from Surface. Cut Ballmer loose from Microsoft!

If you can talk brilliantly about a problem, it can create the consoling illusion that it has been mastered. ~ Stanley Kubrick

  1. Let’s start by selling Office for iPhone!

I spent a month using Office for iPhone — I think it was on a Sunday.1

  1. Great, now everything will be okeedokee.

Apparently, if you stay in Redmond, you lose two points of IQ every year.2

Plan D: Office For iPad

Cartoon sheep
REALITY

  1. No one gave a damn about Office on the iPhone. Or even noticed it.

Most people wanted to ignore Office for iPhone because Office for iPhone ignored what most people wanted.

MICROSOFT’S REASONING

  1. OK, we’ve wasted four long years not selling Office for iPad.

A lion walks into a bar and says, “I’d like a whisky and . . . a packet of peanuts, please.” The bartender replies, “Why the big pause?”

  1. The Office for iPhone thing didn’t work out quite the way we planned, but what people REALLY, REALLY, REALLY want is Office, but they want it on the iPad.

Dope springs eternal.

  1. Some analysts estimate that since 30% of Mac users own office, as many as 30% of iPad users will buy Office too.

I don’t know what you’re on but it can’t be legal.

  1. It won’t help sell Surface tablets, but it will make a lot of money. How much money?

“The day they introduce Office for iOS and Android, they’ll start printing money.” ~ Bob O’Donnell, then an analyst with IDC

Plan E: Everything Could Go Wrong

Normally, I like to make my predictions after the fact. I find it improves my accuracy. But I’m going to go out on a limb and predict Office for iPad will be a great big nothing. It has too many things working against it.

There is no question Office is good at what it’s good at. But is that good enough?

The main reason Office sold as well as it did was because it held a monopoly on Windows PCs. This has caused Microsoft to vastly overestimate its popularity. Here’s how Microsoft pictures its Office Suite:

Beautiful showgirls dancing cancan

Here’s how business users picture Microsoft’s Office Suite:

Old men dancing

Here’s how consumers picture Microsoft’s Office Suite:

Sub

  1. There are plenty of free Office Suites available.
  2. There are over 100,000 apps that have unbundled the various functions that Office performs.
  3. Tablet software has been commoditized. Who wants to pay for Office when there’s plenty of cheaper, “good enough” alternatives available?
  4. The wildly successful adoption of the iPad strongly suggests that iPad users don’t need Office.
  5. iPad is doing well in the Enterprise without Office.
  6. Tablets are all about simplicity. Office is all about complexity. How’s that gonna work?
  7. A touch input interface is a whole different animal than a mouse input interface. John Gruber says that he’s heard that Office for iPad is the real deal. I’ll remain skeptical until I see it. Why? Because I believe that the better the touch interface will be, the less Office-like the product will be and the more Office-like the product will be, the less touch enabled it will be. We’ll see soon enough.
  8. The real threats come from use cases where one doesn’t need to be using Office at all.

It’s far too late. The Windows for iPad ship has sailed.

“If only.” They must be the two saddest words in the world. ~ Mercedes Lackey

Plan F: The Future

Life is like an onion; you peel it off one layer at a time, and sometimes you weep. ~ Carl Sandburg

Even if Office for iPad utterly fails, it is still a pivotal event for Microsoft.

There is always a comforting thought in time of trouble when it is not our trouble ~ Marquis

The fact that Microsoft is moving Office to the iPad, combined with the fact Microsoft is moving Office to the iPad even before it brings out a touch-optimized version of Office for the Surface, is a very strong signal that things are changing at Microsoft.

By trying we can easily learn to endure adversity. Another man’s, I mean. ~ Mark Twain

It’s too soon to know in which direction Microsoft is headed, but it’s not too soon to know they are changing direction.

Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself. ~ George Bernard Shaw

And since Microsoft was definitely headed in the wrong direction before, this change gives one hope.

The future will be better tomorrow. ~ Dan Quayle

  1. Inspired by W. C. Fields []
  2. Inspired by Truman Capote []

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?
  • Bruno Deserto

    This is my first time here and I have to say I have never read such wonderfully well-written articles like these. I have been reding for the past two hours and it seems I can’t stop. Absolutely brilliant.

    • FalKirk

      Thank you for your kind words, Bruno. Much appreciated.

      “I can take any amount of criticism, so long as it is unqualified praise.” ~ Noel Coward

    • Bill Smith

      Agreed. John Kirk is a national treasure, along with the Bajarin’s, Wildstrom and a few others. Techpinions has one heck of a, mostly, all-star cast.

  • mscritic

    I have seen the phrase “real work” so many times it’s starting to look like “dog —-.”

    • Rene Stein

      But you can only do “real work” on a PC, not on a tablet. Because “real work” is defined as things that can only be done on a PC.

      • FalKirk

        Well put. Circular arguments are often used to define “PC”, and “real work.”

      • Shameer Mulji

        It’s amazing how many people, in 2014, still push the myth that real work is only done on a PC. What they fail to realize, is that the types of work the tablet is optimized for is different than the type of work the traditional PC is optimized for.

  • aardman

    There may be some enterprise demand for MS Office on iPad but I just can’t see any significant consumer demand. If you’re going to do serious real work (there’s that word again) would you do it on an iPad? And then MS will price it at ridiculously inflated levels, not to mention rent it out rather than sell outright. Too little, too late, too much.

    • Glaurung-Quena

      I predict that it will be free but you won’t be able to edit documents unless you have an office 365 subscription.

    • Shameer Mulji

      The biggest consumer demand for Office on iPad will come from, in my opinion, from college / university students.

      • aardman

        Write term papers, lab reports, and senior theses on an iPad? I find that hard to envision.

  • Mauryan

    Microsoft has suffered from arrogance. Now they are realizing that it was arrogance all along that has made them feel on top of the world and assuming that the world would always remain flat. The real change they must try to make is to copy Apple for creativity. With all the money and resources that they have got, they must be able to come up with a product that is entirely their creation and is the first one ever conceived and created by Microsoft. If I look back in history, right from the Ms-DOS, it has always been based on what someone else created.

    Microsoft’s approach all along has been against creativity. What they call as innovation is basically trials and errors to window-dress the myriad of issues that burst out of their products once they were released. They used consumer’s miseries to fine tune their products. They approach has been based on bullying and dominating (imagine Ballmer running around the stage, screaming). That model worked for sometime because customers had no choice. Now they do and they dropped Microsoft as soon as they got their choices. Now Microsoft has to do real work – create something new.

    Office for iPad might sell and Microsoft can make some money out of it. This is something they could have done right at the beginning. After all MS office was first created for the MacIntosh before it became popular on the DOS and Windows. Ballmer became a dead weight at a time when Microsoft needed vision of the future. It may not be too late. They still have the resources and money to hire talent and create new and unique products.

  • Hawk_Eyes

    Lets face it… majority of people who have iPads tinker with it with the latest app, the latest games, surf, status, tweet, instagram and what not. Its a tool mostly used nowadays to interact with the world. Any serious work, productivity:power point presentations, complicated spreadsheet reports with macro embed, and other office related stuff that need to get done would most certainly be best applicable with PCs.

    As to John’s final posit if it does break through with the iPad, its a fifty fifty for me. If they somehow reinvent it in a meaningful experience in the ipad with the competitive pricing… who knows?

    • lb

      Why is “real work” defined as spreadsheets and presentations? Isn’t that type of work done by lower paying staff members? Isn’t that type of work a small representation of what work is actually being done? Would you pay all your employees to make macros for spreadsheets, design powerpoint slides, would you pay 10% of your staff to that work? How many hours will you commit your workforce to produce those spreadsheets and presentations? Does it mean that the data entry people, the report generating people, the slide producing people are the “real workers”? Should I tell the Senior Architect that since he doesn’t do the actual design with a PC, but meets clients, regulators, investors and others to have a large construction project built, using his mobile device of choice, is not doing “rap work”. Should I have my $100+ per hour cost employee spend more time creating spreadsheets for me because it’s real work. How many hours should I allocate?

      • jfutral

        Yes, mind numbing tasks=real work. One of the perks of being the pointy haired boss is that you don’t have to do real work anymore.

        Joe

      • Walt French

        Naw, sorry, I’m a portfolio manager and a good part of my paycheck comes from being able to understand new situations and turn them into opportunities. My writing output is pretty minimal, but I do a LOT of Excel. Everybody on my team probably spends more than 10% of the hours that are NOT in specialized apps or email, in Excel, also.

        • jfutral

          Did Excel being available for the Surface draw you to the Surface platform or do you continue to utilize Excel on a desktop/laptop?

          Joe

          • Walt French

            I’ve dragged a 17″ laptop around for many years—on vacations, to work every day, 50+flights/year. Macs for personal use since the first one; Windows (or DOS) for my job, including a small company I started in the 80s and ran for a decade.

            My employer got a license to customize/resell MultiPlan, Excel’s predecessor, so I’ve been supporting or using spreadsheets since shortly after dissing VisiCalc as being inferior to BASIC which was inferior to FORTRAN.

            I’m only a bit shy of the 50th anniversary of my first program and I like do things that just don’t make sense, even if they’re possible, on a tablet. Yes, I’d like a more compact device but any tablet I get will be in addition to my primary machine. OTOH, my wife loves her iPad for all the right reasons and unless I’m in a big, tangled project, it’s a superior way to do many rifle-shot functions.

            Each platform has a pretty well-defined place for me, based on capacity, portability, cost, apps, use for 10-minute vs 10-hour sessions, etc.

      • Bill Smith

        Lower paying staff members? I just made a presentation that will bring in millions in new business to a Fortune 50 company. I may delegate portions, but it’s my butt that’s on the line, and my responsibility to ensure that the presentation is top-notch.

        If anything, my use of OS X and iOS-based tools atop Keynote is the reason why I’m paid significantly more than $100/hour. My competitors do their work in Powerpoint and we impress the snot out of our customers, by comparison.

        The problem is that, when they ask for a copy of the presentation, I still have to give them something they can open, and that means Office. Very few of our customers are predominately Mac-based, though I have been known to fire customers (and vendors) for being Mac-hostile.

      • Hawk_Eyes

        By spreadsheets with embed I meant highly technical financial info that are used by managent for strategic thinking. Surely even as you seem to indicate that you would delegate this “work” to “lower staff” somewhere along the line you will have to review this “work” and its accountability of accuracy and inaccuracy will wrest on your shoulder when you present it to management, investors, etc.

  • seventhson74

    There have been office alternatives for years. Why haven’t businesses switched? What makes you think they would now?

    • FalKirk

      I think we’re talking about two different things. Office will continue to dominate desktops and notebooks. But the success of tablet for the past four years clearly shows that Office isn’t necessary to do “real work”. It’s only necessary if your “real work” includes using Office.

      Office used to be the one and only way to communicate complex documents. Doing the past four years, lots of other ways have developed. Now Office will be one more way, but not the ONLY way as it was before.

      • Walt French

        I’m (gasp!) with Brian and seventhson here. The main reason that people haven’t terribly missed Office on the iPad is NOT that there are comparably-capable products that people use instead, but rather, that iPads get used for different things.

        My wife really loves her iPad; it’s great for so many things. But he household bills and budget get done on the iMac. I probably build throwaway spreadsheets at least once a week, and use a couple of regular ones every day. Damned if I’d try to shoehorn all that data into them, and fiddle with the iParadigm for files, however, if I don’t need the simplicity that on-the-go apps demand.

        There just AREN’T popular alternatives to the level of complexity that Office addresses, with the compatibility, range and support. Many people don’t need that type of product, and maybe very few need it or want it on a tablet. But the “nice to have” sentiment will make this a big favorite in the downloads lists.

    • jfutral

      While I do know some businesses who have switched to offerings like Open Office (much to the complaints of the employees), obviously Office not being available on iPad has not affected iPad movement into many office scenarios. This is why I think MS’s fears of undermining their own platform by releasing Office for iOS have been largely unfounded.

      Tablets and iOS in particular are about doing things in ways not like they are done on desktops/laptops. Tablet/touch interfaces have freed many people from thinking that desktop metaphors and the software that supports and enforces them are the only way to do things. MS could have entered to re-enforce the need for Office from the beginning and maybe even had a better chance of demonstrating that a tablet is not for real work. But that opportunity is gone.

      All the same, I am very curious to see how they’ve structured iOS Office and I may download it and sign up for 365 just for that purpose. Nothing I do in my line of work really ties me into MS Office, iWork, or any other office suite, so I get to experiment a lot more freely than most people, I think. Heck, maybe they’ve outdone iWork’s interface.

      Joe

  • “It’s far too late. The Windows for iPad ship has sailed.”
    I sure hope you’re wrong. I’ve wasted far too much time on iWorks and on Office clones. They are poor substitutes, even at $0.

    • FalKirk

      I think you are I are talking two different things too. Office is an excellent tool if you need all of Offices features. But I’ll guess that 90 to 99% of people, Office offers far more power than they need and far more complexity than they want. It used to be that those people had to suck it up and learn Office anyway. No more. Office will continue to shrink and only be used by those who need it. And those who need it will become fewer and fewer as mobile continues to grow and the desktop market continues to shrink.

      • N

        Microsoft Word for iPad (I can’t speak for the other two apps) brings two critical features to the table — compatibility and track changes.

        I agree that a majority of iPad users don’t need Office (many like my mother have never used any word processor let alone Word). But in fairness to Mixrosoft I don’t think it’s as high as 90%. Right now crazy numbers of white collar workers who need these two features are begging their IT Department for an Office 365 subscription.

        I predict Microsoft has a hit on its hands because it was forced to apply the 80/20 rule. Nearly 100% of white collars need compatibility. And 80% easily need track changes for collaborative writing.

        • Bill Smith

          I agree. It’s not that I want or need Office. It’s that I need something with 100% faithful file format functionality.

          Example: Customer sends me an Excel spreadsheet that they need filled out. It’s a relatively simple Excel form. I can load it in Numbers, but the macros don’t work, so I have to go to my laptop, run a Windows VM and do it in Excel.

          Even if it’s doggy-doo, I’ll buy a copy, especially if it’s sold in the App Store and not some free plus Office 365 nonsense…

          • Peter

            I hear that when you buy your copy, you’ll find that macros still don’t work. That “100%” thing just didn’t happen. Sorry.

    • Space Gorilla

      You’re missing the point that many of the jobs-to-be-done that people used Office to do have been unbundled. For many jobs-to-be-done Office is no longer the only option, heck it’s not even the best option in many cases. It’ll be interesting to see how the longer term sales go for Office on the iPad.

      • If you have a better option for Word or Excel, do let me know. I’ve tried far too many alternatives and they have failed miserably — to the point where I became an Office 365 customer, something I never expected.

        • jfutral

          I’m curious of the functionality/feature parity of desktop Excel vs 365 Excel. Are they comparable?

          Joe

          • I’m not an excel expert, but have noticed no change/difference in functionality. I believe 365 is primarily intended as a subscription service, but is the same product.

        • Bill Smith

          Oh my…I’m on the same side of the fence as Mr. Hall. News flash: Hades just froze over. Obama is campaigning for Sarah Palin 2016 and China has adopted Bitcoin as its national currency.

  • pawhite524

    John,

    Thank you for another creatively written, stimulating and fun column. I have been a big fan of your masterful execution of well known and inspiring quotes so I am taking the leap of attempting to stimulate some thoughts with this critique.

    “If only.” They must be the two saddest words in the world. ~ Mercedes Lackey

    Certainly truth to be found on that side of the coin but let’s not overlook the other side of this coin.

    I have to believe, right or wrong, that “If only…” was in the minds of Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Nicolai Tesla, Elon Musk, Henry Ford (the industrialist/conceptualist not the misogynist), Ghandi, Mozart, Picasso… you, me and everyone else who visualized and implemented a novel way to address a problem satisfactorily. For me, “If only…” is why we have electric lights instead of gas lamps, the iPad instead of only the previous line of “tablets”, etc

    All I ask is for you to roll it around and see if it fits (or some other mixed metaphor).

    Again, many thanks.

    Peter

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