Office for Tablets: Delay Could Be Death

on April 11, 2013
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The usually very well-informed Mary Jo Foley reports at ZDNet that we won’t see major improvement in Microsoft Office for tablets until next year, spring of 2014 for Windows RT and fall for the long-awaited iOS and Android versions. If true, this is big trouble for Microsoft’s cash-cow Office franchise.

The huge threat is that this long wait gives everyone a year to 18 months to continue to learn to live without Office. In tech time, that is more-or-less forever. The longer people go without Office on their tablets and the more that tablets become the dominate computing tools, the less people will want or need the Microsoft software. It will hold on in the enterprise in those roles where Office is indispensable, but that will be a steadily shrinking market.

The bizarre thing is that Microsoft foresaw the future of tablets with the development of the Tablet PC in 2001, but utterly failed to recognize their importance once Apple released the iPad in 2010. The brand-new version of Office relies on Windows’ classic Desktop user interface and its applications are unsuited for use even on Microsoft’s own tablets unless they are effectively configured as laptops with keyboards and a stylus or mouse. Outlook, a key component of the Office suite, is not available at all for RT, the tablet version of Windows (Foley says Outlook RT is fall 0f next year.)

As the latest sales figures suggest, the world is moving decisively to tablets. To the extent that people need Office-like apps, companies more nimble (and less riven by internal politics) than Microsoft will provide them. If Microsoft doesn’t get around to releasing tablet versions of the applications until the fall of 2014, it is likely that very few people by then will care.