Editorial: Should Microsoft Bring Office to iOS?

Earlier in the year, a certain member of the Windows blogging community confirmed the existence of the software and of Microsoft’s plans to make Office available for the iPad. Mary Jo Foley of ZDNet even went as far as to say when it would be available.

Yet, Microsoft’s latest ad pits Windows against iOS, and in that ad one of the Asus tablet’s highlighted strengths is that it can run PowerPoint. If Microsoft plans on leveraging this functionality, they better get all those jabs in before the iPad can run Office. That is, unless they no longer plan on releasing the Office suite for iOS.

Microsoft and Apple certainly know that competitions are won by knowing and using your strengths. In sports, in law, in politics, yes, even in war, you must leverage your strengths in order to come out on top. Especially when you know that your opponent has an equal or better chance of taking you out. Would it really by wise to make Office available on iOS? Let’s examine the…

Windows RT (the nearest competitor in Microsoft’s software lineup to iOS on the iPad) has several strengths.

1) Microsoft Office

2) Hardware diversification (different sized and shaped devices)

3) Flash Support in Internet Explorer

4) Support for External Storage

5) File Management

6) Native support for USB periphery (Mouse, Game controller, Printer, etc.) and Keyboard including all Windows 8 keyboard shortcuts

Alone, none of these features mean much. Support for keyboard and mouse is a huge strength, but only if you have the proper software, namely Office, to make it a truly unique experience. Support for file management and external storage is wonderful, but again, software that can use these storage capabilities uniquely is important.

I could go on, but the point is, none of these features have any intrinsic value, they rely on one another to provide a complete, and unique experience. I keep saying “unique” because thats where the value lies. Thus far, I’d say it’s not a great idea to give up Office. But there’s yet more to consider.

In the world of business, nearly every decision is made by doing something called a cost/benefit analysis. That analysis should answer the question “will this decision be beneficial financially?” If it will not, unless there’s some moral reason for doing the opposite, business leaders make what they believe to be the most financially beneficial decision. In the case of Office on Mac, Windows has had the lead in the personal computing and software space since the 1980s (read as “forever”). Mac has never been a threat and that’s because Windows has always had clear advantages over Mac so Microsoft could only benefit by making the expensive software suite available to a wider audience. Tablets are an entirely different ball game. Here’s what I’ve got:

What’s the cost of giving up Office to iOS? The cost is hypothetical lost sales to Apple because the experience on a Windows tablet was not unique enough to justify purchase of tablet that is otherwise viewed (by the media, not by me) as offering an inferior experience.

The benefit is simple, Microsoft would charge for the software which would be available to tens of millions of people.

Firstly, even if Microsoft makes Office available to iPad users, it’s going to be crippled compared to the version available on Windows RT. Without keyboard and mouse input options, Excel for instance, would be extremely frustrating to use. I imagine that Office on iOS would be used more as a document viewer than a document creator or editor. Does that mean that people will appreciate Microsoft’s own tablets more? Maybe, maybe not. Microsoft would probably just be shooting themselves in the foot as iOS users would rightfully gripe about the poor UX in the software they paid for.

Secondly, Apple makes decent enough software for handling word processing and spreadsheets. The only people who would be likely to purchase the Office software are Windows veterans who already appreciate what Microsoft does or possibly businesses. Essentially though, they wouldn’t be making any new friends.

Thirdly, selling Office, even to 100 million users is small potatoes to Microsoft and means little in the general Intel vs. ARM or Laptop/Desktop vs. Tablet game. Tablets (ARM) are expected to outsell traditional PCs (Intel) in 2015 and Microsoft is essentially in last place. They can’t give up market share to anyone for any reason. Not for a quick buck, and certainly not to make iPad owners happy. They need to get their foot in the metaphoric door if they and their hardware partners want to be profitable down the road.

Ultimately, I think it’s best if Microsoft avoids opening that can of worms and sticks to their current guns. Until their software improves in the public’s eye, until there is enough support in the Windows Store, and until Microsoft is sure they’ll be selling tablets to consumers for the foreseeable future, Office is too important to let go.