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Office on the iPad is a Product Absolutely Nobody Needs

This story originally written by Matt Rosoff at CITEworld. Sign up for our free newsletter here.

Every six months or so, there's a new spate of rumors about Microsoft  (NASDAQ: MSFT  ) bringing a full version of Office to Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) iPad.

The latest round kicked off last week, when some ambiguous comments by Microsoft marketing boss Tami Reller seemed to suggest Microsoft was going to save a full touch-screen version of Office for Windows first. Not so, said ace Microsoft reporters Mary Jo Foley and Paul Thurrott, both of whom reported that Microsoft has accelerated development on a touch-enabled version of Office for iPad, and will release it in the first half of this year -- before the next update to Windows comes out.

Too bad that this is a product with no market.

Must read: An enterprise wish list for iOS 7.1

It's fun to get excited about Microsoft creating a whole new version of one of its most important products for a rival platform, but apart from making for an interesting business case study and debate topic for hardcore Microsoft and Apple followers, what useful purpose will a touch-enabled version of Office on the iPad serve?

The iPad was built for completely different usage scenarios than Microsoft Office. Its strengths are its portability and ease of use, as well as a huge selection of simple single-function apps. It's used for quick tasks on the go and multitasking -- think about how often you switch between apps in a single iPad session. It's also used (mostly) around the house as a secondary lightweight computer, mainly for consuming entertainment content -- it's much easier to watch video or read books on the couch or in bed with a one-pound touch screen device than it is with a full laptop. Yes, it's possible to use the iPad to get "serious" work done, but the apps used to complete that work will be different from traditional PC productivity apps -- simpler, with fewer functions. 

Seriously, try and think of a viable use case for a touch-screen version of Office on the iPad. Are financial wizards going to enter data and run macros by tapping on their screens from the bed? Are marketers going to create PowerPoint presentations on the train? Are execs going to fire up the iPad version of Word during meetings so they can take notes with pretty formatting and change-tracking?

No. If you're a regular Office user, you already have a computer with a keyboard, probably a laptop. If you need to use Office, you're going to use that computer. In the last case, Microsoft already sells a note-taking app that was built for touch screens -- it's called OneNote, and it's been available for iPad since December 2011 (and iPhone before that). 

Sure, users might need to take a quick look at an Office-formatted file on their iPad between meetings or during their commute, maybe make a couple changes. Here, Microsoft already has Office Web Apps, but it's pretty limited; users can also download Office Mobile, but it was designed for the iPhone, not the iPad. There are also plenty of third-party tools that suffice for this quick viewing and editing, but their creators may not keep up with the latest changes to Office formats or map to Microsoft's broader business goals -- just look at how Google has slowly brought Quickoffice into the Google fold, killing links to Dropbox and requiring a Google Account to use it, for example.

So for customers who've already paid for an Office 365 subscription, having a touch-friendly version of Office that's designed for the iPad will make these occasional use cases easier.

But for the rest of the world it's a big yawn. Office is a PC product from the PC era. It's big, complicated, almost infinitely backwards-compatible, and full of every possible feature that everybody might need. That's great for the PC, but it's now how mobile computing works.

Moving a full touch-screen version of Office to the iPad solves no real problem for anybody. If there's ever going to be mass adoption of mobile productivity apps, it'll come from apps that were designed for mobile first, like QuipBox, or Slack

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Read/Post Comments (7) | Recommend This Article (1)

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  • Report this Comment On February 26, 2014, at 10:57 AM, IronyTag wrote:

    If MS Office came out, we'd immediately put in an order for 30 iPads. The only thing holding us back now is the Excel Spreadsheets we use in house which don't work properly in third party apps.

  • Report this Comment On February 26, 2014, at 6:08 PM, crash3085 wrote:

    I disagree. MS Office is still the standard, it's still very relevant, and it would be very welcome on tablets.

  • Report this Comment On February 27, 2014, at 2:52 PM, aarmentrout1 wrote:

    I have 2400 iPads in my company and we would desperately love Office for them.

  • Report this Comment On February 27, 2014, at 4:49 PM, ronrfox wrote:

    I could not disagree more with this article. The lack of a viable Office alternative is the only reason I now use a Windows tablet. To talk about this not being the "usage scenario" for an iPad is wrong, bordering on stupid. Practically every day I use Office on the tablet to do light editing when I am away from home - either traveling or at the local overpriced coffee shop. None, and I mean none of the so-called compatible apps actually are compatible enough to be useful. They either virtually destroy the original file or don't work at all. There are several cloud versions of Office that are excellent, but they only work with a killer internet connection, which I almost never have when I am not at home or in the office, which is where I do not need a cloud version.

    I would love an iOS version of Office because the iPad is about twenty-eight thousand times better than a Windows tablet (your results may vary) and I would love to go back to the iPad. For that reason, though, it seems like a mistake for Microsoft to do it.

  • Report this Comment On February 27, 2014, at 5:16 PM, TTES wrote:

    I could swear that just a few months ago there were about a gazillion articles stating that not only should MS come out with an iPad version of Office, but also that MS should put it out there for free.

    So...what changed so drastically in the last few months that warrants a complete 180 on this possibility?

  • Report this Comment On February 27, 2014, at 5:30 PM, sd124 wrote:

    This article is trash. People are constantly using tablets in order to work out in the field gathering information. Microsoft Office would be best for this. Global and small companies have switched to Windows Surface because they need Excel to create custom spreadsheets in order to record field data and share with business partners and clients. Ipads with Office would be the preferred choice. Who rights this stuff??!!

  • Report this Comment On February 27, 2014, at 6:31 PM, sman wrote:

    This will force ipad users to add an optional keyboard and kill the surface opportunity.

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CITEworld by IDG Enterprise offers news and technology advice for IT pros, business leaders, technology providers, and investors who want to ride the tidal wave of consumer technologies reshaping the business landscape. CITEworld focuses on the mobile revolution in the workplace, new-breed enterprise companies bringing a more consumer-like experience to the office, and new techniques and tools for developers who want to capitalize on this trend.

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