updated 10:54 pm EDT, Fri March 14, 2014
Politics over Surface causing lost revenue; alternatives being adopted
Tired of waiting for Microsoft's flagship suite, Office, to be ported to iOS devices like the iPad, companies have turned to alternative means to create, revise and distribute documents in increasingly-mobile enterprise, institutional, small-business and collaborative workflows -- costing the Windows maker an estimated $2.5 billion annually in potential revenue. Sources say iPad and iPhone versions exist and are ready to go -- simply awaiting a release date complicated by politics.
A number of factors complicate any potential release of Microsoft Office for the iOS platform, the lead of which is Microsoft's unwillingness to concede defeat -- thus far -- on the strategy of making Office for tablets only available on its own Surface tablet platform. The omission of Office on other mobile devices hasn't pushed the Surface or Windows RT forward as expected, and instead the company is risking allowing competitors and alternatives to Office to emerge and take hold in the post-PC era (another reality of the market that the company won't own up to).
Alleged leaked iPad version of Office from last year
According to Reuters sources, new Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella could release the iOS products at any time, but only came to the position last month, and may have other priorities as he struggles to reverse Microsoft's slow but steady decline in a number of areas. The company at least acknowledges the interest in a full, authorized version of Microsoft Office for other platforms: it recently reassured Mac owners that a new version was forthcoming, and Office marketing executive John Case recently told the news service "certainly, interest in Office on the iPad is extreme. When they (customers) want to do real work, they are going to want to use Office."
That last remark, a not-terribly-subtle dig based on the mistaken impression that non-Microsoft tablets are capable only of passive and entertainment uses, is also a part of the mindset that has kept Office off the world's best-selling tablet and brand of smartphone. To Microsoft's chagrin, users on iOS and Android have simply found functional alternatives to Office, and in some cases altered their workflow to be less dependent on "office-type" apps in the first place.
In response, Apple has aggressively pushed and recently revamped its suite-formerly-known-as-iWork -- the Pages word processor and DTP app, its Numbers spreadsheet and Keynote slideshow/presentation package -- and upgraded Mail to work better with Exchange servers, as well as positioning its iMessage technology as one of the options in what might be termed the coming "post-email" era, as messaging services take on more and more use in business and collaborative environments. The iWork apps specifically gained cross-platform compatibility (through a web browser) and uniformity across iOS, web and Mac platforms -- hinting at a possible future Windows release.
Apple has been far from the only company beefing up its "Office-like" capabilities. Google this week slashed the cost of storage on its Google Drive, and likewise has promoted its own Google Docs services, which like iWork offer free alternatives to Microsoft's Office 365 online version. In addition, Google Mail is more popular than Outlook ever was, and increasingly being used by businesses rather than just consumers. Evernote continues to evolve into a cloud-based office workflow companion, as do Dropbox and Box and their cloud-storage competitors.
Filemaker, an independent Apple subsidiary, has launched the latest version of its eponymous database software with an emphasis on mobile compatibility and web publishing. Numerous Office-like apps on the App Store and Google Play have established the once-thought-difficult idea that productivity apps can be adapted to touch-based devices. Programs like Quip, Goodreader, Paper, Smartsheet, Prezi and SimpleNote utilize continuous cloud syncing and web apps to allow documents to be accessible from any device, on any platform, and work "offline" as well.
Internal divisions at Microsoft may also be hamstringing the company's progress in mobile deployment of Office. Allegedly, the Windows group wants to keep Office as a Windows exclusive to help sway customers to invest in Surface or Windows Phone, along with the company's flagship Windows desktop platform. The Office group, however, feel that the key to keeping Office as the standard is to make it available on as many platforms as possible. "We will bring these apps to Windows devices and also other devices like the iPad in ways that meet our customers' needs and in ways that make sense economically for Microsoft," the company said in a recent statement.
Which direction might actually be in the best long-term interests of Microsoft may pose a conundrum -- but the longer the company waits, the more users slip through its fingers. The mobile alternative apps, particularly in the areas of spreadsheets and presentations, cannot directly compete with Excel and PowerPoint on sheer features and abilities -- but surpass the older company on two key points: being developed from the ground up with mobile in mind, and in being where the users are going, platform-wise, rather than where they are leaving. Microsoft risks a "generation" of users who have come to realize that its products, while excellent, are not the only game in town.