While The Daily first reported about Microsoft planing to release its Office suite for the iPad back in November 2011, its recent story clearly says that the app will soon be submitted to the App Store for approval. And while Microsoft denied this claim, telling The New York Times that the story “is based on inaccurate rumors and speculation”, it should be obvious that it is not a question of “if”, but “when” Microsoft will release Office for the iPad. Not only is the iPad already just too huge to ignore, but its continued rapid growth clearly threatens at least some of segments of the computer market, that are currently occupied by Windows PCs.
As some pointed out, Microsoft can significantly delay the release of Office for the iPad, wanting Office to be initially available only for Windows 8 based tablets or at least releasing them at the same time. Having Microsoft Office can be seen as a good differentiator for Windows 8 tablets, giving them some advantage against the iPad, at least in the corporate market (Microsoft also tried something like this with its Windows Phone 7 mobile platform, which clearly didn’t really help). The reasoning behind such decision is that Microsoft can utilize its stranglehold of the office suite market to boost its currently nonexistent position in the tablet market. And while such a decision clearly has some logic behind it and seems rather “Microsofty” (Using its strength in one market to gain an edge in an other), I think that following through with it would be a mistake for Microsoft.
While most people know Microsoft because of its operating system named “Windows”, the reality of things is that Windows isn’t the biggest moneymaker for the company. In recent years, Microsoft’s “Business” division (which is responsible for such products as Office, Exchange, SharePoint, Lync, Dynamics ERP and CRM) showed far faster growth than “Windows & Windows Live” division, eventually surpassing it, first by revenue and later by profit. It’s more than probable that this trend is going to continue in the immediate future, mostly because of two factors: slow performance of the “classic” PC market and mobile devices taking over more and more jobs, that previously required a full-blown computer.
Considering all this, is it really a good idea to push Windows 8 at the expense of Office? I think it won’t be an exaggeration to say that Windows pretty much sells itself, among other things, because of its position in the market — even the train wreck named “Vista” sold in pretty good volumes, resulting only in slower than planned adoption. At the same time, the dominant position of Microsoft’s Office is being slowly taken away: while the iPad adoption in the corporate market is steadily increasing, every day of Office’s absence from the iPad makes the corporate market more and more aware that they “don’t need” Office to do their business. Artificially delaying the release of Office for the iPad won’t help Windows 8, instead it’ll just damage the position of Office, while also losing possible revenue. Microsoft should have released Office for the iPad a year ago, even if had to make it a greatly simplified “Lite” or “Mobile” version.