Microsoft finally accepts the reality that tablet devices are here to stay (except perhaps theirs, which is not exactly setting sales records) and that it is better to get in the tablet software business than to ignore competitors’ tablets. Yes,at long last,Microsoft is releasing a version of its Office software suite for use on iPads and other non-Microsoft tablets.
Microsoft’s new Chief Executive Satya Nadella made the announcement at a press event in San Francisco today that its Office software, which includes Word, PowerPoint, Excel and other applications, would now be available for use on tablets other than the company’s own Surface tablet. The company then had a spokeswoman present demonstrations of how the Office products work on mobile devices and connect to the company’s cloud. Microsoft also showed off features that were developed specifically for tablet use, such as a numeric keyboard for Excel and a faux laser pointer to use when doing PowerPoint presentations.
Versions of the three apps with be available for free starting today from Apple’s iTunes App store to allow tablet users to read and present documents, presentations and spreadsheets on their iPads. To use the full capabilities (such as the ability to create and edit the information) on the Office programs, customers will have to purchase an annual $99 subscription to Office 365, which will also allow them to use Microsoft’s OneDrive cloud-storage system. According to Wall Street analyst predictions, Microsoft’s annual billings could increase by $1.2 billion with Microsoft Office 365 for iPad.
Many have questioned the company’s resistance to releasing the Office suite, which has reportedly been ready for a while, for tablets other than its own. Their decision to delay releasing their bread-and-butter software suite for other companies’ tablets was believed to be an attempt to give Microsoft’s Surface tablet a market edge. The strategy has hurt them as Surface failed to capture much tablet market share at all and other software companies developed apps that readily replaced Word and Excel for tablet use like Evernote, Quip, and Pages.
Perhaps this dawning of the Nadella era at Microsoft will mean the behemoth will be more open to a broader vision and acceptance that the company has been hurt by its delays to accept the mobile marketplace. The company is clearly at a crossroads trying to figure out how consumerism has changed the computer world from a job or school work-based emphasis to a personal-use, connection tool emphasis in recent years. Windows was the standard for decades, but they blundered at updating them for touchscreen and more modern use. They are still working to refine Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 and help their sales improve.
The iPad apps are part of a major shift in the way Microsoft does business. They also highlight how a company of this size is often working at cross purposes with itself. Microsoft has been slow to add Office to the apps in the iTunes Store partly to strengthen the value of its Windows operating system. It got PCs makers to put Internet Explorer (IE) on their products, but people Google Chrome, Apple Safari and Mozilla Firefox have taken considerable chunks out of the IE market on desktops and laptops. In addition, people using phones and tablets are rarely turning to IE. Nadella clearly has his work cut out for him, but today’s iPad announcement shows that he is ready to accept reality and make Microsoft change.
By Dyanne Weiss