Touch Enabled Office Likely Coming to iPad Sooner than to Windows

Better late than never, I always say…

ipad_officeThere are a number of reports – in fact, I’d say that we were bombarded by them at the start of the weekend last Friday – that Microsoft is planning on releasing a touch enabled version of Office for iPad before it will be released on Windows. This really doesn’t surprise me at all. In fact, I’d say better late  – like more than three years too late – than never. Quite frankly, it’s about time.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve lamented over the fact that a Microsoft version of Office doesn’t exist for iOS. Code named Miramar, the word on the street is that it’s going to hit before the touch enabled version for Windows, code named Gemini.  This version of Office, however, is likely to be for iPad only, so don’t’ think you’re going to be able to turn your iPhone on its edge, grab a wireless keyboard and edit your next manuscript. That likely won’t happen. The information I’ve seen has this version of Office working on the iPad.

How this all comes together is still up in the air. Mary Jo Foley quotes Steve Ballmer from a little while back saying that Miramar would appear after Gemini (the metro version of Office – Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote) hit the market; but that may have changed near the end of 2013. It seems that Microsoft is trying actively trying to get Office for iPad to market as early in 2014 as it can.  Whether that’s before the end of Q2 or not, remains to be seen… The original scuttle-butt had Office for iPad hitting sometime in calendar Q3 of 2014.

The big unknown is how this will get to end-users.  The original rumors of this program had the app tied to some kind of Office 365 subscription.  In other words, you had to have THAT in order to get the app.  I see that as problematic. What about users who have purchased a product code vs. a subscription? How Microsoft will allow them to have access, if at all, remains to be seen. Regardless of how its licensed, you can count on Microsoft’s other services – like OneDrive – being built in. It’s doubtful that Office for iPad will use iCloud for document storage.

This could be the biggest CoIT BYOD bone that Microsoft could throw its home users. We’ve been screaming for a version of Office for iOS for YEARS (as I mentioned earlier). I know I’ve tried to pull together an “Apple iPad at Work” series for years.  My biggest problem has been that either I’ve had the wrong iPad (I have a 32GB iPad 1 that I purchased myself for Christmas in December of 2010) or the lack of a good Microsoft Office replacement has prevented me from really giving it a go.

My work habits, like those of many, no doubt, revolve around Microsoft Office created and managed documents. While there may be Microsoft Office substitutes for iOS out there, I’ve learned over the years that “Office compatible” doesn’t always mean “Office compatible.” Moving back and forth between tools often kills formatting in documents that are heavily formatted. Remaking or reapplying that level of customization is not something that I’d recommend to anyone.  There’s also the issue of touch screen type. Handwritten notes don’t work well on an iPad, I’ve learned, and that means that you really need to have a decent keyboard in order to use OneNote (and now Word) in order to get the most use out of the tools.

This is likely to make a lot of people happy; but at the same time, I’m not certain it’s going to drive a lot of sales.  Tying the tool to an Office 365 subscription may not be the wisest choice.  As I said, what about Office users who bought a product code?  What do they do to get access to the app? What about users who just want to use the iOS version and don’t want a subscription to Office 365?  Again, while many users may want this app, I don’t think it’s going to be something that will drive sales of the larger Office suite product(s).

After thinking on this a bit more, I really do think that Microsoft needs to get a decent handle on licensing and figure out how they will allow users to make use of the product. Another possible in may be via purchasing a OneDrive subscription.  I really don’t think that this is going to work with iCloud. If that’s the case, Microsoft could allow ANY iPad user use of the app, provided they have a paid OneDrive account. That would at least give everyone the opportunity to download and use the app.  Many users have more than one cloud-based storage solution (i.e., Dropbox AND iCloud, or OneDrive AND Google Drive) on their computing devices, whether they be laptop, desktop, tablet or smartphone.

What do you think, though?  Is Microsoft Office on iPad something that you want?  Do you have an Office 365 or a Microsoft OneDrive subscription? Is this something that should be tied to a Microsoft subscription product, or is it something that should exist as a standalone product?  If it doesn’t, do you think it will help drive sales of Microsoft’s Office suite, or is it just a nice to have? I’d really like to hear your thoughts on the issue. Why don’t you join us in the discussion below and give us your thoughts on the issue?

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