The folks at Microsoft have lost their minds, at least if the rumors are true that Microsoft plans to bring MS Office to the Apple iPad in 2012. Why would they do anything so downright suicidal? Do they want Apple to win? If so, Microsoft Office for iPad is one way of ensuring they do. Do they want to lose one of their biggest cash cows? Microsoft Office iPad apps will do that!
Microsoft is making a big mistake even to hint at iPad support for Office. Make no mistake that Office is one of the best, fullest, and most ubiquitous office suites. It makes sense that they choose to sell versions of it for Apple Macintosh (although never in the same year, until now), but for competing mobile platforms? This is just asking to be bent over the barrel by Apple and Android.
On the one hand there’s pricing: the cheapest iteration of Microsoft Office 2010, the Home & Student Edition, costs $120 to download from Microsoft. The most expensive is $350! Office is so ubiquitous in the market they have been able to justify such pricing. Apple changed this by pricing the iOS iWork at $10 per app, and rumors suggest Office apps will be comparably priced.
While this is great to make Office competitive with iWork, it’s terrible for a corporation that makes a large chunk of profit from its office suite. Apple never depended as much on iWork. It will also make it impractical for them to issue multiple versions at increasing prices as they do with traditional versions of Office, i.e. one for home, one for business, one for professionals, etc…
The nature of a mobile app limits the ability to differentiate a program into multiple versions at different prices. Apple pricing iWork apps for $10 per app ensures that Microsoft cannot reasonably get away with charging more for Windows 8 versions. If they even tried, the Apple advertising would write itself: Buy iPad and get Microsoft Office cheaper than on Windows 8!
Even Android could find inroads, in that case, to promote Android office suites like Documents To Go, which provide much of the same functionality, often at a cheaper cost, and are even compatible with Office formats. Similarly other office suites for iOS could find inroads. To earn historical margins for new versions of Office, Microsoft would have to charge a lot more than $10 per app.
They might try to make superior versions for Windows 8 to encourage purchasing Win8 and to justify charging more, but users will not easily be persuaded to pay more if iPad offers good enough Office apps at a cheaper price. Being better isn’t enough if the iPad apps are good enough, and they’d have to be or they wouldn’t sell, which is the entire point of developing for iOS in the first place.
Microsoft might release a more traditional version of Office for Windows 8, but Windows 8 seems destined to fail in the traditional computing market, with its mobile optimized layout being especially unpopular with businesses. Mobile users will not get much use out of a more traditional version of Office, especially if older versions of Office work in synergy with the cheaper mobile apps for Windows 8.
I can’t easily imagine anyone purchasing a Windows 8 tablet over an iPad, if Office were a deciding factor, and both platforms made Office available at comparable prices. Microsoft could bake Office into many, or all, of their Windows 8 devices out-of-the-box, but they would surely pass down this cost down to consumers, one way or another.
They won’t be able to sell these apps for older versions of Windows lacking the new Metro apps, or to Windows Phones devices because the two are not compatible (though Windows Phone 8 might be, at the expense of not being compatible with Windows Phone 7 series devices), but they might also make special versions for Windows Phone. iPhones and iPads are solid devices, and Windows, as did Android did, will take time to mature for mobile devices. And therein lies the rub.
Microsoft Office remains one of the most formidable weapons in their arsenal, and a potential selling point. Office support for Windows Phone was a pitiful afterthought, an inferior alternative to Google Docs, which worked only with existing licensed copies of Office rather than being standalone, i.e. you still needed to own a licensed copy of Office for Windows to make it work at all.
Microsoft Office is in some ways a declining product, as free alternatives like OpenOffice and Google Docs provide enough office functionality to replace Microsoft Office for many users. iWork for iOS and Macintosh, both asending brands against the declining Windows and Windows Phone, have also hammered away at their market share. Nonetheless Microsoft Office is still popular, if for no other reason than people are used to it and don’t want to learn a new office suite.
As a stopgap to prevent mobile customers from losing interest, Office support for Windows 8 and future Windows Phones would be a selling point until they could create enough additional selling points to offset their decline in the market. Yet if Microsoft Office is available for the iPad, then why would anyone purchase a Windows 8 tablet, unless its price was much lower than seems likely?
If Microsoft Office apps are available and affordable and good enough on iPads, and if this is a decisive point in tablet purchasing, then why buy Windows 8 instead of an iPad? The only way they could make it worse would be to develop Office apps for Android tablets, as well.
As long as they’re committing suicide, does it matter if they shoot themselves with one gun or two? At least they make money on Android, so they might as well finish the process of destroying themselves. Microsoft Office for Android? Why not? They’ve virtually admitted defeat.