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Why Office for iPhone will never be any good

Microsoft doesn’t want Office for iPhone to be good or popular.

We’ve received a lot of emails from people disappointed with Microsoft Office Mobile for iPhone.

Disappointed that it’s so limited in features and options for saving documents.

Disappointed that the new app requires an Office software rental to use at all. Buying the latest Office software isn’t enough, you have to commit to renting software.

Those complaints are understandable but miss the point that the main reason for Office Mobile for iPhone is not to benefit customers. The app is out there to benefit Microsoft.

Typically a company improves its products to make the product better for consumers and therefore get more sales. But Microsoft isn’t a typical company and Microsoft Office isn’t a typical product.

With their Office software Microsoft has an effective monopoly. It’s not a textbook 100% monopoly, but those rarely happen in the real world. Microsoft has grown what amounts to a monopoly with Office suite software. They’ve done that in many ways over the years with the result that Office is the first and really only choice for most people and organizations.

That monopoly doesn’t just mean huge sales, it means higher prices too. Economists call those higher prices ‘monopoly rent’ or ‘monopoly profit‘. We pay more for each copy of Microsoft Office because there’s no real alternative.

Microsoft management know this all too well. All their marketing decisions about Office are done, first and foremost, to maintain their effective monopoly. Redmond defends the monopoly by making it hard for customers to switch away from Office and hard for any competitor to get a hold in the market.

Over the years Microsoft has pushed companies to use their server technologies so that it’s difficult for organizations to use something other than Microsoft Office on desktops. If you’re running Exchange Server and SharePoint on servers then it’s difficult to justify not having Office on desktops.

The hard push to Office 365 ‘subscriptions’, actually software rental (low starting price, extras thrown in etc.) is designed to make it harder for customers to switch away from Microsoft Office and get a regular income stream to the company.

Office Mobile for iPhone

So what does this mean for the new Office Mobile for iPhone?

The new app lets Microsoft boast that Office is available for iPhone without bothering with the detail that only people renting Office software can get it. Office for iPhone is another ‘carrot’ to get people onto the Office 365 software rental path that’s better for Microsoft.

However Microsoft doesn’t want people to use Office for iPhone beyond its own world, so they’ve blocked off all saving options except their own Skydrive service. Even saving to the device itself isn’t possible.

Office for iPhone is a warning to any company thinking of a big push to make an Office suite app or series of apps for Apple or Android devices. The warning is that Microsoft can and will step in with their massive resources and marketing with their own Office apps. That’s a big deterrent to anyone wanting to challenge Microsoft Office. Until now there’s only been the possibility of Microsoft apps, now that’s real albeit in a small way.

Of course, the high use of Microsoft Office also helps keep Microsoft Windows as the most common operating system on sale. The big move away from desktop/laptop computers is a major problem for Microsoft’s monopolies because, despite the constant hype, Windows tablets haven’t made any significant dent against Apple and Android.

But Microsoft is relentless, they may have been slow to get onto the tablet device bandwagon but they’re determined to win eventually. One way to do that is using Microsoft Office as leverage to get people away from Apple/Android that doesn’t have the full Office software and features.

Office software/apps will always be better on a Windows device than on another platform. It’s very much in Microsoft’s interests to do that. Office for Mac has always been slow to implement features compared to Office for Windows. Look how long it took Office for Mac to properly support Microsoft’s own document formats (docx etc.); a year or more after Office 2007 was released with broken promises and delays.

There’s nothing wrong with Microsoft acting in this way; that’s the way our capitalist system works. Other companies can and do similar things if they get an overwhelming market share. Google entangles their various services and leverages their search dominance into other areas.


Microsoft’s near monopoly with their Office suite isn’t entirely a bad thing for consumers. It’s given us all a consistent platform to work with across many organizations across the globe. Office document formats are a defacto standard that we largely take for granted.

Redmond’s desire to maintain their enormous market share can also benefit consumers on occasion. When there’s a genuine threat to the MS Office dominance, we get features added to the product. We would not have a browser based version of Office (Office Web Apps) if it weren’t for the continuing efforts of Google and their Apps product. Amazon is starting to raise prices now there are less bookstores both online and offline.

And we would not have Office Mobile for iPhone, however limited, if it weren’t for the rival apps and the continuing popularity of both Apple and Android devices.

One thing is certain. Microsoft, like any company, will always do what’s best for itself and its shareholders first. The customers come second.

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