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Office for iPad and beyond

Don’t get excited about an ‘Office for iPad’ until we see it.

The online commentariat was alight with news about the coming Office for iPad. Not much news really, just a rumor that Office for iPad was still ‘coming’ and probably before a version of Office for Windows 8 touch screens.

We’ll wait to see if Office for iPad and the Office apps for Windows 8 are any good. They have to be a lot better than the lame Office Mobile offerings now available.

It gives us a chance to recap the current state of Office and what’s likely in the future. At present Microsoft Office comes in various flavors:

  • Office for Windows – now Office 2013 being pushed as a software rental
  • Office for Mac – now Office for Mac 2011 also available as part of an Office 365 annual rental deal.
  • Office Web Apps – browser based versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote and Outlook. All except Outlook Web App are available free via Skydrive or hosted by organizations.
  • Office Mobile for Windows Phone – comes with Windows Phones?
  • Office Mobile for iPhone – requires an Office 365 subscription
  • Office Mobile for Android – requires an Office 365 subscription

There’s also Office 365 which isn’t Office software at all, though it’s often mixed up with Office 2013. Office 365 the umbrella name for a range of software rental / subscription packages which may include some cloud services like email hosting, SharePoint etc.

Of these offerings, only Office for Windows and Mac can be described as ‘full featured’ products.

The Office Mobile variations have very poor features and almost non-existent help or support. They are really just ‘placeholders’ so that Microsoft can promote that they have ‘mobile support’ to Office 365 annual renters. Even making a generous allowance for the smaller screen size and device capacity, all the Microsoft Office Mobile products are very limited indeed.

It’s amazing to see boasts about Microsoft’s wide range of Office software, apparently just going off the software names. Few consider the quality of that software or its usefulness to paying customers.

It’s worth keeping the poor quality of the Office mobile apps when considering the future path of Microsoft Office.

Office for iPad

The glaring omission from the above list is any proper support for Apple iPads. At the moment you can use Office Web Apps, if you’re online, but that’s it.

This year we expect to see an Office Mobile for iPad.

Microsoft hoped in vain that Apple’s devices would become less popular and a chastened public would return to the Windows fold. They also thought that the lack of Microsoft Office software on Apple/Android would stop organizations from adopting those devices. Of course that hasn’t happened. People and companies are using phones and tablets without the need for Windows let alone a ‘real’ Office suite.

However the current poor track record of Office Mobile applications means that we’re not expecting a lot from Microsoft Office for iPad. We’ll be disappointed, but not surprised, if it’s just another ‘tick the box’ simple release.

Office Apps / Office on touch devices

Microsoft is working on versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook to work as Windows 8 Modern / Metro apps. There’s already an OneNote variant as a Windows 8 app.

These will be full screen apps designed for the touch screens (though keyboard and mouse will work).

You won’t find anyone beating down Microsoft’s door demanding these programs. Windows Modern apps have haven’t been a big success but Microsoft will keep plugging away in the hope that customers will see Modern’s virtues over Android and iOS.

The design of Modern apps makes it hard, if not impossible to display all the features we’ve come to expect from Office for Windows or Mac. If the current crop of Modern apps is any sign, Office apps will be more of a guessing game as you try to figure out how to access features, assuming they are there at all.

There’s no way that Microsoft will drop the current ‘traditional’ Office for Windows or Mac in the foreseeable future.

In short, the first release of the Office apps will be, like Office Mobile, more of a placeholder that Microsoft might build on.

We’ll be delighted to be proved wrong.

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