Office for iPad - next week?

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Does it matter if there’s an Office for iPad? Only if it’s a decent app that works properly.

Microsoft is quietly delighted with all the coverage for a product they haven’t even admitted exists – Office for iPad. First there were stories about ‘internal divisions’ about whether to release Office for iPad and now news and speculation regarding a press conference next week with the new CEO.

All fantastic free publicity for Microsoft based on almost nothing.

The 27 March announcement could be about Office for iPad, Office apps for Windows Metro/Modern interface, ‘free’ OneNote or what Microsoft executives are having for lunch.  But the smart money is on Office for iPad and perhaps also Android tablets.

Given all the hype and stock market reaction, Microsoft had better announce Office for iPad or something equally compelling on the 27th.  If they don’t,there’ll be a backlash not just of comments but also on the MSFT stock price.

As has already noted, it’s not enough for Microsoft to release something called ‘Office for iPad’. Yes, that will be enough for most commentators but actual paying users need a product that works.

Office mobile apps for iPhone, Android phones and Windows exist, but they aren’t very good. They wonderful if you like bugs, crashes, useless error messages, no help, hidden menus, mysterious icons and badly saved documents.

Office for iPad has gotta be good, if only because Microsoft has had years to develop a decent tablet product. Some things to look for next week:

  • Where to open or save a document? Office Mobile apps are deliberately crippled so you can only open/save with OneDrive. Even documents saved on the device itself can’t be opened, presumably to make people OneDrive compulsory.
  • A reasonable set of features. A mobile or tablet app won’t have all the features of Office for Windows, but it should be able to handle the basics of editing and collaboration.
  • Collaboration – Microsoft bangs on about sharing documents so Office for iPad needs to have some collaboration support. The ability to view and add comments at the very least.
  • Round-tripping’ a document feature (e.g. WordArt or Equation Editor etc.) not supported by the app is retained in the document so it appears later when opened in ‘grown up’ Office. This is a feature in Office Web Apps that Microsoft boasted about but is now conspicuously silent.
  • Password document support.  If saving to OneDrive is going to be rammed down customers throats, at least Microsoft can support password protected documents in their Office Mobile apps.  That will let customers retain some privacy in their cloud storage.
  • Decent Help and documentation – the Office Mobile apps are devoid of help, proper documentation and the Knowledge Base is almost completely silent about problems with the mobile apps. A few chatty Microsoft blog posts is not a substitute for proper documentation.
  • Stable – a stable app should be a given but don’t bet on it.
  • Android support

What about Android?

All the talk is about Office for Apple tablets, but that’s not where the main game is being played. A few years ago the iPad had the tablet market all to themselves and even now most of the media attention is on iPad. But Apple doesn’t even have the majority of tablet sales anymore.

In the real world, Android rules the tablet market. According to Gartner, in 2013 more than half the tablets sold in the world were Android devices (61.9% for Android, 36% for Apple with others, including Microsoft picking up the crumbs).

Just like with Office Mobile, Microsoft needs to release both Office for iPad AND Office for Android tablets.

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