Office for iPad: Big deal or big yawn?

Summary:Put the world's most popular office suite on the most popular tablet, and what do you get?

David Braue

David Braue

Big deal

or

Big yawn

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

Best Argument: Big deal

40%
60%

Audience Favored: Big yawn (60%)

The moderator has delivered a final verdict.

Opening Statements

The Office you need, the device you want

It's been a long time coming, but Microsoft Office will be one of the biggest things to ever happen to the iPad.

No matter how much you believe Google Docs and other cloud-based productivity tools are eating Office's lunch, the traditional offline versions are still sending billions to Redmond every year because they're the gold standard in productivity. Heck, built-in Office is a key reason many people buy Microsoft Surface Pro tablets over iPads.

People want nuisance-free productivity tools available anywhere, but most competing iPad suites have been pale imitations of Office with so-so compatibility, poor integration and awkward file handling.

Built and priced right, a Microsoft-built and -backed platform will lure customers back from alternatives – including Apple's own Pages, Numbers and Keynote. Sure to be tied in seamlessly with Microsoft OneDrive, Skype and other complementary services, this will be the Office you need on the device you want.

See also:

A really expensive laptop? No thanks

You know what? Office 365 on the iPad may indeed be the gold standard for office suites on the iPad  Personally I favor QuickOffice. But, what do I know? I don't use office suites on tablets. Period. End of statement.

The iPad is great for reading ebooks, for watching movies, for listening to music, for playing games for, in other words, for being entertained. In short, it's great for consuming information. For creating documents? For filling out a spreadsheet? Not so much.

Sure, I could use an iPad to do this. You know what? I can't type worth a damn on it or any other tablet's screen.  Of course, I could add a keyboard, and what the heck, a mouse while I'm at it so I can type and edit efficiently.

You know what you get when you add a keyboard and a pointing device to an iPad? You get a really expensive laptop. No thanks. 

The Rebuttal

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Here we go

    As usual, new software from Microsoft provokes heated debate. Are you ready?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    I'm ready

    I'm sure you will agree with me.

    David Braue

    I am for Big deal

    Me too

    I hope we don't put you to sleep.

    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

    I am for Big yawn

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Does it matter?

    Why is Office on the iPad a big deal?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    The iPad needs it badly

    The absence of a capable, compatible office suite has been a glaring deficiency on the iPad since it was launched. People just want to be able to get their work done, not try to re-learn productivity tools through some a random third-party application. That's why Office on the iPad is such a big deal: add a keyboard case, and the iPad can now be all the computer most people actually need. Reviews already suggest it's the gold standard  for mobile productivity .

    David Braue

    I am for Big deal

    For work? Use a laptop

    It's not so much that Office on the iPad per se is a bad idea. I happen to think any office suite on a tablet is a non-starter. Your word-processing, spreadsheeting and other work may vary, but I find that nothing beats a real keyboard when it comes to this kind of work.

    Sure, for little jobs—a quick note, an alteration to some numbers, an edit to a manuscript in a meeting—you can use a tablet. But, seriously do you need Office 365 for that? It sounds like overkill to me.

    The bottom-line is that if I need to use Office, I need to be on a laptop.

    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

    I am for Big yawn

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Strengths

    What are the strengths of Office on the iPad?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    It's familiar yet flexible

    Despite what competitors promise about document compatibility, only Microsoft is able to reliably support the features of its Office packages. By building the mobile version of its suite to take advantage of the many hooks into iOS 7, they can ensure that it's a native app that will work seamlessly with Microsoft's cloud-hosted file and other systems – without requiring an Internet connection. This makes it feel familiar yet flexible, and it will grow over time as more and more features are added.

    David Braue

    I am for Big deal

    Entertainment

    Cue cricket sound effects.

    So I can use Word, Excel, and PowerPoint now on my iPad. OK, I could already have done similar work with QuickOffice, except, well you know, I haven't.

    To me, tablets are for data consumers, not data creators. I see people reading on their iPads, listening to music on their iPads, playing games on their iPads, and watching videos on their iPads. Office work? Not so much.

    Sure, there are point-of-sales apps for iPad. For basic data-entry, an iPad is fine. For crunching spreadsheets and writing documents? I can't see it.

    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

    I am for Big yawn

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Weaknesses

    What do you see as the weaknesses?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    High expectations

    People will initially expect too much from the platform, since even light to moderate desktop users have customised their environments with keystrokes, macros, templates and the like. Office is like a well-worn baseball glove that fits your hand just right; get a new one, and you're always going to feel the seams in different places.

    David Braue

    I am for Big deal

    Licensing

    Besides the other issues, I have real problems with Office for the iPad's licensing model. That version you can get from Apple, Home Premium? You can't use it for business purposes   To this I can only say "Huh!?"

    I also dislike subscription-based models. I didn't like it when Adobe did it to Creative Suite, and I really don't like it for business software. Call me old-fashioned but when I get a program I don't want to have pay for it over and over again until the end of time.

    I find myself agreeing with hordes of iPad users who dislike it for many reasons. For example, its lack of cloud storage options except for OneDrive; the sheer size of the applications: Word, 459 MBs; Excel, 433 MBs and PowerPoint 643 MBs, and just how the heck could Microsoft release any version of Office without the fundamental ability to print to paper?

    Ack!




    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

    I am for Big yawn

  • Great Debate Moderator

    The 'Office effect'

    Do you anticipate that the "Office effect" that happens on the PC will follow on mobile?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    Headache free

    Absolutely. There's enough flexibility on the desktop to let rival suites like OpenOffice function as alternatives to Office , but in the mobile world there have been far too many attempts to redefine word processing for the iPad. People love to complain about Microsoft but when it comes down to it, Office for iPad will be the least headache-inducing mobile office suite you're likely to see – particularly since Microsoft will work hard to integrate it with new desktop versions.

    David Braue

    I am for Big deal

    Open your eyes

    Nope. I can't see it. I also don't see the "Office effect" as described period. I see businesses where over a decade ago they learned you can't be fired for buying Microsoft Office. So even though there have long been options that are just as good, if not better, such as LibreOffice or Google Docs, IT managers are still paying for Microsoft because that's what they've always done before.

    If CIOs were to really open their eyes and look at what they get from Office, look at their licensing fees, and consider the alternatives, I'd see Office declining quickly. With the tablet BYOD model now in play I can't see Office catching on at all on the iPad. Mind you, I don't see any real office suite doing it either. Again, tablets are the wrong format for office work.

    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

    I am for Big yawn

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Will Microsoft change course?

    Does Office on iPad signal that Microsoft will somehow be more focused on apps and less on Windows Phone?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    Follow the money

    I'm sure Microsoft will keep focusing on Windows Phone, which is a far more capable platform than many give it credit for. But the decision to finally port Office to the iPad reflects the reality that Apple still owns the mobile world despite its competitors' best efforts, and the concerted decision of many people to use the Surface Pro when it comes down to work stuff. Assuming Office for iPad's early chart-topping success continues, I would expect Microsoft to continue its investment in iOS apps where and as appropriate.

    David Braue

    I am for Big deal

    Hang it up

    Strategically. I think Office for iPad spells the end of Windows RT. It was a failed platform to begin with and this kills it dead. I think it also spells trouble for the entire Surface and Windows Phone families.

    The market has spoken and it's saying it wants Android and iOS. Microsoft can make money from delivering services to these platforms — albeit I don't think Office will help much with the bottom line — but at the same time it undercutting its former move to hardware.

    I think this may well be by design. Microsoft had been moving to a hardware/software services business model. With the relative failure of its hardware, why not move to more of a services play. Or, as I suggested a while back, when Nokia moved into Android smartphones, why not just give up on Windows Phone entirely and just support Android on their own hardware?

    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

    I am for Big yawn

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Offer enough?

    Can Microsoft offer enough Office integration on the Windows platform to justify buying the entire Microsoft stack?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    No heavy lifting

    Absolutely. Despite what some people say , Office for iPad is no replacement for the desktop suite; there's just too much history, capability and features embedded in that package that will not easily translate to mobile devices. Office for iPad will always be a complementary workhorse for people on the move, but when it comes to the heavy lifting – automation, workflow, integration with back-end servers and third-party environments – businesses will always be able to justify buying the entire stack. Office is just the tip of the Microsoft iceberg.

    David Braue

    I am for Big deal

    Little use

    I see this playing the other way around. I see businesses that are already heavily invested in the Microsoft stack buying Office 365 licenses for their iPads. Now, how many of those Office for iPad licenses will actually be used is another question. I suspect very few of them will be.

    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

    I am for Big yawn

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Microsoft's cloud

    How would you rate Microsoft's overall cloud, mobile app strategy?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    Gaining momentum

    Its determination to make Windows Mobile succeed, despite every indication it would not, has been commendable and it is really starting to pay off. And, after a few fits and starts, I think its OneDrive based cloud strategy will gradually gather momentum – both because it provides a center of gravity for further mobile and cloud services, and because it makes Microsoft's approach a viable competitor to Google Apps.

    David Braue

    I am for Big deal

    Stumbling

    The iPad move is one of necessity. Few people were using Windows 8.x Surfaces, Surface RT or Windows Phone for business. Their only hope was to get their apps on iPads and Android tablets, which is where the users are. They've been late to the market and I doubt they'll catch up.

    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

    I am for Big yawn

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Office viewing apps on Android, iOS

    What will happen to all the Office viewing apps available on Android and iOS?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    Enough interest to survive

    There will obviously be some losses as users migrate to the full versions of the apps. However, there will still be many who love their alternative viewers enough to keep them – usually because they offer specific other features that are of value.

    David Braue

    I am for Big deal

    Hanging around

    I see these hanging around. There will always be some users who just want to view Microsoft documents. Were Microsoft to abandon them, I think they'd face a real backlash from angry users.

    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

    I am for Big yawn

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Office for Android

    How long do you think it'll take for Office to launch on Android?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    Anybody's guess

    It took five years to get Office on the iPad so it's anybody's guess. Realistically, I'd say we should give it a year; Microsoft first needs to decide just how it feels about Android, particularly given Nokia's overtures to the platform . If Microsoft decides there is value in encouraging its newest plaything to build Android phones, it won't be long before we see Office for Android; if they decide two mobile platforms is enough, I wouldn't hold my breath.

    David Braue

    I am for Big deal

    I'm not sure

    It all depends on Microsoft's strategy. If they've decided to go all in for a service business model play for mobile, it will be in the second quarter of 2014. If they take a wait-and-see approach, it will be in 2014's fourth quarter. The latter presumes, of course, that Office for iPad doesn't fall flat on its face.

    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

    I am for Big yawn

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Office on multiple mobile platforms?

    Do you think Microsoft can manage the release cycle for Office on multiple mobile platforms or will it have to favor Windows?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    Not the top priority

    It will always favor Windows, which offers far broader and deeper functionality than will be possible on mobile – as well as better back-end integration with real-world production environments. That said, I'd expect Microsoft to refine the mobile value proposition over time and, therefore, to add features that aren't necessarily as suitable for the desktop version.

    David Braue

    I am for Big deal

    A bug hitting a windshield

    Historically, that's been Microsoft's path. I think if they try it in the mobile space, they'll be smacked a bug hitting a windshield at 60 MPH. They have to keep at least Office for iPad up to date. And, I think they know it.

    The mobile space is not the PC. They can't treat all the other platforms like second-class citizens when in mobile they're the ones with a second-rate market-share.

    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

    I am for Big yawn

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Home run or single?

    Would you argue that Office for the iPad will turn out much like Office for the Mac -- a product that's ok, but not exactly stunning?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    Home run

    I'd like to think Microsoft has learned a thing or two with its lackluster Office for Mac experience, which will hopefully be much improved with the next upgrade http://www.zdnet.com/ageing-office-for-mac-to-get-revamped-this-year-but-when-7000027248/. Macs are no longer a marginal computing platform, and neither is the iPad. Microsoft knows a poor showing for Office on iPad will damage its mobile credibility, so it can't afford to bring anything less than its A-game to iOS. Given reviews suggesting it has “ set a very high bar ” and its success winning over the most diehard sceptics, I'd say it's already hitting home runs .

    David Braue

    I am for Big deal

    Single

    Again, I think office suites on tablets are the wrong software for the wrong platform. I would have thought Microsoft would have tried their best to make Office for the iPad a great product, but the lack of such fundamentals as the ability to print makes me wonder if Microsoft is capable of creating top-notch programs for tablets at all, never mind the iPad.

    At best, I think Microsoft will produce "OK" products in this space. I fear they won't even do that well.

    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

    I am for Big yawn

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Thanks

    We're glad that you joined us for our Great Debate. I'd say our debaters were right on target and gave us something to think about. Next on the schedule is closing statements on Wednesday and my verdict which will be posted Thursday afternoon. Please read the comments and then add your own. Plus, don't forget to vote.

    Posted by Larry Dignan

Closing Statements

It's exactly what you needed

David Braue

We live in a cynical world, sure. Yet, while this debate has been raging, one positive review of Office for iPad has been rolling in after another. Reviewers agree it's “recommended”  , one of Microsoft's “ finest moments ," and “ sets the gold standard ” for mobile productivity. Maybe the truth is that it's just the office that you've been waiting for all this time.

Sure, surveys suggest productivity isn't on most mobile users' minds . Of course you can just use a notebook, but if you're using your iPad for everything else why should you have to lug around a notebook just to use Word and Excel? Add an iPad keyboard  and Office for iPad, and you've got the same functionality in a device you're already carrying with you.

In the end, as much as it may be trendy to dis Microsoft and declare Office passe, you know you love it. Office for iPad is like The Lego Movie (which currently has a 97 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes): you may hate the premise and want to hate the execution, but once you settle in and let yourself experience it, you'll realize it is exactly what you needed.

iPads don't create information, they consume it

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

If you really must use Microsoft Office, I have a modest suggestion for you: Use it on a PC, not on an iPad or any other tablet.

I really can't see any office suite working that well on a pure tablet. Sure, you can make a tablet work like a PC if you add a keyboard to it. There are lots of great iPad keyboards. But come on! Is that a good use of your money?

Use a tablet for what it's good for as a device to consume information, not as one to create information. The cheaper, better option for office work on the go was then, is now, and forever shall be a laptop.

If you must have some kind of office suite on your iPad try QuickOffice. This office suite from Google works with Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and PDF documents and uses Google Drive cloud storage. And, best of all it's free.

Oh, and by the way, even on a laptop there are good, cheaper alternatives than Office. I prefer LibreOffice. Google Docs, heck even WordPerfecty — yes, it's still around — than Office. Whatever office suite you use on your laptop, it's still going to be more efficient then the best possible office suite on your tablet.

Big deal is better argument

Larry Dignan

The two sides in this debate couldn't have been more different. Steven's basic argument was that tablets are mostly for consumption so the Office on iPad move isn't that amazing. David went the other way. In the end, David's argument was better rounded so he gets the win and goes against the audience vote. 

Topics: Great Debate

About

Larry Dignan is Editor in Chief of ZDNet and SmartPlanet as well as Editorial Director of ZDNet's sister site TechRepublic. He was most recently Executive Editor of News and Blogs at ZDNet. Prior to that he was executive news editor at eWeek and news editor at Baseline. He also served as the East Coast news editor and finance editor at CN... Full Bio

zdnet_core.socialButton.googleLabel Contact Disclosure

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Related Stories

The best of ZDNet, delivered

You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
Subscription failed.