Tell me again why we need Office on the iPad?

Tell me again why we need Office on the iPad?

Summary: If we're not going to get Office for the iPad until late 2014, and we seem to be doing alright without it now, is it even something we need in our lives?

TOPICS: Tablets
No Office on iPad
It's been a long time coming. (Image: ZDNet/Matt Baxter-Reynolds)

Throughout the time the iPad has been available for sale, people have been talking about wanting to run Office on it.

The latest information from my esteemed colleague Mary Jo Foley — having seen an internal Microsoft roadmap — is that Office for iPad is happening, but not until late 2014.

Assuming this date is right — the original iPad was first available for sale in April 2010, so we would have had nearly five years of the iPad without Office being available for it.

Don't you then have to wonder, if we've waited that long, do we need it at all?

Old problems

We're now three-and-a-half years into the iPad, and I still regularly run into people who ask me why I need an iPad?

Like the Matrix, no one can be told what the purpose of an iPad is; you have to see it for yourself. What I tend to do is tell people that they won't be disappointed with the purchase, but it's hard to understand what an individual would use it for before they own one.

This phenomenon also applies to smartphones and tablets that aren't iPads — in fact, it applies to any post-PC device. These are devices that seem to defy explanation, but once adopted, seem to hit a certain resonance with peoples lives and usually finds a comfortable harmony with the owner's lifestyle.

I would imagine that if you went back in time to the introduction of, say, the radio, you'd hit similar problems. "I'm happy reading a book."

"Yes, but you can hear the news on the radio."

"But I get the news when I get my paper in the morning."

"This is better."


"It just is."


Yet, prevailing "wisdom" from technologists seems to suggest that if you could run Office on the iPad, it would suddenly have purpose and meaning. This device would suddenly become something worth owning, as opposed to something that people buy in the their millions and are perfectly happy with despite it's lack of Office.

Let's see if we can scrape together some sort of evidence...

Firstly, analysts/pundits are often wrong (NB: I'm often wrong), but as far as I'm aware, in the years since the iPad has been introduced, there has been no amateur or professional punditry of any kind that has gone out and said that the iPad would be a more successful device if only Microsoft would deign to provide Office for it.

The iPad is clearly successful without Office. The Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire devices are also successful without Office. It doesn't seem to follow that Apple, Google, or Amazon would benefit from variants of Office that run on iOS and Android.

Secondly, the tablet market is hugely lucrative, and for years now, there has been a hole in it where Office would fit. Yet no one has stepped in. Over that time, we've had the three Apple-provided quasi-Office apps (Pages, Numbers, and Keynote) and Documents To Go by DataViz. The Apple apps still feature in the top 100 iPad apps in the UK. Documents To Go no longer does. They sell well and are decent products, but get spanked by Candy Crush Saga et al.

Thirdly, the only tablet in the market specifically designed to run Office — a tablet whose very user experience design was bent around the idea of running Office — hasn't sold very well. In fact (well, perhaps not fact because it's my subjective opinion) it's actually not a very good tablet at all. Surface with Windows RT sales have never been stellar, and now it looks like Microsoft may introduce a smaller tablet to try and combat that.

Which is mad. If Surface is designed to be "the tablet for running Office", then Sartre was wrong. Hell isn't "other people" — "hell is trying to tap out a cash flow forecast using Excel on a 7-inch tablet".

And for what it's worth, I do believe that Surface is "the tablet for running Office" — if this wasn't the case, Microsoft would have continued to develop Courier. Canning Courier was a huge mistake.


So we know that Office on iPad hasn't happened, but should it happen? Spoiler: No.

Coming back to my earlier point, this is a classic issue of what I think of as "technologist's lensing" — ie, when a technologist looks at a problem, they tend to see a solution that best suits a technologist.

Technologists have what I think is a unique problem compared to other professions — specifically, that the delineation between tools used at work and at play is indistinct. If a chemist comes home from work, they're unlikely to have expensive lab equipment in their kitchen. Yet, when a software engineer comes home from work, it's likely they have the same or better kit in their house than they do at the office.

Thus, whereas a chemist might come home and not go into the kitchen and start running experiments, a software engineer can do exactly that. This bends the technologist's vision, because the process of moving from work to play is one that is non-experiential. PC at work, then PC at home. Work tools at work — work tools at home.

I don't personally think this needs to be the case — a little light self-reflection and this becomes obvious. Are you a technologist who owns a Kindle? You could read books on your PC when you go to bed, but do you? Do you instead use the Kindle? How about cooking — do you read recipes on your iPad, or do you cart your laptop into the kitchen? 

Post-PC technology is not about cost-benefit, it's all about experience. Technologists need to reflect on their own unconcious behaviour in order to understand post-PC.


Office, Windows, and the PC are welded together into an office-centric triad, all of which operate in harmony to create a valuable and powerful tool when considered from the perspective of driving commercial efficiency. Office does nothing for one's experience at play, and taking Office out of the work environment and mixing it in with a sociologically-driven, relationship-centric play device doesn't deliver value.

It's this lack of value that explains why analysts don't talk about increasing iPad's attractiveness in the market, why an able entrepreneur hasn't come along and filled the gap, and why the only Office-centric tablet on the market doesn't sell.

If I were on Microsoft's exec team, I'd be more worried about introducing Office for iPad than not. Not for any reasons about cannibalising sales — but rather because it puts the spotlight on whether Office is destined to become the niche specialty device that the PC is.

Because, you know, it really is.

What do you think? Post a comment, or talk to me on Twitter: @mbrit.

Topic: Tablets

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


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Spradsheets & powerpoint Creation not for the iPad

    because ipad iOS doesn't support mouse while Android and Windows 8 on tablets both support

    also creation will always be suitable for bigger screen, and ergonomic devices on a desk or a lap
    Khaled Mourad
    • Exactly

      If I were to crunch some #s and generate a few charts off them, I would not want to do it on any 10' tablets at all. In a sense you don't need Office on iPad which is a toy media consumption device.
      • Not for create, but for ...

        View and small changes. We don't have a suite that can correctly execute functionality that MSO provides ....
        Most of my tablet work is document review (docx xslx pptx vsd ...). I currently do this on an android tablet as it provides me the best access - it is not perfect but significantly better than the iPad, especially offline.
        If not MSO, then something else that is competely MSO compatible.
      • People should drop the "toy" ignorance

        There are many powerful things you can do on an iPad. Pretty much any real work you can do on an android, which is very little.
        A pad is a pad, not a PC, and that applies to Microsoft's variants as well. If you gotta plug a bunch of clunky peripherals in to do real work, that's a toy. It's a gadget. An ipad is not a PC. It's a device mostly for consuming. But I can get just as much work done on it as I can an android tablet, without a bunch of crap plugged in, which again, is very little. If you really need to get real work done on the go, get an ultra book. If you need a cpu intensive workhorse, realize you'll never get that same power in a laptop for the price. You can get a desktop with 2x the power of any laptop for half the price. It's all about form factor and the right tool for the right job.
    • i agree

      The PC will be "saved" by the likes of clover field processors. Fanless x86 tablets/ pcs with 5-10 hours of battery. I think the technology is finally there and the public is holding out buying until a good selection is out there.
    • Office 365

      I use office365 on my iPad all the time. Mouse? Heck I miss the arrow keys more, but using office is perfectly ok on the iPad. Just a little awkward from time to time. Bluetooth keyboard though is nearly a must to keep the virtual keyboard from popping up and getting in the way. Before that I used VDI, which was also decent.

      To me, my iPad is kind of like my leatherman tool. It stays with me, and I try to use it first it it's too big of a job I go and get my real tool to do it.
      • Well put.

        The comparison to a Leatherman is great. That's the way I use my iPad, too. The vast majority of the time, it is good enough for whatever quick tasks I need to do at any particular moment. When it makes more sense to use a bigger tool, I just go sit at my desktop.
      • I agree completely

        I jumped on the android bandwagon. I even got an atrix because of the supposed docking feature to "turn it into a pc". It's mostly a parlor trick that had very little use for me, and it's very handy and much cooler at home just streaming anything via airplay to hdtv wirelessly. iPhone's built on UNIX and android's built on Linux. In the end, Apple wants your money and google wants as much information on you as they can, and the devices and ecosystem is evolved towards those end. I'm not sure which end Windows sits on yet, but I really don't need Office on my phone or pad. I was using dataviz docs to go on my old palm pilot years ago and get by just fine still. If I need to do any real writing, I'll use my laptop. I can add a keyboard to my ipad but it's just as makeshift as waiting to get home and dock my windows pad.
      • Who said MS would do a good job anyway?

        I agree with that. For me I don't need MS Office, but I do need a good office app with a little more power. I've tried them all (I think) and each has components that work, but non of them are totally satisfactory& there's nothing to say that MS will get an IOS/Android implementation righter than anyone else! For me, if Quickoffice added the abilty to sort folders & files by date & was as WYSIWYG as Office HD, I'd be a happy man....
  • ms office on ipad

    You can "run" MS Office on iPad by using software such as ThinServer
  • Who needs iPads for Business

    In 'Matrix' style -

    "What is the purpose of an iPad?"
    "What is the reason for it to exist?"

    "If One has to make a choice, what would be it"

    With Windows 8, MS has destroyed the competition of tablets for business, why on earth One would buy a toy tablet (iPad/Android), when Windows 8 can fill the tablet needs for business elegantly and without compromise.

    If some people doesn't like Surface form factor, there are plenty of choices from Lenovo, Dell and HP.

    Those who cling on to iPad and cry for MS software to arrive are just fanbois are putting personal interest first and not the business need.

    It’s time to dump toy tablets from enterprise and embrace Windows 8 tablets.
    • And still, nobody is really buying.

      Really, learn to read.
    • Because Surface is terrible

      Nobody wants one. They are awful.
      • Surface is great for what it is

        It just isn't what that many people need or want. That's the definition of a niche product.
        x I'm tc
        • Surface is great for nothing

          It is a piece of garbage.
          • irationalguy

            You are so wrong and mislead.
          • No, I have experience using Surface.

            And it is terrible.
    • If Windows 8 has killed tablet competition for business

      then why isn't anyone buying them?
    • You don't need ipad

      Windows 8 Enterprise is for the Enterprise with Applocker and Group Policy that will play nicely in your environment without the need for messy 3rd party add-ons.
    • MS did NOT destroy the business tablet.

      If so, why does the iPad keep growing in business faster now that before the surface came out.