Why is Microsoft's Office for iPad taking so long?

Why is Microsoft's Office for iPad taking so long?

Summary: It's been two years since first reports of Office for iPad's existence came to light. Are politics or evolving product strategies (or both) to blame for its continued absence?


Two years ago this month, a report on The Daily claimed Microsoft had built a version of Office for the iPad and was demonstrating it privately. Ever since, folks have been on the hunt for the elusive Office for iPad.


A month ago, Microsoft execs basically confirmed Office for iPad exists, but said it wouldn't be released until after Microsoft delivers its own, touch-first set of core Office apps, which I've been calling "Gemini."

Along with other Microsoft watchers, I've been wondering whether Microsoft was simply sitting on Office for iPad, delaying it to give its own Surface tablets a leg up. A year ago, Microsoft's ARM-based Surface RT shipped with Office RT bundled for free, and this October, the ARM-based Surface 2 shipped with Office RT plus Outlook RT, bundled for free.

But now that Apple's cut to zero the price of iWork (not the original, mind you, but a less feature-rich version), what's Microsoft waiting for?

After digging a bit, I've heard from my sources that Microsoft's "delay" in releasing both its own "Gemini" apps, as well as touch-centric versions for the iPad and Android tablets may be about a new and evolving product strategy as much (if not more than) about internal politics.

And no, it's not Microsoft execs telling me this to save face. I haven't been able to get the Softies to talk about Gemini or Office for iPad, in spite of repeated requests. 

Revisiting the 'Gemini' waves

As I've blogged before, Microsoft's original "Gemini" plan wasn't just about the development of touch-centric versions of Microsoft's core Office apps. Gemini also was about bringing Office to platforms beyond Windows.

Gemini, as originally conceived, consisted of a series of waves. I'd heard the Metro-Style/Windows Store versions of the core Office apps -- Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote -- were supposed to be part of Gemini Wave 1, according to the original plan. Microsoft execs, for their part, have said a touch-first/Metro-Style version of PowerPoint that was demonstrated publicly at Build this year was always supposed to debut in 2014.

One of my sources told me that the apps I've been calling Gemini are referred to internally as WinRT apps. This makes sense, given these apps, unlike the current Word, Excel and PowerPoint that run on Microsoft's Surface devices, are not Win32/desktop apps. The WinRT apps are going to be Metro-Style/Windows Store apps. (OneNote already exists as both a desktop app and a Metro-Style app.)

Office apps weren't initially designed in a way that made them easy to port from Win32 to other operating sytems, as cross-platform support wasn't part of Microsoft's goal for Office from the get-go. They also weren't built for touch devices; they were built to work best in a desktop/mouse/keyboard world. Yes, Microsoft has developed a suite of Office Mobile apps that work on touch-first iPhone, Android and Windows Phone devices. But these Office Mobile apps don't share the same core as the current desktop Office suite.

To get the core Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote apps to work natively on touch platforms, Microsoft is basically having to start almost from scratch. The Office team is having to redo the UI to include an updated ribbon model. They've had to rethink what a touch-first (as opposed to afterthought "touch mode) interaction experience should be. These days, Office apps need to be able to work on devices with screens of all sizes, from phones, to laptops, to desktops, to servers, to Perceptive Pixel displays.

There are more new development requirements. These WinRT apps, along with their non-Windows siblings, also need to be designed to take advantage of the cloud, since the new default is to save files to the cloud. And they need to insure that document formatting isn't lost when moving between/across different Windows- and non-Windows environments.

The WinRT apps won't replace entirely the desktop versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote, I hear. Desktop versions will remain for the foreseeable future those who want all the Office bells and whistlesm as well as the adjunct Office apps like Publisher, Visio, etc. (I do hear InfoPath is one of those apps that won't be carried forward, although Microsoft officials aren't saying this publicly.) But WinRT apps will become the focal point, and their newly designed UI and core will be the basis for Office on all other Windows and non-Windows platforms, including phones, tablets and the Web.

I do strongly believe there is a version of Office for iPad out there. I've talked to individuals who say they've seen it. But it sounds from my sources like Microsoft's thinking and development strategy may have evolved on the Office front since 2011 when company reps began shopping around and showing off Office on the iPad.

I'll be interested to see if the Metro-Style WinRT suite of apps that Microsoft is building, and which might debut by late spring/summer 2014, includes the Reader and Remix apps that Microsoft execs supposedly demonstrated at the company meeting in September, alongside the core Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. 

Topics: Mobility, Android, Apple, Collaboration, Windows, Microsoft Surface


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • Probably lots of changes must be made to operate in the iOS strait jacket

    Under Windows Office had the run of the roost and could do things that perhaps weren't always kosher. On the otherhand, what benefit will MS get out of it. Are they going to sell Office at "store" prices and give Apple 30% of the take. Why would they do that?

    iOS? let them eat iWork.
    • Let them eat iWork? That line actually made me chuckle.

      However, I tend to recall a certain Lady of France who uttered a similar line a "few" years ago. She "worked" for a large organization also but when her customers didn't receive what they asked for, both she and her "company" perished.

      Maybe Microsoft should release it's Office suite for other platforms lest they share a similar fate to that Lady of Versailles.
      • Based on market share and futures

        They should release it on Android first. However, this is a complex situation clearly if Office on Windows PCs diminishes significantly they have a concern.

        Releasing Office on iOS and Android will help for hurt? What price would they be able to charge for Office on these platforms and of course Apple gets 30% I believe (I assume Google Play has a similar arrangement). It seems you would have trouble selling at current PC pricing and you get less return while at the same time potentially hurting yourself ala PC, Surface, and Windows tablets sales.

        I don't think there is any advantage to MS for making it available except in the worst of all worlds where PC sales and Windows tablet sales are virtually nonexistent.
        • Yeah, because the market for paid Android apps is SO large.

          The only people making money on Android apps are doing it with ad-driven apps, plus the 37 Android users that actually pay for apps have a lot more motivation to pay for Google services than Microsoft ones. Finally, 70% of a software sale that you make in a 3rd-party App Store is WAY better than 0% of a software sale that you don't make otherwise. MS isn't making money on the copies of Office it gives away with Surfaces, and although the Business Division is still making money on PC Office, it won't take too many more quarters of declining PC sales for that to change.
        • Re: They should release it on Android first

          People buy much less software on Android, than on iOS. Therefore, if Microsoft's motivation is to make money out of Office, they should have already released Microsoft Office for iOS. With each passing day, that is becoming more and more irrelevant --- mostly because iOS users are not really that much interested in Office -- by any vendor.

          About the only sane reason today to release a version of Office on iOS and Android is to prevent people from learning and moving to other office suite platforms. Apple had given Microsoft a chance for few years, by making the iOS and OS X versions of iWork incompatible. This is no longer the case. There are also plenty of other multi-platform office suites to chose from and soon OpenOffice/LibreOffice will come to mobile too.

          Or is Microsoft considering to abandon the Office franchise?
        • That is not Office's business model

          Office is a rental service. And no, they don't have to give App Store or Google Play a cut, unless the end user can enable subscriptions in the downloaded app.
      • That anecdote was just propaganda that stuck!

        Check it out, Marie Antoinette never said any such thing although it was a very cleverly engineered slur.
        • Recall the lesson from "The man who shot Liberty Valance".

          The lesson learned at the end of the movie was this: When the truth conflicts with the legend, always print the legend!
        • Re: was just propaganda

          And you know this, because you were present there and observed the events?
          Perhaps you have an voice recording of what Marie actually said.
      • That "Lady of France" wasn't in the enviable position that MS is in,

        and Microsoft has been doing quite well without making any software for Android and iOS devices. MS has a few products which Google and Apple would like to have on their devices, but MS doesn't need to do any of that. The people needing or wanting any of what MS offers, are the Android and Apple device users.

        Your "Lady in France" story is amusing but not applicable at all when it comes to MS. BTW, did you notice how great MS is doing in earnings? Yep, they had a great profitable quarter, and they've had many of those in a row, and all without worrying about what Android and iOS users would like to have.
        • To suggest that MS would vanish like the passenger pigeons is foolhardy

          I agree that MS is in a strong position. But, in my opinion, they are a company still in transition.

          I actually thought Win 8 a few years ago would cement a new beginning for the 'Softies'. However, I can't help but believe, at their essential corporate core, that they still believe their pricing strategy for their main profit generating products can remain at their historical high retail prices.

          I don't think they 'want' to get it or face the current reality that post PC app pricing has become "a nickel and dime" thing. Gone are the days (or mostly) when a single productivity app could sell north of a hundred dollars.

          The world has moved on. Consumers expect to pay little to no cost for their apps today.

          This type of reality still has not been accepted by MS just as that poor unfortunate 'Lady in France' did not accept the political reality of her era.

          When decisions or strategy is based upon false beliefs - anything can happen and usually for the worse.
          • That position is not as strong as some may believe

            Alternative tablet OSes to Windows have already seen strong business adoption. I am not sure it is in Microsoft's interest to let users get too used to the alternative ways of processing data and writing letters that can be found on these platforms.

            Let it go long enough, and people may decide Office is optional in a way they've never believed before. If I were Steve Ballmer, I would be very, very nervous about people getting too used to Microsoft Office-free computing.
          • Yet, reports are that, at this point 8/8.1 adoption is on par with what XP

            had at about the same period of time after initial roll-out. Look for 8.1/9x adoption rate to be on par with Windows 7 after about 3 years. The more things change, the more they remain the same. Windows ain't going away, and it has no competition. Smartphone and tablet OSes aren't competition for PC OSes. Linux and Mac OS are not threats either, and Chrome OS is a joke.
        • Re: wasn't in the enviable position that MS is in

          Like, you claim Microsoft is in a more enviable position than an absolute ruler? Good to hear you have faith in your deity.

          But, you know, the higher you fall from, the more it hurts.

          Microsoft is doing well, you say. And yet, their entire business is less profitable than only Apple's iPhone business. Go figure.
          • Apple's iPhone business, in reality, puts Apple in a very precarious

            position. When the iPhone stops growing and sales start going down, then Apple will be seeing huge reductions in profits and huge reductions in their stock prices, and the overall market cap will come down to less than $200 billion and perhaps a lot lower.

            Apple is very dependent on one product for their net revenue and profits. When that goes, Apple has nothing else. In contrasts, MS is in much better position for the long-term future, where they have a huge variety of products and services, all of which will keep MS safe from any one product or service going south.

            Even if one of MS's products or services starts slowing down in sales, they have others which will pick up the slack, and that's what's been happening for more than 10 years now. Apple got lucky with their iPhone, but they have failed to diversify, and they're actually in as big a danger as Palm was a few years ago.

            In the last 10 years, MS has been more stable than Apple, and with the amount of diversification they have in their products and services portfolio, they will continue being the safer bet for the next 10 years or more. Even Google is in a safer position than Apple, because, Google is not solely dependent on one product to remain profitable. Sure, Google is mostly search/advertising, but they do have a bigger array of products and services which could help keep them safe from a huge decline in one area.

            When it comes to MS being my deity, that's complete BS and idiotic. Like I explained in another discussion, MS is just about 20% of my family's tablet/smartphone usage, while we also have 40% Apple, and 40% Android. I don't use Apple Macs, because they're simply too expensive and unnecessary for what I do. A simple desktop and laptop will do. We also have 2 iPads in the family, but I don't count them in usage because they're mostly sitting on the coffee table with nobody really needing to use them. Mostly, it's the desktop and laptop which get the most usage. Now, with the new LG G2 Android smartphone, we are seeing a bit more Android usage, but it's perhaps just about 5% or less of our tech gadgetry usage. I'm actually liking the LG G2 more than the Nokia 925 we have, but, I'm also looking to trade my 925 for a 1020 sometime soon.

            BTW, Windows 8 and 8.1 are beginning to see XP-like adoption in the marketplace, and it's actually on par with XP adoption at the same stage as XP was after about a year. No matter what, Windows 8.1 will have some 500 million or more PCs on-board after about 3 years and after the people with XP decide that the time has come to drop XP and move on to the newer/latest Windows OS .

            The Windows share in the marketplace will still be more than the number of tablets in the market. So, the PC-era will still be with us, and the tablet era will have moved on to an era where the tablets will have become PCs. At that point, the vast majority of "PCs" will still be Windows machines.

            Apple is still doing quite good with their iPHones and iPads, but, those are temporary conditions, and Apple will have to start giving the people more than just the cyclical minor upgrades. Like I've said before, people are starting to wise-up about how they're being had with their smartphones and tablets, and will stop blindly moving up to something which is not materially that much better than what they have at the moment. At that time, Apple will become another Palm.
      • Not correct

        The difference is that the Mac and iPad brigade are not generally their customers and certainly not a measurable percentage. I don't see anyone other than mostly Apple users suffering without Office.
      • iWork's is better than nothing

        I use Microsoft Office at work and have found for my iPad - I works works quite well. I can use Office documents with no problems.
    • Why?

      Because there are tens of millions of potential customers. 70% of something is better than 100% of nothing.
      • Right and Apples 30% is better than Androids 70%

        Why doesn't Apple sell I devices for 20% of the current price and take 90% of the market... Because they are getting rich off of taking the cream off the top.

        Office is a high margin product and selling it for $30 to get $21 is not a business model you want until your looking at a very small single digit market share. In reality it's not a business model you ever want, better to invest in pushing Windows Tablets and making that business model work.
        • Stated another way

          30%, 20% of what they have is better than 70% of the for shit iOS app market where the only apps that really move are FREE. They would be better off selling a cloud service than iOS apps.