Forget Office for iPad: Mobile is threatening full Office

A lot has been said about the rumored upcoming appearance of Office for iPad, including that it's too late to make a difference. Actually, thanks to mobile tech, it may be too late for regular Office.
Written by James Kendrick, Contributor
(Image: Google)

Office for iPad is expected to be announced by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella in just a few days. This rumor has triggered excitement from some, as well as the reaction that it is coming too late. I'm not on either side of that fence. I think it might be too late for all incarnations of Office.

Like millions, I was firmly entrenched in the Microsoft Office trough for more years than I can count on two hands. I lived in Office documents all of most work days. I took at least a dozen pages of handwritten notes in OneNote every single day. I was Mr. Office when it came to work.

And then mobile happened.

Even though the documents I received were created by someone in some office using Microsoft's suite, I no longer needed it to review them.

Mobile office suites started appearing on my phones and tablets. They could display most Office documents just fine for reference, even complex ones. They weren't particularly good at editing them and maintaining fancy formatting, but for viewing documents they were OK.

Using these mobile apps to review Office documents sent via email drove home that, for the most part, this is what I was doing with Office documents. Clients and colleagues were sending me Word documents and Excel spreadsheets for me to review and comment on the contents. They usually didn't want me to edit them and send them back, just to take a look at them.

It didn't take me long to realize that the main mobile office suites not only handled this well, but they didn't require me to pull the laptop out of my gear bag. I could tap on the document attached to the email and instantly be looking at the fancy spreadsheet, presentation, or text document. 

I did this on my phone at first, and eventually on one tablet or another. Whatever gadget was handy, that's what I used. Even though the documents I received were created by someone in some office using Microsoft's suite, I didn't need it to review them.

Having this review capability on my mobile devices, it wasn't long before I started using them to create documents I previously would only use Microsoft Office to produce. I couldn't create documents or spreadsheets with complex formatting, but the fact was I rarely created those anyway. Basic documents were easy to build using these apps, and they could output in Office format so that those still entrenched in Microsoft's world could use them without problems.

It was the formatting that restricted the competition for Microsoft Office in the beginning, but these mobile apps got better at negating that advantage. The more documents I sent to others, the more I realized they were just as good as the real deal most of the time. It became rare that a recipient of one of my mobile documents could even tell it wasn't created with "real" Office.

I have an Office Online subscription, just in case some work thing comes up that absolutely requires real Office. I can't remember the last time I created a document with it instead of a mobile alternative. I suspect I'm not alone in that regard based on numerous conversations with others in the same situation.

Microsoft still rules the enterprise roost with Office and will for some time. It's the de facto standard for work documents and will be for the foreseeable future. 

But with iPads entering the workplace in ever greater numbers, Microsoft must get Office for iPad released ASAP. It can't afford for iPad owners, and especially corporations, to discover that alternative mobile office suites can handle most, if not all, of what they currently use Office to do.

That's why Microsoft is willing to negate its big advantage over the mobile competition by producing a version of Office for the iPad. They must protect the illusion that Office is required to do real work, even though many like me have discovered that's not the case.

Don't be surprised if an Android version of Office follows on the heels of the iPad release. Office everywhere needs to be Microsoft's motto, and perhaps it will. 

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