Microsoft Office for Android: Pushing Windows even further behind in mobile

Microsoft came under some heat from Windows customers when it released Office for iPad before a touch-friendly version for Windows. That heat should escalate with word that an Android version will also beat the much-needed Windows version.
Written by James Kendrick, Contributor

ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley reported that Microsoft will bring an Android version of Office to market before one for Windows. She identifies the likely reasoning behind the move as one of market share. Microsoft wants Office to run everywhere, and the iPad and Android are the mobile elephants in the room. This may come back to bite Microsoft on the backside.

Excel iPad
Excel for iPad
Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet

Microsoft has radically changed its business model with a focus on getting its products on all platforms. It’s done this quickly for such a large company, and that's impressive. Getting its services and software everywhere is a lofty goal, and releasing Office for iPad and a version for Android makes sense given the changing climate in Redmond.

It used to be that working with Office documents was best done on a Windows system, even touch tablets. Now working with Office by touch is better on the iPad than any Windows tablet.

Even so, Windows tablet owners can’t be happy that a touch version of Office is now delayed until some time next year according to Foley. Office can be used now on the iPad, and soon it seems it will be available for Android tablets.

Windows tablet owners can use full Office today, but it’s not that great of a user experience. Microsoft produced a fantastic touch version of Office for the iPad that leaves using full Office on Windows tablets far behind. I own both an iPad and a Windows tablet and the iPad version is so well done I no longer reach for the Windows tablet when I receive an Office document for review.

Think about that for a moment. With both an iPad and good Windows tablet in front of me, I grab the iPad to work with Office documents. It's so much easier and intuitive to do this, that the Windows tablet sits unused for this purpose.

One professional admitted he'd recently sold his Windows tablet that he'd been using for a year. The reason was he can now "work with Word documents better on the iPad than the ThinkPad Tablet."

This can’t be what Microsoft wants to happen. It used to be that working with Office documents was best done on a Windows system, even touch tablets. This was an advantage for Windows until the iPad version appeared. Now working with Office by touch is better on the iPad than any Windows tablet.

That will likely be true for an Android version of Office. Microsoft will not release a poor implementation of the suite for Android. This will make the vast majority of tablets available today better at running Office than Windows. Having to wait another year for the touch-friendly version of Office might impact the adoption of Windows tablets, and that’s a big deal.

According to IT professionals I've spoken to, the enterprise is deploying iPads constantly. Having such a good version of Office, even better than the one for Windows tablets, makes that easier than ever. Office is a key tool for the workplace, and now the iPad has it. That's likely to be the case for the many Android tablets as well once that version of Office is released. 

It's admirable what Microsoft is doing with its focus on services and devices. Getting its offerings on competing platforms should be a good long-term strategy for the folks in Redmond. Even so, that doesn’t mean it should allow its own platform to exist without the best version of one of its most important products.

The pace of the mobile industry is hectic, and waiting until next year for the touch version of Office may come back to haunt Microsoft. While it’s understandable what Microsoft is doing with Office support for its major competitors, it isn’t without impact on its own Windows platform. The company has developed Windows to handle the hot tablet segment, yet it’s not bringing its own touch-optimized Office suite to Windows fast enough.

Windows tablet owners may reach for the iPad or Android tablet to work with Office as it's better than Windows, and discovering they really like it better. That can’t be good for the Windows platform no matter the reasoning behind it.

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