Ever since Steve Jobs first unveiled the original iPad back in 2010, there's been speculation about whether or not Microsoft would ever develop a native version of Microsoft Office for the iOS tablet. After years of heavy debate among industry pundits, and a few signs that Microsoft is at least grudgingly willing to embrace the rival platform, rumors are once again focused on Office for iPad. If it's true, it's about time.
Various analysts and industry experts have insisted that it will be suicide for Microsoft to offer Office on competing platforms. They believe that Office is one of the only carrots that Microsoft has to lure people to traditional PCs and the struggling Windows OS. I maintained then, and have argued repeatedly since, that it is absolutely in Microsoft's best interests to develop Microsoft Office for iPad — and on a broader level for Android as well.
Despite the challenges Microsoft has faced with Windows 8, Windows as a whole still enjoys a virtual monopoly of the desktop OS market with over 90% of the pie. The problem is that, as the total number of connected computing devices grows, traditional desktop and laptop PC market share is shrinking — so, Microsoft is dominating a rapidly shrinking piece of the overall market. Gartner predicts that smartphone and tablet sales combined will outnumber traditional PCs nearly eight-to-one in 2014.
Again, there are those who believe that Office is the Holy Grail that can save the waning PC market and boost interest in Microsoft's own mobile devices like the Surface Pro 2 tablet. Although there are many competing productivity tools available, Microsoft Office is still favored by the majority of enterprise customers. The ubiquity of Microsoft Office as the de facto standard for documents ostensibly means that businesses and individuals will go out of their way to make sure they purchase a computer that can run the Microsoft suite.
The problem with that logic is that it has failed. The reality is — whether coincidence or an intentional strategy — Microsoft Office has already been available almost exclusively on Microsoft Windows PCs and Microsoft mobile devices, yet both are struggling. Clearly, that carrot isn't working.
Windows is not Microsoft's only player in the game, though. Microsoft makes a significant amount of money from Office itself, as well as the backend server platforms like Exchange, SharePoint, and Lync, which provide a foundation for Office to work from. Regardless of what happens to Windows or Microsoft's mobile devices, Microsoft needs to make sure businesses and consumers continue to rely on Microsoft software. The easiest way to do that is to make Office available on the devices that people use most — and increasingly, that means iPads and Android tablets.
I'm not suggesting that Microsoft shouldn't also make a Windows 8 Modern (Metro) version of the whole Office suite. It should. The Windows 8 version of OneNote is one of my favorite apps and arguably the best version of OneNote Microsoft makes. I'd love to see the rest of the Office suite get a similar makeover.
Microsoft should also not throw in the towel on Windows or give up on the traditional desktop and laptop PC market. A recent Tech Pro Research study found that, in spite of indications that traditional PCs are no longer in vogue and mobile devices are the future, a majority of survey respondents who plan to acquire new hardware still plan to purchase desktop and laptop PCs over tablets or other alternative platforms.
However, it would be unwise of Microsoft to ignore the reality unfolding before its eyes. It would be silly to continue withholding Office from other platforms as an "incentive" to pull customers to Windows PCs. Microsoft can continue to champion its own devices and the Windows operating system, while capitalizing on the demand for Office on other platforms and maximizing its revenue along the way.
Do you think Microsoft should offer Office on competing platforms? Why or why not? Share your thoughts in the discussion thread below.
Tony Bradley is a principal analyst with Bradley Strategy Group. He is a respected authority on technology, and information security. He writes regularly for Forbes, and PCWorld, and contributes to a wide variety of online and print media outlets. He has authored or co-authored a number of books, including Unified Communications for Dummies, Essential Computer Security, and PCI Compliance.