The launch of Microsoft Office for iPad (Microsoft Word for iPad/Microsoft Excel for iPad/Microsoft PowerPoint for iPad) has been met with a range of reviews from analysts, pundits and journalists. The potential implications of Microsoft Office for iPad in regards to enterprise mobility and mobile collaboration are what make this long overdue product launch so interesting to me.
I spent late last week and the weekend using the latest additions to the venerable Microsoft Office ecosystem. Right now, color me impressed though I'm eyeing Office for iPad more for enterprise and Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) users.
Implications for enterprise mobility and productivity
When it comes to the iPad in particular, the advent of Microsoft Office for iPad means more enterprise users can access business documents without fear of document formatting issues. While I've had some luck in the past with iWork and CloudOn, they aren't necessarily solutions I would advocate for a wide scale mobile rollout. The implication of maintaining document fidelity is a definite selling point for enterprises already standardized on Microsoft Office/Office 365.
While you may read many other writers who say the business world can switch away from Microsoft Office without issue, I say those people have never had a client or manager try to open a document and the formatting is trashed.
Yes, Microsoft Office is much maligned - but it's familiar to end users - and Microsoft has brought that familiar interface into an iPad app with full support for standard corporate document formats (*.docx, *.pptx, and *.xlsx). Because of this, Office for iPad could be gently slid into an existing mobile first or BYOD strategy.
I reached out to Alastair Mitchell, CEO and co-founder of Huddle, a collaboration platform challenging Microsoft SharePoint, for a non-Microsoft camp perspective on the implications of Office for iPad for enterprise mobility. In an email reply, he says, "Short term it's good to see Microsoft finally getting it's act together and making the most powerful office suite mobile enabled, with other features like simultaneous editing. This brings it up to the same level as Google Docs."
Mitchell also points out that Office for iPad reinforces the iPad's position as the dominant enterprise tablet.
Mitchell also raised this point in his email to me, "Long term it remains to be seen how much productivity is actually done on iPads versus full form feature screens, but there is no doubt we will see more tablet/laptop hybrids, or smaller more mobile productivity machines. It will also drive more sales of iPads as companies look to give some more desk-less users iPads only and not replace their desktops when they come to end of life."
Doug Winter, CEO and co-founder of Seismic, a mobile content management provider, related to me in an email. "Going forward, I expect to see an explosion of tablet usage by business professionals—from sales reps winning new customers, to executives making more informed decisions on-the-go because they have access to the information that they need in the format that they grew up using. Long term, we'll see mobile friendly business applications that enhance the productivity of Office—not strain to replace it—provide the competitive advantage to the largest companies across industries."
Implications for mobile collaboration
When I look at mobile collaboration these days, I see many good things happening in the Office 365 world with app developers like harmon.ie and Colligo developing smart mobile app solutions for accessing Office 365/SharePoint Online.
Looking beyond Office 365/SharePoint, I point to Huddle as an up and coming mobile collaboration leader with their innovative harmon.ie iOS app. Inevitably, their collaboration app may have to play nice with Office for iPad and vice versa.
The question is will the new Office for iPad augment these collaboration apps or perhaps replace them in the eyes of some enterprise mobile users? I'm less concerned about Dropbox and Box support than some others are. The Add a Place dialog where mobile app users can connect to OneDrive, OneDrive for Business, or adding a SharePoint URL is definitely an area of potential for links to new apps. The below figure shows the Add a Place dialog box:
During my testing, I was able to open a Word document via the harmon.ie SharePoint in the Word for iPad app. The next figure shows the document open on my iPad:
The same test worked just fine opening a document from a Huddle workspace
The Convert Format message at the top of the document came up whenever I went to open an older Office document (formatted in *.doc, *.xls, and *.ppt). The format conversion was quick, clean while maintaining document fidelity.
Office for iPad is a long overdue yet welcome addition for enterprise mobility if only to incite the mobile productivity apps market and bring fidelity to corporate documents across platforms. While I had my doubts about Microsoft's mobile strategy, Office for iPad and the related announcements last week got my attention. I also agree the launch is further going to cement the iPad as an enterprise mobility leader.
Will Kelly is a freelance technical writer and analyst currently focusing on enterprise mobility, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), and the consumerization of IT. He has also written about cloud computing, Big Data, virtualization, project management applications, Google Apps, Microsoft technologies, and online collaboration for TechRepublic and other sites. Will also works as a contract technical writer for clients in the Washington, DC area and nationwide. Follow Will on Twitter: @willkelly.