Thoughts on Office for iPad and iWork

It’s important to recognize that Microsoft did a pretty good job in designing Office for iPad. It’s certainly better than what they did for the Surface. Having said that, I don’t find that I’m very excited by Office on the iPad.

Two of the biggest reasons people are excited about a product is that it solves a problem or that it’s entertaining. Office (and iWork for that matter) is a productivity suite, so it’s not very entertaining by its very nature. I’d argue that at this point, Office doesn’t really solve a problem either.

Microsoft is about four years late in solving a problem for users. The suite of apps should have been released near the introduction of the original iPad in order for it to have a full impact. Unfortunately, the delay gave—or forced—users to find an alternative. And they did—iWork.

Apple updated iWork on the Mac and for iOS devices giving users the ability to create, edit and share documents at their desks and on-the-go. Recently they made the suite of apps available for free, so, of course, most iOS and Mac users jumped at that opportunity and have been happily using iWork ever since.

I’ve been using iWork for years now and I don’t even think about Office any more. This isn’t because one feature set is better than the other, but rather availability—iWork was there for me, so that’s what I used. I also think the features of the iWork suite of apps is great for most users, including small and medium size businesses.

There will be some users that need a more robust spreadsheet app and they will be very happy to see Office for iPad. For most users, Office isn’t going to matter that much. When you add in the $99 subscription fee Microsoft is charging to use Office, it matters that much less.

Office for iPad will sell to large businesses, there is no doubt in my mind about that. There is also no doubt that Microsoft missed a massive opportunity in the mobile space by holding off on Office for iPad.

In my mind, Apple was pushed into making iWork better to make sure its users had a productivity suite that could handle the most common tasks. For that, we should thank Microsoft.

I don’t see the current market as “Office vs. iWork,” that battle is over for most of us. I see this as large businesses using Office because they already have subscriptions or they want conformity among their apps for employees. There is nothing wrong with that, but Microsoft missed out on a much larger market.

I launched the Office for iPad apps a few times—although I wasn’t able to do anything without a subscription—and I wasn’t all that impressed. Certainly not enough to pay $99 a year to unlock the apps, especially when I have Pages, Numbers and Keynote sitting there ready to use for free.

With its ability to import and export Microsoft documents, a better interface, and the ability to access your documents from any device for free, iWork has become the standard for most iOS users.

The challenge for Apple, if it wants to attract more large business users, is to make iWork more robust. Honestly, I think the company can do that fairly easily if it puts the engineering teams to work on it, but I don’t think it’s a big priority for them.

The challenge for Microsoft is to make Office for iPad accessible to more users. That would mean cutting out the $99 subscription price, or at least making it more attractive. I can’t see Microsoft doing that.

I have no plans to buy a subscription to use Office for iPad, simply because I don’t have to. iWork suits my needs perfectly and I’ve been running my business successfully for years using the apps. I have no reason to change.

Solve a problem or be entertaining. Office for iPad does neither for me.