Sometime in the not-quite-foreseeable future, Microsoft will release Office for iPad. My bet is that once it’s available, it won’t matter much.
Here are two arguments for why Office for the iPad is a tempest in a teapot. First, you can already do a lot with Office on the iPad. I’ve become a user of Microsoft’s OneDrive for Business (SkyDrive Pro). It comes with my Office 365 E3 subscription. One you put a file into OneDrive, such as by saving it from Word, you can open it on your iPad, and you can edit it using Word Online. Word Online isn’t a complete replacement for Word 2013, but it’s definitely north of the 80-20 rule. I use it for editing documents, and for that, it’s mostly fine. I have a nice Kensington keyboard for the iPad. I make a few more typos, but I can live with it.
So how much is having a full version of Office on my iPad going to add? It may mean that the workspace will be a little bigger, because now you’ve got the Safari ribbon at the top. It will have more functions, I presume, although I will have to learn how to make them work without a mouse. But we will still have a small screen and a small keyboard.
The second argument is the flip side of the first. When I want to get serious about working in Office, I’m going to want to use a keyboard, a mouse and a big monitor. At work, in fact, I have two monitors, 24″ and 25″, and they come in very handy. At home, I plug my UltraBook into a nice 21″ monitor. The wide layout allows me to work with two pages open at the same time, so I can work with multiple documents. I do a lot of this, such as going back and forth between Excel and a table in Word, or just cutting and pasting.
You can say I’m old fashioned, but I think I’m typical. People hate to learn new applications when they’re as complicated as Word or Excel. Sure, we all have a ton of apps on our smartphones and tablets, but that is not the same thing. When Office for iPad arrives, people are going to try it out, and most of them will use it only for editing. That is, they’ll use it for what they can do now. For the hard stuff, they’ll stick with a traditional computer.
The Office for iPad Buzz
One last note: Today, Microsoft announced a personal version of Office 365 for one user, priced at $70. Some in the trade press got excited by the fact that the blog post announcing it mentioned that its license was good for one PC or Mac and one tablet. So, of course, looking for an angle beyond rewriting the press release, they started speculating whether this was an indication that Office for iPad was on the way. What is that they say? “The difference between a writer of fiction and a journalist is that the writer can’t get away with writing about the same thing as often.” In any case, the trade journalist should have read the comments to the Office Blog post, where the writer cleared up what was meant by tablet, namely, “Any Windows device that is touch enabled and has a detachable keyboard qualifies as a tablet.” He dodged the iPad issue. Since Microsoft has already said there will be Office for iPad some day, I think all this was just bad reporting, not news.