The Internet was abuzz yesterday about rumors of a version of Microsoft Office on the iPad. Why not? Some believe this will never happen. The reason, they argue, is that Microsoft needs to establish itself in the mobile space and the best way to do that is to keep Office exclusive to Microsoft’s tablet platform. If people need a Windows 8 tablet for Office, they will theoretically abandon iOS and Android. I’m sure some at Microsoft think this is the right move. It isn’t. Microsoft would be foolish to not embrace the iPad (and Android) for a couple of reasons:
1. Microsoft is a software company.
Since the beginning, Microsoft is about software. As of September 2011, there were are already nearly 40 million iPads in the wild. After the holidays, that number will be substantially larger. Let’s say Microsoft sells a stripped down Office for $30 and 1/4 of existing iPad owners buy it. That is $300M.
2. Microsoft Needs to Maintain Office Ubiquity
For the longest time, Office was the ubiquitous productivity suite. Everybody used it. Nobody considered using anything else. However, since this mobile revolution started, even non-geeks are starting to question whether Office is still all that. I had breakfast this morning with a CPA who does all of his work in Google docs. There is an entire generation of future workers going through high school and college now who don’t even have Office installed on their computers. If Microsoft has any hopes of keeping Office relevant, it needs to be everywhere, including the iPad.
To corral Office to just some future Microsoft tablet would be a mistake. That is, essentially, betting Office’s future relevance on the possibility that Microsoft will become a dominant player in future mobile computing. Instead, what would happen is that the millions of iOS and Android users will snap out of the Office trance and move on. Once they realize they don’t need office on their tablets, its utility on their desktops will also be questioned. Ubiquity lost.
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