Four years after the iPad revolutionized personal computing, Microsoft is finally coming to the party. The Redmond-based software giant has announced that the company’s massively popular Office suite is available for the iPad via the App Store.
The move to the iPad essentially announces Microsoft’s surrender to Apple. For four years Microsoft has struggled with the tablet revolution, first ignoring it, then struggling to catch up in a fast evolving market. But the lack of widespread adoption of Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 has finally pushed Redmond to take the famed ‘if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em’ route.
Office for iPad is available as three apps: Word for iPad, Excel for iPad and PowerPoint for iPad. You can download them for free, but with extremely limited capabilities (and we mean limited – you can’t even create a document). To fully use Office for iPad, users will need to get an Office 365 subscription, which costs $99 a year (that includes five installs on a mobile device, and five installs on desktops and laptops.)
Microsoft reportedly built Office for iPad from the ground up, which should (theoretically) make it a true iOS app as opposed to a ported piece of software full of bugs and incompatibilities.
So what does this all mean?
First, it’s an acknowledgement that Microsoft’s mobile and tablet business is in shambles. Second, by putting Office on the iPad, you’re inviting millions of companies to bring Apple into the workplace (something many have already done). Finally, this puts Microsoft back where it belongs – as a software developer. The company’s hardware devices, outside of the Xbox, have been failures. Office is the company’s cash cow, and by NOT putting it on the iPad, it only offered other companies the chance to displace Office.
It will take time to see how big the Office for iPad market is. Four years is a long time, and many users have simply moved onto to other tools, including Apple’s Office alternatives, which happen to be free. But Microsoft has wisely acknowledged that Office was needed for the iPad. It dominates the tablet market, and to ignore it further would have been foolish.
The release is the first major move for new Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.
Alex has written for Vanity Fair, Barrons, Bloomberg and Condé Nast Traveler.