Office for iPad: rumored package could be a Microsoft attempt to woo tablet users

Would limited Office apps on iPads lure Apple customers to Windows 8?

If Microsoft offered an iPad app for a few Office applications would that prompt any iPad users to switch over to Windows 8 tablets instead for a more complete version of Office?

Microsoft may be trying to answer that question.

Persistent rumors say that Microsoft is working on a version of Word, Excel and PowerPoint specifically to run on the Apple tablet, with the latest saying the package is on the verge of being submitted for vetting by Apple. If approved, the package could be put up for sale soon in the App Store.

The benefits for iPad users are obvious. They could get the convenience and productivity of doing spreadsheets or writing documents on their iPads. Apple, theoretically, wouldn’t care that it was selling its rival’s software so long as it makes its customers happy.

But with just three apps from the Office Suite in the package, iPad users would bump up against limited Office functionality. And if the rumors are true, it’s still unclear whether each individual app in the Microsoft Office package for iOS would have all the features of the apps as they appear in their Windows versions. They simply might not work as well.

The upside for Microsoft could be that iPad users become so enamored with Office on tablets that they would switch over to a different tablet – a Windows 8 x86 tablet or Windows 8 on ARM (WOA) tablet – in order to gain fuller functionality and better performance.

If that’s what Microsoft is up to it’s definitely a long-term strategy, given that there is still no launch date for Windows 8 and WOA machines and that there still isn’t an Office suite for iPad. Customers will need time to try out the iPad app, decide they like it, decide they’d like it to work better on a tablet and then decide to budget for it. That will take a while.

Likely buyers of Windows 8 tablets with Office would be business customers and the decision will have to be whether Office on a tablet is worth the investment. For businesses supporting bring-your-own-device, the Office-on-iPad apps could be a way to find out whether tablets deserve full IT support. If end users find business value in Office on their iPads, they might find even more benefits on a corporate-owned tablet with a full Office suite.

Regardless, IT leaders will have to figure whether it makes sense for to adopt Windows 8 at all. So far many say the improvements over Windows 7 such as touchscreen support, Metro style apps and better power use and storage lack the impact to spur businesses into immediately deploying the new operating system.

As more and more corporations accelerate their deployment of mobile devices, though, any steps by Microsoft to better support them will only improve its chances of grabbing a share of those mobile customers. If Microsoft does make an appealing case, that will be good for business because it will represent more choices.

Update, 4:46 p.m.: Microsoft says the following about the Office for iPad rumor: "The Daily story is based on inaccurate rumors and speculation. We have no further comment." Which leaves a lot of wiggle room about whether Microsoft is actually working on Office for iPad.

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Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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