Microsoft's Office 15 intro comes without iPad flavor
For months, the Web teemed with rumors that Microsoft would launch Office for the iPad, making it the first touch-focused platform for the cash cow productivity suite.
But when Microsoft unveiled the next version of Office this week, it was clear the iPad would have to wait.
In an interview with CNET, Office division President Kurt DelBene said Microsoft's own Windows is the priority for the newest version of Office. The new touch-friendly productivity suite will debut on Windows 8, which launches in October, in large part because the operating system is the best showcase for Microsoft's application suite.
"We have a unique opportunity with Windows 8 style applications to push that even further," DelBene said.
DelBene didn't specifically address when, or even if, Microsoft would release a version of Office for the iPad, the dominant platform for touch-based tablet computing. But he made it clear that Microsoft would give Windows tablets the first crack at what for many companies remains a must-have application.
Of course, tablets running Windows 8 will need all the help they can get to compete against the iPad. The new Windows will be the first version of the dominant operating system to focus on touch computing and run on ARM chips, which should result in smaller designs. But it arrives more than two years after the iPad first hit store shelves. And Apple has vanquished every tablet rival that's tried to elbow its way into the market.
Months ahead of the new Office unveiling, rumors persisted that the productivity suite would arrive on the iPad later this year, initially fueled by an article in The Daily. A follow-up piece a few months later included a purported screenshot of the software in action, which Microsoft quickly claimed was fabricated. Last month, a report from Business Insider said the software would be ready to go for the iPad by November.
Microsoft is an active developer on Apple's iPad, as well as the iPhone, though has focused most of its efforts on its Bing search tool. Of the 23 applications the company has developed for iOS, it only charges for one of them -- the mobile tie-in to its XBOX game Kinectimals.
Despite those contributions, Microsoft has shown little interest in making pieces of Office available to users of Apple's iOS. So far, its efforts include a mobile version of OneNote and a version of its Lync communications software, two pieces of the Office puzzle, but arguably not the heavy hitters.
"They already have a toe in the water, but it's not a really healthy toe," says Michael Silver, a vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner. "If Microsoft is really serious about continued competition in Office, and maintaining things, they will have to have an iPad version."
Of course, Office itself is among the most sought after applications not available for the iPad. Businesses use Excel for back office operations and Word to create marketing plans. As much as employees might want to bring their iPads into work, they are often hamstrung when it comes to completing tasks that require Office.
Several companies, including Apple, have tried to work around Office's absence from the iOS ecosystem. Microsoft Office documents that have been attached to e-mails can be read with Apple's built-in Mail application. Users can also open and edit several types of Microsoft Office files in their corresponding iWork apps, Apple's own suite of paid productivity applications.
For users who want more, companies like CloudOn and Onlive have solutions for both the iPad, and Android tablets that let you work with documents using virtualized versions of Microsoft's Office software. But Silver says these solutions can end up being a headache for businesses given Microsoft's complicated licensing agreements, and can leave power users who want more features yearning for more.
If Microsoft eventually offers an iOS version of Office, it would obviate the need for any of those work-around solutions. But for now, it's in Microsoft's best interest to make the best touch experience for Office on new Windows 8 devices.
"At least for the holiday season, the only tablet device you'll be able to get it on will be Windows RT," Silver said.