Do We Really Need Office for iPad?

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It looks like Microsoft will be brining Office to the iPad, something that’s been the subject of speculation for a while. Although a photo showing Office on the iPad has surfaced, there are a lot of big questions surrounding it. When will it ship? How much will it cost? Which features will Microsoft incorporate from the desktop version of Office? How will it compare to Office on Windows 8 or Windows on Arm (WOA) tablets?

Then there’s another big question – does it even matter that Microsoft is creating an iPad version of Office?

When the iPad was announced more than two years ago, most pundits were of the mindset that it couldn’t be an effective business tool without Office – and simply said that the iPad was a toy that would never fit into the workplace at all. Two years on, the iPad has proven itself as a powerful and extremely flexible business tool. It has done so without Microsoft anointing it as such by shipping an iPad version of Office.

One factor in the iPad’s success in business is that there are alternative Office-type suites available for the iPad that can open and edit the major Office file formats. They may be missing some features, but they do meet the core needs of most professionals. Since Microsoft’s Office for iPad will be rather late coming to the iPad, most business users will already have one or more of these Office alternatives on their iPads – meaning that they may simply not need Office from Microsoft.

The common refrain that I’ve heard as a an argument that the iPad needs Office is that Apple’s iWork doesn’t cut it as a true mobile Office-type solution. For many users and certain tasks, that can be very true. I think because Apple produces the iPad and iWork as well as iCloud, which iWork integrates with, there’s an assumption that Pages, Numbers, and Keynote are the best options out there.

The fact is that there are a handful of really good apps that offer a wider range of features and, perhaps more importantly, a more Office-like feel to them. Apps like Quickoffice Pro HD, Documents to Go, and Office2 are really excellent tools and they integrate with a wide range of cloud services including Dropbox and Google Docs, which make transferring files with other devices and Windows PCs much easier that iCloud or using Apple’s convoluted iOS/iTunes file sharing. For most business users these apps simply offer everything they need in the way of Office support.

There are a couple of ways that Microsoft could establish Office as better than the competition in the App Store. That really comes down to integrating it with other Microsoft technologies. One example is SharePoint integration done better than any option in the App Store and done as a part of Office. A related possibility would be native access to file or document shares on a corporate network, perhaps using Active Directory’s distributed file system (DFS). Another option is to offer more Exchange capabilities than those Apple builds into iOS like support for personal folders.

None of these possibilities is really about making the typical features like writing in Word or crunching numbers in Excel available. Other companies have already done that and done it pretty well.

What may be the only real reason to be excited about Office on the iPad, however, could simply be the perception that offers. In effect, Microsoft is saying that the iPad is a valid option for professional tasks. That’s an endorsement that might net Apple some new iPad owners and make the iPad an easier sell in the corporate world.