Office for iPhone: Microsoft hits the panic button

On June 10th, Apple announced iWork for iCloud, a web based suite of tools that allow users to create documents, spreadsheets and presentations from their browser. It works on iPhones, iPads, Macs and Windows computers.

On June 11th, Microsoft announced Office for iPhone, an app that allows iPhone users to create documents, create spreadsheets and view presentations.

In other words, Microsoft hit the panic button.

Panic button? Surely you’re being melodramatic Bryan?

No, I’m not, and here’s why:

  1. Office for iOS has been rumored for a long time now. Journalists claimed to see it running on an iPad more than a year ago. Releasing it a day after the iWork for iCloud announcement is a knee jerk reaction. It’s Microsoft realizing that iOS users don’t really need Office if they’ve got a competent alternative. Office may dominate the desktop landscape, but the mobile world offers a chance to break that monopoly. A serious competitor like Apple or Google could sweep up those millions of users on their post-PC devices and cut the head off of Microsoft’s productivity cash cow. That scares the hell out of them.
  2. Office for iPhone is incomplete. Sure, you can do basic editing of Word Documents and Excel files, but you can only view Powerpoint presentations. You can’t edit them. If this were a strategic product to ensure the future of Office on the mobile landscape, wouldn’t it be feature complete on launch day?
  3. There is no iPad support. Let’s be honest, creating Excel files on your 4″ iPhone screen is a nice parlor trick, but the iPad is where real document creation will take place. So why is there no iPad support on day one? Two reasons:

    First, it’s probably not done. See my bullet point above. Not having PowerPoint fully functional on the iPhone tells us that the iOS office suite isn’t fully baked yet. It’s likely that iPad version just isn’t ready yet, and Apple’s surprise WWDC announcement forced Microsoft’s hand to ship now.

    Second – and perhaps even worse – is that Microsoft has a conflict of interests.

    On one hand they have hundreds of millions of potential Microsoft Office customers using iOS. Microsoft is already losing the mobile war with their devices and operating system. They can’t afford to lose their lucrative grip on the productivity software market too. They need a version of Office for the iPad.

    On the other hand, they have the Microsoft Surface. You might have seen their not-so-subtle ads mocking the iPad for not being a serious work machine. It would look pretty bad if the Office team cut the legs out from under the Surface team by shipping Office for iPad while those commercials are still running.

    The result? Microsoft chose their own interests over what’s best for customers. No Office for iPad. At least not yet.

So where does that leave us? With a company gripped with indecision. They really want to back their own tablet – not Apple’s – but the that pesky iOS market is just too big to ignore. Apple forced their hand during the WWDC keynote, and Microsoft panicked. They shipped a half-baked version of Office in the hopes that they could keep those 500 million iOS customers from standardizing on something other than Microsoft Office.

Half baked ideas are why Microsoft is struggling in the mobile market in general. Office for iPhone is just another prime example.