Microsoft released Office Mobile for iPhone today. Finally.
There have been rumors circulating for years that Microsoft would offer some form of Office apps for iOS devices. Speculation was fueled by the dramatic shift in the technology landscape from traditional Windows PCs to smartphones and tablets, and the sheer magnitude of the audience Microsoft was ignoring by failing to provide Office on rival platforms.
Now that Office Mobile for iPhone is here, there are some who wonder if it’s a matter of too little, too late, or question whether Office on the iPhone even matters any more. Microsoft is definitely late–I’ve been stressing the need for Microsoft to offer Office on every possible platform for years–and the capabilities of Office Mobile for iPhone are limited, but it’s not “too little, too late”. Office on the iPhone is a game changer that will shift momentum back on the Redmond giant’s side.
Filling the Void
A tablet is not a “PC” in the traditional sense of a black or putty-colored box sitting under your desk, but from the perspective that it is a device on which people conduct personal computing, a tablet is, in fact, a PC. It’s quite a stretch to dub a smartphone a “PC”, but by the same logic it seems reasonable to include the smartphone as a personal computing device. Some gadgets like the Samsung Galaxy Note blur the line further–too big to be a smartphone, and too small to be a tablet–so there’s certainly room for debate about where a smartphone fits in as a productivity tool.
From the very beginning of the iPhone revolution, there have been apps developed to fill the void where Microsoft Office should be. Apps like QuickOffice and Documents To Go, or Apple‘s iWork apps (Pages, Numbers, and Keynote) are designed to open, view, create, and edit files in the standard Microsoft Office formats.
The argument that Office Mobile for iPhone is too little, too late, or simply doesn’t matter any more hinges on the assumption that users have already chosen alternative apps they’re comfortable with, so nobody will really care about Office. PC Magazine’s Jill Duffy explains, “It’s rare that I find an app that’s remarkably better than ones I already use. In other words, I’m highly satisfied with almost every one of the apps I’d consider essential to me. And, the longer I live with my apps and develop habits around using them, the less likely I am to switch to something else.”
That is a very valid assertion. Regardless of the inherent pros and cons of a specific platform or app, you get used to what you’ve got over time. When you switch to something new, the very fact that it’s foreign, and doesn’t fit with the conventions you’re used to and the habits you’ve developed makes the initial learning curve that much harder, and makes it very easy to just stick with what you’ve got even if it’s not the best.
People who’ve been using an iPhone for years, or even months, have most likely already found an app or service that allows them to work with Microsoft Office formats, and accomplish the productivity tasks they need to from the smartphone. Odds are fair it will be difficult to convince any of them to switch to Office Mobile for iPhone–especially when you consider that using Office Mobile for iPhone requires a subscription to Office 365.
The Value of Office 365
Mathematically, spending $15 for QuickOffice, or even $30 to buy the three Apple iWork apps is a massive savings over the $100 it costs to subscribe to Office 365–and that’s just for the first year. Year, after year, after year you’ll have to keep paying Microsoft to maintain the Office 365 subscription, but your $15 app will still only be $15. Who, in their right mind would choose Office Mobile for iPhone over QuickOffice given the extreme cost differential?
The answer is: probably nobody. If you don’t use Microsoft Office, and you don’t need Microsoft Office, and you just want an app on your iPhone that lets you create or edit content, of course you would choose the $15 app over the $100 per year subscription. But, if you don’t own Office, and you don’t use Office, you’re not really the target audience in the first place.
Office 365 has been a tremendous success so far, and the addition of Office Mobile for iPhone makes it an even better value. Microsoft isn’t trying to win a head-to-head battle with rival apps in the Apple App Store. It’s trying to give customers even more reason to embrace Office 365.
Most people have Office. The vast majority of those iPhone users who have invested in QuickOffice, iWork, or other productivity apps did so specifically because they were trying to fill a void, and needed a tool they could use with their smartphone that would allow them to open, view, and edit their Microsoft Office files. In other words, those apps are not typically purchased instead of Office–they’re purchased to augment Office. That means they’re an additional cost on top of the cost of Office–and one that can be avoided by subscribing to Office 365 and using the free Office Mobile for iPhone app.
The math isn’t $15 QuickOffice vs. $100 per year Office 365. It’s more like $15 QuickOffice to augment a $140 purchase of Office 2013 Home & Student that only works on a single device, or $100 per year for Office Mobile for iPhone as a part of an Office 365 subscription that allows the full Office 2013 Professional to be installed on up to five devices, and shared among family members.
Office 365 is already a significantly better deal than purchasing Office 2013 itself. Even for a family or individual who only needs the applications in Office 2013 Home & Student, purchasing five licenses would cost $700, which is the equivalent of seven years worth of subscribing to Office 365. Office 365 includes additional features and benefits not available with Office 2013 alone, and now it also includes Office Mobile for iPhone.
Office Mobile for iPhone matters–not because it will sway users who are already devoted to alternative iPhone productivity apps, but because it adds value to the Office 365 equation, and gives the millions of iOS users a reason to subscribe to Office 365 rather than purchasing Office 2013 the old-fashioned way.
Related on Forbes: