Microsoft Office for Apple's iPad coming soon--too little, too late?

CEO Steve Ballmer said the tablet user interface is "in progress"

Microsoft has announced plans to build a touch-optimized native version of its signature Office productivity suite integrating support for Apple's iPad tablet, but Redmond may have waited too long to capitalize on the iPad opportunity. 

As FierceMobileIT reported earlier this week, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said that the touch-first Office tablet user interface is "in progress," with iPad support in the cards. Ballmer suggested the tablet-ready Office would first arrive on devices running Microsoft's own Windows operating system before expanding to the iPad.

Microsoft ported Office to Apple's iPhone and smartphones running Google's Android earlier this year, enabling Office 365 subscribers to access, view and edit Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents on the go. While the current iteration of the native Office for iOS app does not support the iPad, Apple tablet users can still access Office Web Apps via the browser.

Conventional wisdom suggests that Microsoft must deliver an exceptional user experience to justify the long wait for Office for iPads. "Microsoft's strategy of not delivering a useful Office product on iOS, ostensibly to preserve the Windows franchise (but also probably because it's a significant engineering effort), is limiting the freedom of consumers to choose the devices and operating systems that they want," Forrester analyst David Johnson said in an email interview with InformationWeek earlier this month.

Johnson added that many tablet users are simply exploring Office alternatives. For example, Apple is now offering free downloads of its iWork suite with the purchase of new iOS devices, an obvious move to fill the void created by the absence of Office for iPad.

Johnson believes Microsoft could still make up ground by delivering a superior Office for iPad experience, but noted that creating a touch-oriented Office user interface poses significant engineering challenges.

Office Mobile for iPhone and Android offer access to documents stored in Microsoft's SkyDrive, SkyDrive Pro and SharePoint cloud services, as well as files recently viewed on the desktop and in email attachments. All Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents are optimized for the smartphone form factor, with all formatting and content remaining intact, complete with support for charts, animations, SmartArt Graphics and shapes. Users may also create new Word and Excel files on their phone, view and edit recently viewed documents offline, review and add comments and share files via email or save them to SkyDrive or SharePoint.

Office Mobile access is limited to current Office 365 subscribers, meaning services are not available to mobile device owners who purchased the most recent Office desktop suite as a standalone product. The typical Office 365 subscription runs $99.99 per year and is available for purchase from the Microsoft Office website.

For more:
- read this InformationWeek article
- read this Verge article

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