Office for iPad marks a change in direction for Microsoft, but is it too late?

Just last week, Microsoft launched its Office suite of apps for iPad.

It’s almost four years to the day since the original iPad hit shelves and the Redmond, WA, company has finally gotten around to putting out versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint for the Apple tablet.

Previously, Microsoft had ignored the iPad, despite millions of sales in the years that followed its launch, before responding with its own Surface line of tablets — the only tablets permitted to run Office at the time. The Surface was an attempt to convince people that they really wanted a laptop/tablet hybrid with Windows and Office and the ability to do “real work”. For all intents and purposes, the Surface failed and iPad sales continued to rise, proving that people wanted iPads and didn’t necessarily need Office. iPad also continued to excel in enterprise and education without the Office apps.

Launching Office for iPad shows that Microsoft has learned from its missteps and has changed up its strategy in the post-PC environment we have entered into. Although the apps have likely been in the works for some time, they show new CEO Satya Nadella’s willingness to break away from the previous administration’s conservative approach to software. Designing the Office apps specifically for the iPad, before a touch-optimized version of Office for its own tablet offerings, shows that Microsoft is no longer using its apps to try and keep its operating system relevant — they are embracing mobile and making their product available where their users are.

Does Office for iPad give Microsoft a fighting chance in the post-PC world?

Excel ipad

The word “finally” gets thrown around a lot on the internet. However, it feels appropriate in relation to Office for iPad. The delay, be it a strategic effort to try and bolster Surface and subsequent Windows 8 tablet sales or simply in order to get Office for iPad “right” as the company stated when revealing the apps, has given competitors ample time to develop and launch competing products on iOS.

Many of the Office alternatives aren’t as fully-featured as the official apps but, for many, they are “good enough” — especially when they are free to use. Apple even went on the offensive, launching their own suite of iWork apps on the iPad and giving them away for free.

With all the available choices, will anyone use Office for iPad? The download charts suggest yes, with all three new apps (as well as an updated OneNote) topping the free app list since they were made available. Offering the apps for free has obviously helped generate downloads, but the apps also sit atop the Top Grossing chart suggesting that people are actually buying the necessary Office 365 subscriptions through the app and unlocking all of the apps’ capabilities.

Success, right? It certainly appears to be a successful launch. But in a world where Google Apps, Evernote, Mailbox, Keynote and others have taken over spaces where Microsoft apps once dominated, has Office for iPad arrived too late to change trends in the post-PC world? That remains to be seen.

Word for ipad

We took a look at Word in particular and were impressed. Our own Danny Sandler called it the best word processing app around:

Overall, Word for iPad is an excellent experience and it redefines productivity on the iPad. It’s has a killer design, offers deep functionality, and it brings the comfort and déjà vu of Word to the iPad.

In this way, Office for iPad will be great news for those for whom the apps are an essential part of their workflow on other platforms or for those that already pay for an Office 365 subscription. For those who have worked alternatives into their workflow already, Office for iPad is unlikely to change that for them and the cost of the necessary Office 365 subscription (to access all of the features) might do little to persuade people to return to Office.

I’m guessing we’ll be able to gauge over the coming months how popular Office for iPad will continue to be after the launch hype dies down and how well it will embed itself into the mobile productivity landscape. In the end, I believe the change in direction will benefit Microsoft immensely, keeping them relevant in light of declining Windows market share, while giving iPad owners (and maybe users of other platforms in the future) the option to get the most out of Office. Win-win?

Your thoughts?

Do you think it is too late for Office on iPad? Are you using and enjoying the apps? Will the apps have a place in your mobile workflow? Let us know your thoughts in the comments or get in touch on Twitter: @TiP_AdamO.

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