As of today you can download and use Microsoft Office on your iPad. This news has hit my family with a yawn, but to me this is an excellent signal for the long term financial health of both Apple and Microsoft. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that Apple may have just won the tablet wars for the foreseeable future.
In case you don’t know Microsoft has been hurting. Not financially. It’s doing great financially, but as a company where being “with it” seems important, Microsoft is decidedly not. Steve Baumer, the recently retired (and Bill Gates hand picked) CEO made several attempts to broaden and improve Microsoft’s product offerings, but many of them fell flat. The most notable has been Windows 8 and the Surface tablet, the new operating system that was meant to take Windows into the mobile era. The reception to both the Surface and Windows 8 has been so negative that the cost has been extraordinary. Microsoft has already announced Windows 9 and it is expected that it will be a return to the things that people love most about Windows.
Part of the strategy for moving into mobile computing had been to withhold Microsoft Office from the iPad. Office is still the bread and butter of the business world and it drives much of the revenue for Microsoft. The thought had been that limiting Office to a Microsoft platform would make their tablets more desirable and would steer the mobile business world towards Microsoft products. How wrong they were. Apple accounts for 73% of mobile enterprise solutions (sorry Blackberry). Even without the Microsoft Office platform people and businesses preferred to use the iPad, using different apps and numerous work arounds to integrate the Apple product into their business life.
Some will assume that the availability of Office for the iPad signals some kind of death knell for Microsoft’s future in the mobile world. I doubt that. If anything it will make them stronger. It will help solidify Microsoft Office as both the preferred software for businesses, renew interest in its personal use, and ease the pressure to choose the “right” tablet knowing that software can be shared across multiple platforms. The bigger story here is for Apple. Apple’s mobile operating system (iOS) may lag behind the sheer volume of users of Google’s Android operating system, but Apple easily sells the most tablets of any one company. In fact in 2013 Apple sold nearly double the number of iPad’s compared to its nearest competitor, Samsung.
But with the arrival of Microsoft Office it seems clear that Apple is likely to retain the profitable sector of personal and business tablets. Whether this ends up being reflected in the stock price of Apple is yet to be seen.