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Thursday, 11 October 2012

Mobile Microsoft Office... Finally? A Guaranteed Success?

One of the biggest stories at the moment is the internet back-and-forth raging over the story of Microsoft's long-rumoured and oft-speculated-upon mobile Office suite. A Czech product manager by the name of Petr Bobek appeared to have let the cat out of the bag on Wednesday (10/10/2012) by announcing that mobile versions of Office would be simultaneously be released for OSX, Android and, of course, Microsoft Surface devices but this outburst was countered by Microsoft HQ as false. Strategically, it seems unlikely to be true as they are releasing their own Surface tablets in the near future and having Office as a USP for these will be a key selling-point to set them apart from their rivals. Let's not forget that Apple themselves are rumoured to be releasing a new iPad before Christmas

How this will develop over the coming days is anyone's guess but, as the old saying goes, there's no smoke without fire.

In any case, it has long been a criticism of iOS devices that the world's number one productivity suite, namely Microsoft Office, has been unavailable. There are multiple solutions available; Apple's own 'Pages', 'Numbers' and 'Keynote' (Word, Excel and Powerpoint respectively) have always served as adequate replacements for their Microsoft counterparts but their proprietary nature is still seen as limiting.

Availability aside, the most problematic issue with using mobile devices as 'on-the-go' business workstations has classically been the transfer of files on and off in a convenient and hassle-free manner. We are all used to connecting our portables to a power source that is, these days, almost always a data connection simultaneously but iOS's particular iTunes-controlled data transfer has, in particular, always been a clunky burden. Android's more open operating system and file-transfer is more open but still comparatively fiddly.

In recent years, cloud storage has all but eliminated most of the issues concerned with file-transfers. Being able to upload and download files, or even having them sync autonomously, is a versatile method of file management on the go; so long as you are guaranteed an internet connection at key moments, of course. All of these have limitations though: Pages users on iPad are limited to iCloud storage while users using an Android office suite have more choice but not a killer application. Google's own applications leave a lot to be desired in interface and other suites are plagued with usability issues.

There is little doubt that a mobile version of Microsoft Office on iOS would be a success. The name is ubiquitous, the application so well known that the trademark catches an entire market of productivity suites: “Have you got Office?”

So long as it were appropriately well-designed and opened all the file-types one would expect, just how successful would be determined on Microsoft's choices about the connectivity that the suite offers. Whilst it would be unlikely to support iCloud due to Apple's aggressive stance on protecting its own ecosystem, if it hooks into Google Drive natively as well as Microsoft's own Skydrive and others beyond it, its success would be magnified.

Those people hooked into the Apple ecosystem will already be using iCloud and Pages but for everyone else, if it is implemented correctly Microsoft's mobile Office would likely present the ultimate solution to working on mobile devices. The iPad market alone is enormous and begging to be exploited. At the right time, Microsoft could make a huge pile of cash from Apple devices.

When it comes down to it, flexibility is always the key.

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